Advanced physics for carbon removal

Meaghan Beattie at dinner

While a lawsuit filed in Hawaii expresses deep concern about the possibility of the Large Hadron Collider producing miniature black holes, some physicists are highlighting precisely that capability as a mechanism for fighting climate change. Existing plans for carbon capture and storage (CCS) rely upon the storage of large quantities of CO2 in underground structures. According to MIT physicist Aprile Pazzo, the controlled introduction of artificial black holes into such structures could alleviate pressure, reducing the risk of future leakage. Due to the enormous energies involved in the collisions it will produce (up to 14 trillion electronvolts), the LHC should be the first man-made device capable of reliably producing black holes.

Present technology does not permit the containment of micro black holes since, unlike ordinary matter, they cannot be confined in solid vessels and, unlike plasma, they cannot be magnetically contained. As such, black holes produced in high energy collisions would need to be delivered directly into the carbon reservoirs. While precise information on the mass-absorbing capabilities of LHC generated black holes is unknown, Pazzo argues that the accelerator should be capable of neutralizing several million tonnes of carbon dioxide per day, once fully operational:

“Many people have expressed doubts about the worthiness of big science projects like the Large Hadron Collider. What this novel application demonstrates is that experimental physics can have real world applications – not just in terms of harmful technologies like the atomic bomb, but in terms of advanced solutions to serious problems like climate change.”

Many other physicists have called this rosy assessment into question, arguing that the production of black holes poses an intolerable risk, that the geography in the region near Geneva where the LHC will be operating is not suitable for CCS, and that the energy requirements of the accelerator itself will generate large quantities of greenhouse gasses.

If early trials at the LHC prove successful, many more machines of similar types may be built worldwide. At some point, the excess cost of shipping CO2 by pipeline will make additional accelerator facilities the most affordable option and it is clearly infeasible to transport carbon dioxide intercontinentally for absorption. The ultimate hope of scientists working on the project is that mechanisms for the safe containment of black holes might be developed – possibly utilizing interactions between Hawking Radiation and novel force-carrying particles like the Higgs Boson. If that proves feasible, portable black-hole based carbon disposal systems might find their way into future generations of cars, trains, and aircraft.

Author: Milan

In the spring of 2005, I graduated from the University of British Columbia with a degree in International Relations and a general focus in the area of environmental politics. In the fall of 2005, I began reading for an M.Phil in IR at Wadham College, Oxford. Outside school, I am very interested in photography, writing, and the outdoors. I am writing this blog to keep in touch with friends and family around the world, provide a more personal view of graduate student life in Oxford, and pass on some lessons I've learned here.

13 thoughts on “Advanced physics for carbon removal”

  1. Anyone who thinks producing black holes is a good idea needs to ask some questions about the particular ways they’ve been traumatized by mainstream discourse.

  2. I also think it’s worth mentioning that black holes can have an electric charge. IANAP, but I believe This would make it at least theoretically possible to magnetically contain a charged micro black hole.

  3. I thought CCS technology was mostly being developed so that India and China can use their big coal reserves without wrecking the climate.

    We can’t give black hole technology to China! Just think what would happen if they could suck Tibetan monks out of the universe, rather than just denying them domestic media coverage.

  4. I am guessing ‘Aprile Pazzo’ doesn’t attend many scientific conventions in Italy.

  5. I prefer the plan to use the LHC as a time machine: travelling to the future removes much of the frustrating uncertainity about climate change effects & means we can steal their fancy technology, thus saving R&D costs.
    Distressingly, the LHC = time machine argument was not proferred on April 1st.

  6. Time travel would be an elegant solution. We could pick up advanced solar panels from 2300 and drop them back in 1800. The only questions are whether doing so would produce some kind of temporal paradox.

  7. Either we will never learn to time travel, or by the time we’ve learned we will have also learned not to use it for anything so puny as solving the global warming problem which we survived perfectly well without amazing solar panels. (We did, after all, have the resources to develop said panel’s, we can’t have been doing that badly).

    The only consistent view of time travel is one in which you travel back in time attempting to change the course of history but for whatever reason, you just happen to fail.

  8. I like the Douglas Adams perspective on time travel: namely, that it all fits together like a jigsaw puzzle. If you could step back from time and see it as a map, rather than a line, you would see how all the time travel that would ever occur is already part of the structure.

  9. If you could step back from time and see it as a map, rather than a line, you would see how all the time travel that would ever occur is already part of the structure.

    I agree. But if that means introducing one or more murderous electric monks, then the insight may not be very re-assuring.

  10. Scientists Discover Teeny Tiny Black Hole

    “According to a article, NASA scientists have discovered the smallest known black hole to date. The object is known as ‘XTE J1650-500’. Weighing in at a scant 3.8 solar masses and measuring only 15 miles across, this finding sheds new light on the lower limit of black hole sizes and the critical threshold at which a star will become a black hole upon its death, rather than a neutron star. XTE J1650-500 beats out the previous record holder, GRO 1655-40, by about 2.5 solar masses.”

  11. Apocalypse No!

    Is the U.S. government liable for the end of the world?
    By Chris Wilson
    Posted Wednesday, April 2, 2008, at 6:31 PM ET

    The New York Times reports that two men in Hawaii have filed a lawsuit in federal court to stop the construction of a particle accelerator near Geneva. The plaintiffs claim that the facility on the French-Swiss border—which is partially funded by the U.S. government—might create bizarre physical conditions that would lead to the creation of a black hole capable of swallowing the planet. The case is set for an initial conference with the Justice Department in mid-June. Could the government be legally responsible for risking the apocalypse?

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