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.