A new geo-engineering concept is being proposed, by a former UK government advisor, for a climate change ‘insurance policy’ to cope with global warming.

A former UK government advisor and chemical engineer believes he has found a solution to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by dispersing sub-micron light-scattering particles into the upper atmosphere.

The technology concept, developed in the UK, advocates dispersing benign titanium dioxide particles as used in paint, inks and sunscreens into the stratosphere to deflect the sun’s rays.

On the 15th of May, Peter Davidson, a Chartered Chemical Engineer, Fellow of the Institution of Chemical Engineers (IChemE) and the Royal Academy of Engineering, and a former senior innovation advisor to a number of government departments, will call for this geo-engineering concept to be researched as an insurance policy to cope with possible catastrophic effects of global warming if we don’t manage to reduce CO2 emissions fast enough.

“While it’s essential that we work to reduce carbon dioxide emissions now, it would be wise to have a well-researched emergency system in reserve as a Plan B.”

Says Peter Davidson.

The idea may sound like science fiction but the concept, in fact, mimics the earth-cooling effects of large volcanic eruptions which occur several times a century.

In 1991 Mount Pinatubo erupted in the Philippines, it caused temperatures to drop by around 0.5oC around the globe for two years, ending most talk of global warming during this period.

The eruption threw 20m tons of sulphur dioxide into the stratosphere, forming a fine mist of sulphuric acid particles that spread over the globe in a matter of months.

As the size of volcanic aerosol particles is similar to the wavelength of sunlight, they scattered a small proportion of the light (~1 %), and hence its heat back into space. Subsequently, the Earth cooled.

“Adding sulphuric acid to the stratosphere degrades the ozone layer, and may cause regional changes in precipitation.”

“We need a benign but similarly sized particle.” Peter Davidson said, and he suggests using Titanium Dioxide (TiO2), mankind’s most commonly-used pigment.

Davidson says,  “Creating a suitable insurance policy for climate remediation is a vital task. It will not do to underestimate the challenges.”

The total capital cost of the balloon, tethers, ultra high pressure pumps, and the production and transport of the particles is estimated to be £500m plus £600m in annual operating costs in a paper to be published by the Royal Society.

Davidson believes, “These costs are perhaps thirty times lower than the next best technologies considered, such as large numbers of very sophisticated jet aircraft, and do not have the same carbon footprint.”

“Space mirrors on the scale needed and 20km tall towers are likely to be for the 22nd century not this one.”