Climate Change

Learning from Human Lungs How to Sequester Carbon

Studying the way human lungs work is inspiring new technologies that remove carbon dioxide from sources like flue stacks, preventing this greenhouse gas from reaching our atmosphere and warming the planet. Our lungs have 3 major adaptations which give them their carbon dioxide (CO2) removal effectiveness: a super thin membrane, allowing CO2 to travel across and out quickly (how thin? About one thousandth of the period at the end of this sentence), an enormous surface area (if you laid flat your lungs’ gas exchange surface, it would be 70 times your body surface area – about the size of a volley ball court), and specialized chemical translators, namely carbonic anhydrase, which allows CO2 to be removed from our bloodstream thousands of times faster than possible without it.

In tests by a company called Carbozyme Inc., human-made filters inspired by the way our lungs work removed over 90% of the CO2 travelling through flue stacks. Meanwhile, other technologies based on the carbonic anhydrase enzyme found in animals such as mollusks have successfully transformed CO2 into limestone, which can be stored or used as a building supply.

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