Smith, Jordan P., John A. Dykema, and David W. Keith. "Production of Sulfates Onboard an Aircraft: Implications for the Cost and Feasibility of Stratospheric Solar Geoengineering." Earth and Space Science 5.4 (April 2018): 150-162.
Injection of sulfate aerosols into the stratosphere, a form of solar geoengineering, has been proposed as a means to reduce some climatic changes by decreasing net anthropogenic radiative forcing. The cost and technical feasibility of forming aerosols with the appropriate size distribution are uncertain. We examine the possibility of producing the relevant sulfur species, SO2 or SO3, by in situ conversion from elemental sulfur onboard an aircraft. We provide a first-order engineering analysis of an open cycle chemical plant for in situ sulfur to sulfate conversion using a Brayton cycle combustor and a catalytic converter. We find that such a plant could have sufficiently low mass that the overall requirement for mass transport to the lower stratosphere may be reduced by roughly a factor of 2. All else equal, this suggests that—for a given radiative forcing—the cost of delivering sulfate aerosols may be nearly halved. Beyond reducing cost, the use of elemental sulfur reduces operational health and safety risks and should therefore reduce environmental side effects associated with delivery. Reduction in cost is not necessarily beneficial as it reduces practical barriers to deployment, increasing the urgency of questions concerning the efficacy, risks, and governance of solar geoengineering.