All posts by jesseashlin

Future Tech in Carbon Sequestering

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Above is a beaker of liquid carbon flowing out of a beaker hundreds of feet below the ocean surfase. This is carbon sequestration and it might just be the tech we need to avert global climate change. Such technology is already in use, where liquid carbon is injected into old oilwells to squeeze out previously unreachable oil.

This year, the U.S. Department of Energy will spend $54 million to promote the endeavor, called carbon sequestration. Oil companies such as Chevron and BP Amoco, fearing future regulation on carbon emissions if global warming increases, are beginning to assist.

Researchers have proposed sending out a fleet of ships trailing 2-mile-long pipes to pump chilled, pressurized carbon dioxide into the ocean, where it would slowly dissolve and sink to the bottom. Earth’s oceans hold 45 trillion tons of carbon, compared with 825 billion in the atmosphere and 2.4 trillion tied up in organic matter such as trees, soil, and your Aunt Martha. Earth’s entire untapped fossil fuel reserves contain another 10 trillion tons of carbon. In theory, the oceans could absorb all of that and more.

There really are only three other options. One is to let global warming run unchecked, which will most likely produce major costs of its own in property loss, hunger, disease, and environmental damage. A second way out is to find some other way to keep Earth cool. Manhattan Project alumnus Edward Teller, among others, has proposed blocking sunlight by launching a giant space umbrella or orbiting a fleet of tiny sun-blocking mirrors. Lawrence Livermore’s Caldeira ran a computer climate model and found that blocking just 1.8 percent of sunlight would reduce global temperatures even if the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere doubled. Nonetheless, he doesn’t think such schemes hold much promise because of their enormous complexity and unpredictability.

That still leaves a third approach: conservation and the development of nonpolluting fuels. It’s an effort Caldeira endorses regardless of the promise of carbon sequestration. “I think everybody agrees that the best thing would be if we could find a way to not produce carbon dioxide,” he says.

[Discover]

Can Coal Come Clean?

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The Polk plant captures all its fly ash, 98 percent of its sulfur—which causes acid rain—and nearly all its nitrogen oxides, the main component of the brown haze that hangs over many cities. Built to demonstrate the feasibility of a new way to wring economical power from coal without belching assorted toxins into the air, the $600 million plant has been running steadily since 1996. “It makes the lowest-cost electricity on TECO’s grid,” Shorter says. “It also has very, very low emissions. Particulate matter is almost undetectable.”

What is both distressing and remarkable about the Polk plant is that it could do much more. “There’s no requirement for mercury capture, but 95 percent of it could be captured very easily,” Shorter adds. More important, the plant could also capture nearly all of coal’s most elusive and potentially disastrous emissions: carbon dioxide, the main gas that drives global warming.

Industry advocates brag that the United States, which has 27 percent of all known coal reserves, is “the Saudi Arabia of coal,” with enough to burn for the next 180 years at the current rate of use. Unfortunately, coal is as filthy as it is cheap and abundant. When burned it releases three pounds of sulfur dioxide and four pounds of nitrogen oxide for every megawatt-hour of operation. The nation’s plants produce a total of about 48 tons of mercury annually. “If all the coal-burning power plants that are scheduled to be built over the next 25 years are built, the lifetime carbon dioxide emissions from those power plants will equal all the emissions from coal burning in all of human history to date,” says John Holdren, a professor of environmental policy at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government.

[Discover]

Wind Farms Useful but May Threaten Birds

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An article like this is extremely interesting yet immenently frustrating to me. Some examples:

–Building wind farms requires clearing land and soil disruption and has the potential for erosion and noise.

Clearly the farms provide jobs and in some cases can be a recreational attraction, he said. But they can also affect property values, and reflections off the rotor blades can be distracting to some peopleOh, really? And what about coal plants? Do they just appear out of nowhere and run silently?, said Risser, who is currently acting director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History.

Quoting issues such as reflection dangers is sort of silly considering the already successful implementation of thousands of turbines in European countries. Can’t we just take a good model and put it to use? I feel there are so many people out there grasping at straws when it comes to building Turbines. Is the green movement still sort of ‘scary’ to some people?

[Environmental News Network]

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In other news, birds are cool.

Rwanda’s underwater powerhouse

Well since Africa is going to bear the brunt of climate change, and the continent is already ravaged by war, disease, and poverty, it’s nice to hear something positive for once:

The calm, blue waters of Lake Kivu in the west of Rwanda belie the energy powerhouse it stores deep underwater.

Hundreds of metres down in the inky blackness, the lake is holding enough unexploited energy to meet Rwanda’s needs for 200 years.

Rotting vegetation which has been deposited for millions of years at the bottom of the lake is giving off a constant regenerating supply of methane gas.

Some of that gas bubbles to the surface where it is carried away and dispersed on the wind, but much of it, under massive pressure, is dissolved in the water at the bottom of the lake, which is in places more than 600m deep.

Methane is a combustible gas ideal for use in electricity generation and heating, it is the main component of “natural gas” fed to cookers all over the world.

Then again, although the lake may be a new energy source, it isn’t entirely positive:

Lake Kivu is what is known as a “turnover lake”. Geological evidence from around the lake shows that every 1,000 years or so there have been cataclysmic events which have wiped out all animal life in a huge radius surrounding the lake.

What happens is that gradually so much methane and carbon dioxide is dissolved in the water that it begins to acquire buoyancy. Instead of this being released gradually there is a sudden huge explosion, where the lake effectively turns over.

The gas laden water from the bottom of the lake surges to the surface, releasing billions of cubic metres of gas; this settle like a huge toxic blanket over the surrounding area.

It is heavier than air so all the oxygen is forced out and all life is suffocated. This is what happened at Lake Nyos in Cameroon in 1986, when 1,700 people were killed. Lake Kivu is hundreds of times bigger than Lake Nyos and it is estimated that more than two million people would die.

Extracting methane from the lake will help to mitigate this cataclysmic eventuality.

[BBC]

As the Climate Changes, Bits of England’s Coast Crumble

This winter a 50-foot-wide strip of Roger Middleditch’s sugar-beet field fell into the North Sea, his rich East Anglian lands reduced by a large fraction of their acreage. The adjacent potato field, once 23 acres, is now less than 3 — too small to plant at all, he said.

As climate change has accelerated erosion on the east coast of Britain, many scientists and politicians have decided that it no longer makes sense to defend the land.

[NYTimes]

Bhutan To Pay for the Climate Sins of Others

This article is great for two reasons. First, Bhutan is an amazing place doing very good work to address sustainability and conservation. Second, this article points to a very difficult issue in the climate change debate. We are all involved, at risk and contributors to the problem, but not all of us (nations) are taking responsibility. Those that are, such as Bhutan, get the short end of the stick because they do such a good job and we (the rest of us) don’t do our part. [-Jesse]

High in the Himalayas, the isolated mountain kingdom of Bhutan has done more to protect its environment than almost any other country.

Forests cover nearly three quarters of its land, and help to absorb the greenhouse gases others emit. Its strict conservation policies help to guard one of the world’s top 10 biodiversity hotspots, often to the chagrin of its own farmers. Yet Bhutan could pay a high price for the sins of others — global warming is a major threat to its fragile ecosystem and the livelihoods of its people.

“Not only human lives and livelihoods are at risk, but the very backbone of the nation’s economy is at the mercy of climate change hazards,” it wrote in a recent report.

[Environmental News Network]

Planktos to Begin Ocean Seeding

This is an update on an article posted a while ago about seeding oceans with iron to encourage plankton growth (and thereby absorb CO2):

Planktos will use their vessel WeatherBird II, to seed a 10,000 square kilometer area off the Galápagos, in the South Pacific. Planktos see this as a research project that will hopefully prove the value of further seeding efforts. They don’t see it as a silver bullet, but as one part of a large scale effort. They are also involved in other sequestration efforts, like planting a quarter of a million acres of new forest in Hungary, and believe that reducing emissions also plays a key role in slowing climate change.

As with previous studies, it is expected that they will be able to promote plankton growth, but it is unclear whether this will have any long term beneficial effect on carbon sequestration.

[Treehugger]

Climate Panel Reaches Consensus on the Need to Reduce Harmful Emissions

It has been a busy year for these scientists. Here’s a bit on a new piece about to come out:

In an all-night session capping four days of talks in Bangkok, economists, scientists and government officials from more than 100 countries agreed early today on the last sections of a report outlining ways to limit such emissions, led by carbon dioxide, an unavoidable byproduct of burning coal and oil.

The final report, from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, said prompt slowing of emissions could set the stage later in the century for stabilization of the concentration of carbon dioxide, which, at 380 parts per million now, has risen more than a third since the start of the industrial revolution and could easily double from the preindustrial level within decades.

According to several authors, the final version estimates that bringing global carbon dioxide emissions by 2030 to levels measured in 2000 would require a cost on released carbon dioxide of $50 to $100 a ton, roughly on a par — in terms of fossil fuel prices — with an additional 50 cents to $1.00 for a gallon of gasoline.

The report projects that this shift might cause a small blunting of global economic activity, resulting in an overall reduction of perhaps one-tenth of a percentage point per year through 2100 in the world’s total economic activity, the authors said.

[NYTimes]

Bill Proposes Climate Study Focused on U.S. Defense

Remember the green.mnp post, The Warm on Terror?  Well here is an update:

Democrats are arguing that large-scale crises caused by climate change, like drought, pandemics, famine and rising sea levels, will affect how the United States conducts foreign policy and where American military resources will be used over the next several decades.

The proposed National Intelligence Estimate would project the effects of global warming over the next 30 years, examining political, social, economic and agricultural risks.

But Republicans are dismissing the proposed study as an unnecessary burden on intelligence agencies already weighed down by the demands of Iraq and Afghanistan and by efforts to combat Islamic radicalism worldwide.

“The Republican members believe that those resources should be directed to clear and present dangers that pose a threat to the lives of Americans and our families,” said Jamal Ware, a spokesman for Representative Peter Hoekstra of Michigan, the ranking Republican on the House intelligence committee.

[NYTimes]

Beer Maker, Scientists to Create Energy

This is one of those self-explanatory ones, but here is an excerpt anyway:

The fuel cell is essentially a battery in which bacteria consume water-soluble brewing waste such as sugar, starch and alcohol.

The battery produces electricity plus clean water, said Prof. Jurg Keller, the university’s wastewater expert.

The complex technology harnesses the chemical energy that the bacteria releases from the organic material, converting it into electrical energy.

The 660-gallon fuel cell will be 250 times bigger than a prototype that has been operating at the university laboratory for three months

[physorg]