Posts Tagged ‘Climate’

Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS)

The modern era of development, since the industrial revolution, has been fueled by cheap reliable energy sources, namely coal.  Coal is responsible for nearly 50% of US electricity. Coal however, is also the largest emitter of CO2.   With over 1/3rd of the world’s population living in two of the world’s most rapidly developing countries, China and India, the next generation of development will demand (and IS demanding) a cheap reliable source of energy (Chu, 2010).  To achieve the growth that these economies demand, coal will be necessary for the immediate future.  While investment in renewable energy sources should continue, figuring out ways to make coal more environmentally friendly is the key to achieving equitable and sustainable development.

Coal fired electricity generating plants are the biggest emitters of carbon dioxide.  The most direct method of capturing carbon is to capture it before it enters the atmosphere, right at the source.  There are several methods of achieving this goal.  Further details can be found here.

Post-Combustion: This is the traditional model of CO2 capture.  The combustion of coal produces smoke that is laden with CO2.  Extracting CO2 from this smoke can be achieved by either a physical or chemical mechanism.  The physical mechanism acts much the same way as a traditional “scrubber” that removes sulfur and particulate matter from the smoke.  The second mechanism for removing CO2 from the smoke involves a chemical reaction.  By forcing the CO2 smoke through an “amine” solution, CO2 binds to chemicals in the solution.  Once this solution becomes saturated with CO2 it is then ready for storage.

Pre-Combustion: This involves removing CO2 before it undergoes combustion.  Using high pressure and temperatures, fossil fuels can be disassociated into two parts, hydrogen and carbon monoxide.  The hydrogen is then used as a fuel, while the CO is converted to CO2 and is then ready for storage.  This process in energy intensive and is therefore less economically viable for production; however it may become more attractive if hydrogen fueled technologies become more prevalent.

The effects of carbon dioxide as a Greenhouse Gas have been understood for over 150 years.  While it is harmful in high atmospheric concentrations, CO2 itself is an inert gas.  Under moderate pressure it can easily be stored and transported as a liquid.  (The US National Renewable Energy Lab has compiled a nice set of resources).  It is in this liquid form that CO2 can then be stored.   The critical issue with storing COis that the margin of error is razor thin.  The stored carbon needs to be trapped for thousands of years.  At this time scale, even a minor leak of 0.1%/year becomes devastating, as it would evacuate the entire reservoir in 1000 years.  With these margins, high precision monitoring becomes crucial which further increases the cost of CCS.

Carbon Capture technology removes 80-90% of CO2.  However, current carbon capture methods reduce energy output by about 30%.  This means that 30% more coal will need to be burned in order to maintain the same energy output while at the same time still releasing some carbon into the atmosphere.  While this results in less total pollution for the atmosphere, the carbon savings are partially offset by the additional pollution and emissions from the mining and transportation of the extra coal.  Additionally, there is a chance of the carbon being released during transport or storage.  There are many issues at play when it comes to Carbon Capture and Storage, but it is possible, and it is necessary.  The technology will continue to advance and the price of that technology will contine to fall.  CCS will be a crucial step in the path toward carbon neutral growth, as coal will be an integral part of the global energy portfolio for the foreseeable future.

Is CCS feasible? Yes it is feasible, but it comes at a cost.   And unless we start valuing the price of our planet nearly as much as we value of our energy, we’re bound to lose both.


Climate Deniers Eat Their Own

Anthony Watts, doubt monger extraordinaire, has come out hard against ongoing research that preliminarily verifies the accuracy and statistical significance of climate change.  No surprise there.  Equally unsurprising is how quickly he turned against the study when he had previously stated he was “prepared to accept whatever result they (the researchers) produce, even if it proves my premise wrong.” Well the results so far are showing Watts’ premise wrong, yet here he is contesting the results.

The Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature (BEST) project began in 2007 as an unbiased, independent study to examine the entire global temperature record. They developed methods designed to address several issues that had been raised by skeptics.  Though officially an “non-political, non-partisan” group, climate deniers had reason to believe the results would fall in their favor. Along with addressing some of the issues raised by skeptics, the BEST team was also lead by one of their own, Dr. Robert Muller. Muller, PhD in particle physics, has been highly critical of climate scientist Dr. Michael Mann.  In addition to be lead by a climate skeptic, the BEST team also relied on dubious funding sources.  The Charles G. Koch (1/2 of the Koch Brothers) Charitable Foundation donated $150,000 (24% of the total BEST funding).

With all this, Anthony Watts had good reason to support such a study. He made several statements in favor of this study including an approval of the methods: “I’ve seen some of the methodology, and I’m pleased to say that their design handles many of the issues skeptics have raised”.  Even anti-smoking/ozone/everything-there-is-to-be-opposed skeptic Fred Singer lent his support to the BEST Project.

So why was Watts so upset with the preliminary results that Muller delivered during his testimony to the House Committee of Science, Space and Technology on 31 March 2011?  Because he reported the results of the science.  And the science once again says, “We are seeing substantial global warming” and “None of the effects raised by the [skeptics] is going to have anything more than a marginal effect on the amount of global warming.”

But that’s not what deniers want/need to here.   So, they are forced to attack even the most conservative of the climate scientists.  Instead of objectively analyzing the data, they have to attack data that don’t agree with their predetermined outcomes.  Even when the climate deniers approve the methods, approve the data, and approve the scientist, they are still unwilling to accept the results.  This blatant suspension of objectivity further shows the climate deniers hand, which appears to be getting weaker everyday.  Even so, the deniers don’t appear to be folding soon.


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