back to article Forget solar panels, it's time for rooftop slime-tanks

The Institute of Mechanical Engineers has called for the UK to adopt a strategy of "geo-engineering" techniques to extract huge quantities of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The headline ideas are these: CO2-capturing "artificial trees", growing of biofuel algae on rooftops, and the use of reflective building materials to …


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  1. Andrew Culpeck
    Thumb Down

    5 out of 10 must try harder

    Where is the evidence that slime out performs solor pannels?

    What is achiveable now?

    If slime is more efficient then by what percent?

    Are there any sudies into this tech.?

    Basicly this is blue sky thinking, not that that is a bad idea but it would have been better to relise it with solid facts and tests to back it up.

    One ferther question why do you neeed air circulation around a sealed unit?

  2. this

    further research ...

    Call me cynical, but whenever I see those words I know exactly what's going on.

  3. Anomalous Cowherd Silver badge

    In other news

    Engineers Institute in shock "engineering will avert catastrophe" suggestion.

  4. Anonymous Coward

    £50 Billion?

    That would buy a lot of real trees. You could give people grants to plant trees in their gardens which might get over the apathy angle. Actually turning our estate into a forest wouldn't be such a bad idea.

  5. Hugh_Pym

    Artificial trees?

    What's wrong with real ones? You plant a tree, let it grow for a bit, Cut it down, coppice or pollard it and store the wood (or charcoal it for better carbon density). After all, the technology is available here today and is pretty mature as technologies go. You can even store the wood as houses if you want.

  6. Grease Monkey

    Urban Albedo Modification

    Big mirrors? Nah, you just need to paint dark coloured stuff white. Actually this could have a noticable effect. White buildings with reflective coatings on the windows would not get so hot and therefore require less air conditioning, so less energy consumption. It would also mean that in cold weather the building would emit less heat and therefore require less heating, so less energy consumption. OK the theorectical amounts of energy saved per building would be tiny, but add it up around the world and it would be noticiable.

  7. fixit_f

    Childlessness is still the most effective answer in the mid to long term

    Come on people (or at least the few register readers that actually DO get laid from time to time) put a bit of plastic on your pecker and in a couple of generations none of this will be a problem.

  8. Xander
    Thumb Down

    This isn't Fail And You

    Please stop trying so hard. Trying to do a Fail And You style without actually being any good at it just makes you sound like you're having a bad day and are taking it out on a news article.

    The concepts put forward are simply a part of scientific discussion and whilst not significant on their own they might lead to new ideas and concepts. Belittling them straight away isn't helpful or productive.

    If you don't think they're newsworthy (mainly as they're mostly just academic ideas than something that is practical to implement) then don't cover the story. If you are going to the story at least approach it from a neutral position, not bearing down on it like some retarded republican.

  9. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge
    Paris Hilton

    How complicated do it need to be?

    What's wrong with using Nature naturally to do all the recycling for free ie Simply Plant Real Trees which would also benefit animals, including the human variety, and also bear fruit and seeds to plant more trees and feed the animals.

    It aint rocket science,is it, to expect CO2 to rise whenever you chop down verdant forests, which are global lungs.

    Even Paris should know that.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    We could all cover our heads in tinfoil to reflect the sun's rays back up into space.

    ah, but I suppose we'd all need sunglasses for the glare

  11. Anonymous Coward

    If I hear "save the planet".....

    ...just once more I will not be responsible for my actions.

    The planet, unless we really do poison the entire thing, will survive any amount of climate change.

    It's already got the T shirt.

    Whether it does this with, or without, humankind on board, is irrelevant.

  12. Richard 81
    Thumb Up

    Calm down.

    OK, so the artificial tree idea may be pretty bloody expensive, but at least the idea of placing them close to the storage areas has be provided. Perhaps, rather than pumping the carbon into the ground they could let it out near the sea bed in fine bubbles, so it dissolves in the sea. That way you're just increasing the rate at which the sea would naturally soak up carbon dioxide.

    Also, who said you can't have a bio-fuel and fertiliser producing, carbon dioxide scrubbing, possibly even pollutant absorbing (although that might make the fertiliser less useful) slime tanks on the same roof as a couple of solar panels? The slime tanks may also generate heat, which could be harnessed alongside solar heating by running pipes through it.

    OK, so we definitely need more nuclear power to meet consumption, but running carbon dioxide controlling systems alongside actual power generation surely makes sense.

  13. Gilbert Wham

    Perhaps I'm missing something here...

    ...but wouldn't ACTUAL FUCKING TREES be simpler than artificial tree-like carbon sequestration plants? Easier to produce too as they, quite literally, grow on trees. Whilst I understand that their are practicality issues raised (i.e. where are you going to *put* all these trees? Eh? Eh?)., it's still not as bloody stupid as ANY of the above ideas.

  14. Torben Mogensen


    It seems to me that all the suggestions I have seen for handling global warming through artificial after-the-fact clean-up of CO_2 and other greenhouse gasses are wildly unrealistic and pay little heed to potential side effects.

    Why "plant" artificial trees when good old natural trees do the job quite well at a fraction of the price, have many side benefits and do not require large amount of energy to extract the CO_2 and pump it down oilfields? The absorbed CO_2 just makes the trees grow larger, so you have automatic expansion of the absorbing "machines". And you can actually extract energy from the wood later on, if you wish.

  15. Anonymous Coward

    The norm for planet Earth

    The norm for planet Earth during the last few 1000 million years is to not have permanent ice caps, but instead for the polar regions to be temperate. Screw all of your humans! We dinosaurs will retake this planet as soon as it warms back up a bit.

  16. censored

    Some reasonable principles there...

    Why don't all our roof spaces have gardens on them? It'd be great for biodiversity as well as CO2 and pollution levels.

    No reason why we can't think about stuff like the algae too - I once read about a new road surface material that had reagents that broke down pollutants. These are the ideas we need.

    What I don't understand is: if the algae are in sealed containers, how do they get the CO2 out of the air?!

  17. LuMan


    "A unit based on current technology, the size of a standard shipping container, would capture about one tonne of CO2 per day or 365 tonnes annually"

    Well, that's <does maths> between 28 and 31 tonnes a month!

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Dead Vulture

    > Or in other words, existing technology would require a million "trees"

    Have you ever worked in any kind of industry or R+D? Tenfold performance and efficiency improvements between an initial proof-of-concept prototype and the final fully developed end product are entirely unremarkable and plausible. Methinks you're being unnecessarily cynical about how realistic that part of the proposal is.

    I can't really quibble with your overall point that this is a fairly shallow report, but you can't claim it's both not well enough done and not worth doing at the same time. We really should consider the technical options open to us, and the miniscule cost of doing some decent reports and studies means we should be open to spending that time and money checking out a whole range of ideas.

    And frankly your description of the "third option" is just stupid and pejorative, a gratuitous attempt at finding fault through a nonsensical line of reasoning and groundless sarcasm. They came up with an idea that has been mooted, analysed it, did the maths, and were able to conclude that it wouldn't work. What would you have preferred? A single statement "We didn't bother considering this idea?" For them to pretend that it would work? Or do you somehow expect them to know what the result would have been before they did the analysis so that they could not bother doing the analysis since it wasn't going to work? Err.. hello? Slight problem with causality there. Seriously, that's the best and most comprehensive part of the report, attacking it just makes you look like you have no idea about how research is done and formally written up.

  19. Doc Spock

    Are You Sure?

    QUOTE: "The headline ideas [include] the use of reflective building materials to send solar energy back out of the atmosphere before it can cause global warming."

    Global warming is caused by reflected rays being re-reflected back towards Earth, not by the Earth absorbing them in the first place. The extra CO2 in the atmosphere reduces the amount of reflected heat which can escape back into space.

  20. Hermes (nine inch) Conran

    @ AC 13:58

    Well said mate, I don't think Mr Lewis will be happy until we all have little fisson reactors in the basement! (The glowing one with the lead lining please)

  21. Mycho Silver badge

    @Are you sure

    The greenhouse effect is indeed caused by a high percentage of heat being reflected back down again. So we build something shiny and reflect it back up, and a percentage of it doesn't get reflected down this time. It's like a game of Pong.

  22. Simon Heffer

    Where is the CO2?

    Is it all at ground level? Otherwise these tree are going to miss some!

  23. energy

    Energy Harvesting Trees

    The Brit's have a much better concept currently developed. Solarbotanic is making natural looking artificial trees that convert light, heat, sound, rain and wind energy into electricity, additionally these trees can capture and store for further use CO2 and other pollutants.

  24. Chris iverson

    @Artificial trees?

    Not only can trees sequester carbon and then conveniently store itself as houses. Don't forget paper, tables, pencils, bed frames, desks, that bit of wood paneling in the Jag. And Im sure there are for more places its stored that I haven't mentioned.....including the wood pile out back so I don't use gas.

    Flames cause they keep me warm

  25. Richard 102

    Unfortunately ...

    ... the artificial trees can only be made in a process that extracts CFCs from clubbed baby harp seals.

    With sand imported from Arabia.

  26. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Inevitably the roof gives way...

    ... drowning everyone within in slime.

  27. JeffyPooh Silver badge

    Sequestering "carbon" versus CO2

    At some point in the far future:

    "Where... <gasp> did... <gasp> all... <gasp> the... <gasp> oxygen... go? <gasp>."

  28. Stevie Silver badge


    And double bah!

    Here's an idea no less feasible than slime tanks lining the old cavity walls:

    How about so-called "scientists" genetically engineer open-air, photosynthetic coral-building organisms. You could smear your walls with them in a nutrient paste and, once the colonies had established themselves, start building up layers of coral on your walls.

    Much nicer than pebble-dash, greener than stucco and what other finish can you apply to your house that will eventually add another floor and a garden shed to your manor, with no effort on your part? Need a granny flat? just wait about five years and the old bat can move in with no expense spent over and above the original seeding (which you'd do out of pure eco-mindedness and to insulate the house against the bitter global-warming-induced winters).

    Instead of sinking ships as reefs you could tow 'em into position and anchor them, give 'em a good spray of Stevie's Patent Coral Goo and leave them to turn into real coral, capsize with the weight, sink and become real submarine nature preserves.

    Why, I should get a Nobel Prize for Thinking Up Worthwhile Stuff For Scientists To Do just for the idea itself!

  29. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Just imagine...

    If some forward thinking business men came up with this idea to offset your carbon by planting trees. Oh I forgot everyone poo poo'd that idea

  30. Stephen Channell

    Missed the point.

    GM Algae modified to produce high carbon is being funded and investigated by the old petrochemical companies for a better bio-diesel.. anybody who’s seen the oil floating on a duck pond can see it’s viable in theory.

    If you stick GM Algae slime pools on top of your house.. you’ll have the makings of moonshine bio-diesel and dual anger of petrochemical & government revenue collection.. even if the technology works.. the money says you’re not getting it.

    Given that this is a UK site.. mixing in Dover chalk with road surfaces should be on the climate-change agenda, so we can sell the stuff around the world..

    ..but the best solution is grass/turf on roofs.. its carbon positive and creates nice nesting sites for all the birds dislodged by the mega-runways at Heathrow.

  31. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge

    RE: Anomalous Cowherd Posted Thursday 27th August 2009 12:49 GMT

    In other news

    Engineers Institute in shock "engineering will avert catastrophe" suggestion.

    You dont mean... by applying some thought and technology, we can solve the problem?

    But what about all those green taxes the government are imposing , I thought they had solved global warming


    <<,been at the beer

  32. Publius Aelius Hadrianus

    artificial vs real trees

    Artificial trees soak up thousands of times more CO2 than an equivalent sized real tree.

    ... and don't forget, real trees breathe out CO2 at night, unlike artificial ones.

    Plants really are rubbish at sucking up CO2. To quote the presenters on Top Gear,

    Jeremy Clarkson : “How many tomato plants do you need to get rid of the emissions from a Range Rover ?”

    James May / Richard Hammond : “400,000…your greenhouse would have to be six miles long.”.

    Yep - we need to replace all trees with artificial ones in order to save the environment.

  33. Anonymous Coward


    " use of reflective building materials to send solar energy back out of the atmosphere before it can cause global warming"

    Just curious what fraction of the world is covered by buildings (and roads and any other man made object). Bet it is a very small fraction of the earth's surface....

    (Ocean ~70%, Land ~30%... Typical city "London" 1,706.8 km^2 for 7.5 Million people - 7.5 Billion people in the world => ~2,000,000 km^2 area covered by humans and their crap, 148,940,000 km² land => about 1% of all LAND = or 0.3 % of the whole surface... actually less as not all of London is covered and there are not 7.5 billion people.)

  34. Steve Roper

    Reflective surfaces don't work... anyone here in Australia who has been in the loft of a house with a shiny tin roof on a hot day will readily testify... Seriously, you could cook a chook in there!

  35. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Even "very poor stuff" has to be a better approach

    than the throwing one's hands in the air and saying "Oh noes, it is too expensive and the technology does not exist, we're all going to die" approach to doing anything constructive about climate change (constructive in this case does not mean increasing your revenues by persuading your clients to let you put some vague greenwashery into adverts for their products).

    Punting various sci-fi concepts as solutions does at least serve to introduce people to the idea that if we, as a species, are to continue to survive and enjoy the lifestyles we have (or aspire to), we're going to have to make some pretty fundamental changes to our practices and environment. Alternatively, we can maintain that standard of living by having a good four or five billion fewer people around.

    Tough choice, huh?

  36. Anonymous Coward

    The obvious

    that seems to have been missed.

    The production of feasible current building technology is very high in its CO2 emissions so if we plant several million real trees we can have a low CO2 cost building material as well, 2 problems 1 solution.

    Win - win except for the lost food production.

    For a £45m fee I will set up a research project to discover more bleeding obvious facts.

  37. Lan ser
    Paris Hilton


    I've sent this idea to mps the pm local council etc

    change Planning laws so that every new private dwelling has a minimum 25% of solar power/heating and commercial properties a minimum of 75% roof/floor area or no planning permission.

    Sure it'd add a few quid to the cost of a house but economy of scale would bring the price down rapidly.

    Paris because I'm leaving the fucking of trees to her

  38. Paul 70

    real vs artificial trees

    Not only will artificial trees soak up vastly more CO2, but they'll do it 24 hours a day (no need for photosynthesis). And if they are in nice containers, why not stack them up on top of each other to reduce their land footprint (each doubling of hight will reduce the floor-space by one half). I guess we could fit most of them into a few large car parks if we tried.

    As someone said before, stick them next to the sea (or a river/lake) and bubble the CO2 through it - some will get absorbed painlessly (apart from slightly fizzy seas? I think they are fun! See the sea around Vulcano in Italy for proof)

    We could go on and on and on... Nice to know some people are thinking about it though; it' a much more sustainable solution that attempting to reduce emissions - volcanos throw out hugely more CO2 than us humans could ever hope to achieve.

  39. Graham Jordan

    Well said fixit_f

    The problem lies not with how much carbon were pumping into the atmosphere, it lies with how many of us are doing it.

    Stop breeding, the problem goes away on its own.

    This gives Fleshlight an ideal marketing opportunity, save the world, buy a fake poontang.

  40. Phu

    Eco science fail.

    "the use of reflective building materials to send solar energy back out of the atmosphere before it can cause global warming."

    Seriously, who thinks this crap up ?

    Its not the solar rays reaching the ground that causes global warming. Its those same rays reflecting off CO2 in the atmosphere BACK to earth. Using reflective building materials will make no difference in either direction. It'll just make everyone's house intolerably bright to look at.

    -- Richard

  41. Mr Grumpy!

    Artificial Trees...

    So what's wrong with REAL trees as carbon sequestration units?

    1. Real trees use carbon from the atmosphere to grow & make wood.

    2. The carbon used this way is presented in a good form for transport

    3. You can re-use the carbon (Burning it) as wood or charcoal. Or furniture.

    If you really want to remove the carbon 'permanently' from the atmosphere, cut the bloody tree down and put the wood underground in old coal mines.

    Or is that too simple for some people?

  42. Scott 51

    And the bill goes to?

    Who is going to pay for all this?

    I have this problem with people who want to go green. Those people are the ones poised to make the most money by going green. And the rest of us are left to pick up the tab. Im not going green any time soon until this changes.

    We, as a wolrd should have been green from the initial industrial revolution to now, but those greedy little shoe horns took everything and left the envirenment the way it is now. I see no reason why we should be left with the tab.

  43. john 154

    Whats wrong with...

    Glass roads. I think your editor droids missed an interesting one here.....

  44. Mike Richards Silver badge

    @Richard 81

    'Perhaps, rather than pumping the carbon into the ground they could let it out near the sea bed in fine bubbles, so it dissolves in the sea. That way you're just increasing the rate at which the sea would naturally soak up carbon dioxide.'

    Actually that's a really bad idea, the ocean is acidifying at an accelerating rate because of the CO2 its absorbing from the atmosphere. That makes life much harder for all the organisms who develop calcite skeletons from dissolved calcium - and who eventually take CO2 out of the environment and into deep marine sediments.

    One solution might be to compress CO2 and dump it into the deep ocean where it would form a stable liquid - but that has a serious downside in that it would suffocated anything living on the ocean bottom.

    Dissolving CO2 or pumping liquid CO2 into brine reservoirs - helpfully located under most major oil fields - is probably the best solution we have at the moment. It wouldn't even need new technology.

  45. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @ Paul 70

    Not true. Human CO2 emissions are far higher in comparison.

    I agree with you on the artificial trees, but why not attempt to reduce emissions as well?

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