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« Solar-Hydrogen Fuel Cell Residence to be Built on Grand Cayman | Main | Merger of Diversa & Celunol into Verenium Completed »

June 19, 2007

Comments

Chad

That would occupy a space approaching 4 square miles. If it's true. I'll believe it when I see it in place.

Reality Czech

There is one extremely important thing missing from the descriptions of this technology, and that is its energy requirements.

Energy requirements make CCS retrofits of conventional coal-fired plants a non-starter.  This is the elephant in the room, and the fact that they are not talking about it can be taken as proof that it's just as big a problem for this technology as well.

Matti Kinnunen

Well, if we could run these devises with wind and solar. In this use, the irregular output of wind&solar would not matter.

Combine this with cardon quota markets, and it might work.

barry hanson

According to Johannes Lehmann at Cornell 9.5 billion tons of carbon could be stored per year in soils as bio-char, made from the low temp pyrolysis of biomass. Danny Day at Eprida is also working on this idea using gasifiers. The economics of these processes are quite favorable because half of the carbon goes into energy generation and only half goes into the bio-char, which itself is worth quite abit as a carbon based fertilizer.

JohnBo

I wonder how this and all these other very expensive CO2 "fixes" would compare to just putting a sun screen in orbit to block some solar gain? We are chasing our tail with all these indirect fixes. Lets just turn down the source of the heat a bit.

marcus

I guess this requires a carbon trading scheme to go into action.

Ronald Brak

Johnbo, putting a shield or shields in orbit is massively expensive. Even using low cost Russian launches you are looking at a couple of thousand dollars for each kilo put in orbit and countering global warming will require about 3 million square kilometers of shielding in low earth polar orbit. (Putting the shield at L1 reduces the size of the shield needed but massively increases launch costs.) If we can make one square kilometer of shield weigh 10 tons (a difficult prospect) then we are looking at a cost of around $60,000,000,000,000 or about $10,000 for every person on earth, which is much higher than the cost of replacing fossil fuel use with low emission power such as nuclear, wind, solar, and so on, or capturing and sequesting carbon.

Beek

Have to second Reality Check. The fact that they are not talking about the input energy means it eats up a lot of power.

And then there is no good way to sequester the CO2. A double whammy.

Lenny

Hmmmm, would this solve the small problem of the MOUNTAINS SLOWLY DISAPPEARING? Didn't think so!

nath

I wonder how it compares with simply growing algae and harvesting it for animal food. I thought this would be a straight forward easy method; why is it not in consideration.

Greg woulf

I believe in global warming 100%, but I'm not so sure it's connected to CO2, and even less sure if sequestering a part of the CO2 will even slow down warming.

There's no real models that say that taking X amount of CO2 from the atmosphere will do Y ammount of good.

I'm all for technology, but not for paying for sequestering until we go the direct path to reducing CO2 production.

My objection is not so much the validity of the technology, but rather the logic of producing too much CO2 and then sequestering some part of that whole and calling that any kind of fix.

pstoller78

I wonder if this method might be useful for providing a feedstock for the algae farms. Right now most of the algae projects involve concentrated C02 as a food for the algae, requiring a source of C02 nearby. This might possible allow for algae farms to be setup where there isn't currently a source of concentrated C02. Maybe we wouldn't need sequestration if we can find out a way to use the c02 as an input for other things.

amazingdrx

great point! It would work for algae systems. no electrical separation of the cO2 would be needed. It could remain in the liquid circulating in the algae growing media.

This would make an eccellent scrubbing system for cO2 from solid oxide fuel cell/turbine power systems. powered with biogas or pyrolisis gases for producing biochar with the fuel cell waste heat.

100% CO2 free backup for renewables like wind and solar. With CO2 sequestration as a byproduct.

Engineer-Poet

It's "amazing" that you'd think that this stuff, which holds onto CO2 well enough to extract it from the atmosphere, is going to yield it easily to algae without further energy input.  (If it doesn't, the algae are just going to be carbon-starved and not grow.)

You also seem to think that it's non-toxic to algae and could be separated from the growth medium to complete the cycle.  Got evidence?

This scheme's feasibility hinges on its energy requirements, as more intelligent posters have noted.  Perhaps this might be useful for a final carbon cleanup of a fuel gas stream (processing the last few percent of the carbon burden would require much less energy), but unless there's some complementary advance in energy supplies to run these things, they're going nowhere.

I'll admit that excess wind power is a candidate for that energy supply, but without energy demand figures you can't even make an envelope-back useful.

Nathan

It is fact that the energy consuption of the device is not mensioned is not good. If the device emitts more carbon that it captures if it uses coal fire to power the device then it is pointless and just a ploy. Even if you use power from non carbon emitting sources it is not worth it. You are better of using that power to offset the old dirty carbon sources. Also remember that this is only "helping" the Co2 issue. This is only one part of the problem. NoX Sox and particulates are just as but or perhaps even bigger problems. Methane gas is a much more potent gas. Bang for your buck the government would be better off subsdizing feed lot digesters.

JohnBo

Ronald - thanks for the calculations on the space shade "far out" idea. I guess we will just have to count on space junk in orbit to do the shading...ha-ha.

Regarding this CO2 system to feed algae... well it seems like it's all backwards and overly complex. Fix the source rather than prop up the problem.

Like Greg... I believe the globe is warming but there is no science that CO2 reduction yields "global cooling". I believe solar variation is more relevant than the CO2. Also, global warming is not bad as far as I can see. It's just different.. So what? The earth will change one way or another and man will adapt. I mean it's been going on since the beginning of life here on earth.

To be very blunt and practical, we all would have low cost fuel, lower pollution, etc. if there were just fewer of us. The real problem is too many folks. We “green” people ought to get behind a world population reduction policy. Think how clean New Orleans would be if only 10 people lived there. Man of wisdom… JohnBo

Engineer-Poet

CO2 reductions appear to cause the end of the interglacial periods, so there's that much evidence from the historical (ice-core) record.

Ender

JohnBo - "I believe solar variation is more relevant than the CO2. Also, global warming is not bad as far as I can see. It's just different.. So what? The earth will change one way or another and man will adapt. I mean it's been going on since the beginning of life here on earth."

Unfortunately the comforting answer of solar variation is contradicted by the fact that solar output has remained more or less steady while the temperature has swung up rather sharply. It the variations such as they are are too small to account for present warming.

Back on topic my opinion is that it is better not to emit the CO2 in the first place rather than emit it and then try to clean it up. Wind turbines generate power without emitting CO2 and having to bury it somewhere. It uses a lot of energy to capture the CO2, liquify it, compress it and inject it deep underground.

If we wanted too we could combine these with sunlight hydrogen cells and produce methane in sabatier reactors. Methane is a lot easier to store than hydrogen. Also you can use other reactions to produce methanol and other useful hydrocarbons.

Calamity

"Unfortunately the comforting answer of solar variation is contradicted by the fact that solar output has remained more or less steady while the temperature has swung up rather sharply. It the variations such as they are are too small to account for present warming".

Perhaps they are too small to amount to the measured warming of the present.
But how long have we been able to measure the exact amount of solar insulation, in watts/sq meter? And what about water vapor (=powerful ghg) in ppm? You need very precise instruments, which have only been around for several decades. I don't think it's a good idea to jump to conclusions with such a short timeframe of accurate data. And climate systems are complicated, with feedback loops, feedback loops of feedback loops, decades delay of effects to become manifest, a large amount of variables, unknown strength of certain variables, unknown connections between variables... The IPCC is brave indeed.

But if it's solutions we're after, there really is no need to tread the slippery grounds of climate science. Efficiency measures (transportation, residential, commercial, industrial) can facilitate lower cost, more responsible resource/energy use and also a reduction in GHG's. And renewables like wind and solar don't pollute the air as much as fossil fueled plants. A win-win situation because if CO2 turns out as a major culprit and reducing emissions of it could indeed cool the earth (could you ever know that for sure?), then efficiency + renewables are even better. If not, then the other advantages are still there. Sounds like a more responsible investment than sequestering carbon.


Buddy Ebsen

Ronald Brak - 60 trillion dollars? Wow, you have slipped a few decimal places I think. If a shield were 10 tonnes, then it could easily be lifted to LEO in a single shuttle mission, as the shuttle payload capacity is 30 tonnes.

Use the additional payload for propellant to get it to L1.

I'm not advocating this, simply pointing out that its not as impossible as you make it sound.

Buddy Ebsen

Oops, just noticed you mention 10 million sq km of shield would be necessary.

As Emily Lutella would say - 'Never mind'.

pelinoc

This idea of free-standing carbon capture strikes me as a classic example of markets responding to an incentive: governments have decided that CO2 is the "problem", and have started offering money directly through subsidies and indirectly through carbon trading/regulation of carbon emissions to anyone who can help solve it.

Personally, I am with the people who have expressed some skepticism about the degree of prevailing certainty around climate issues. It could well be that GHGs are changing the climate, and their seems to be evidence that this is the case (IPCC, etc.). However, it is also clear that climate on the Earth has changed many times over geologic time, for reasons obviously unconnected to people. Given the continuing uncertainty, wouldn't it be better to focus government-sponsored resources on efforts that would have an unambiguously net-positive impact on society? For example, make our buildings more energy efficient (long-run costs of operation go down because they consume less energy, while therefore reducing GHG output), cut the use of energy sources that have known health and environmental impacts that are not currently priced into economic markets (like conventional coal plants, that still spew out NOX, SO2, HG, particulates, etc., all of which causes local health and forestry issues, as well as massive GHGs), and make mass transit cheaper and more prevalent (reduce maintenance cost pressures on roads, reduce congestion costs on the economy, while at the same time improving net fuel efficiency economy-wide and reducing GHGs).

There are lots of other potential options for things to do, but in most cases there are very limited constituencies of people who advocate for them, because there are limited ways to make money from them (builders hate tougher building codes, because they have to adapt to them, and because the initial cost of buildings goes up, even though life cost goes down; mass transit doesn't compete with automobiles as a lobbying entity; etc.).

Carbon sequestration, and the technology required to facilitate it, should probably be way down on the list of things to do. Unless of course you have an interest in continuing to do pretty much what you do now (e.g., conventional coal plants, big oil-hungry vehicles, cheap uninsulated buildings, etc.), with a minimum cost increase from buying "credits" to pay someone with a sequestration scheme.

Reality Czech

Atmospheric carbon sequestration is a remedial measure.  It's a way to reverse changes which we'd otherwise have to endure for decades or centuries.

Calamity

Well, if you really want to sequester some carbon, putting pyrolized biomass (charcoal) in the ground isn't a bad way to go. Good for soil fertility so that's a win-win. And at least the carbon stays where it is.

It was pivotal to the Master Plan proposed by the Engineer-Poet (although he called it a "modest proposal") and this blog did a post on it too.

Question is: can we sequester ourselves out of climate change?

averagejoe

I still think the idea of planting a mixture of prairie grasses on marginal land is the best option. The University of Minnesota did a pilot program where each acre of prairie grasses sequestered 1.2 -1.8 tons of CO2 in the plants' roots. That's the net result after assuming the above ground parts of the plants were used for biofuels.

The grasses can be used for multiple purposes: feedstock for biofuels, biomass (burned for electricity), animal fodder, control of erosion and runoff, restoring soil fertility on marginal land, etc.

Look at it from a utility company's point of view. If it uses biomass to displace some of the coal normally burned in its generating plants, it can toot its horn in two ways. First, the company can reduce fossil CO2 emissions. Second, it can play up the carbon sequestration aspect. The big energy corporations are always looking for good and inexpensive PR. As a bonus, it actually does help the environment and the farmers.

The best part of the whole idea is the low input nature of the plants. Grown as a mixture, fertilizer requirements are minimal.

Engineer-Poet

I'm slowly reading through Bio-Energy with Carbon Storage, which anticipated my "Sustainability" concept by a year or two.  Until I'm done reading it I can't be sure how much I got beyond them.

This did give me some writing fodder, so watch for a post at the new Ergosphere.

marcus

I guess I'm just a little bewildered about all you people that can't seem to get your heads around CO2 and climate change. What evidence would it take to convince you?

We can find no other plausible causes to account for the observed warming. That CO2 is a GHG is fact and that its concentrations have increased due to industrialization is fact. Even our estimates for the amount of warming that should be occuring due to CO2 increases is spot on.

Past climate changes had causes. For many of these events we know what those causes were (such as orbital changes) but those causes simply aren't operating today. So while there is a little uncertainty it is rather a small amount of uncertainty, ie it is VERY LIKELY that the global temperature increasese since mid last century are due to anthropogenic GHGs.

Do you really want to ignore science and take your (and mine) chances on some skeptical hunch?

marcus

I guess I'm just a little bewildered about all you people that can't seem to get your heads around CO2 and climate change. What evidence would it take to convince you?

We can find no other plausible causes to account for the observed warming. That CO2 is a GHG is fact and that its concentrations have increased due to industrialization is fact. Even our estimates for the amount of warming that should be occuring due to CO2 increases is spot on.

Past climate changes had causes. For many of these events we know what those causes were (such as orbital changes) but those causes simply aren't operating today. So while there is a little uncertainty it is rather a small amount of uncertainty, ie it is VERY LIKELY that the global temperature increasese since mid last century are due to anthropogenic GHGs.

Do you really want to ignore science and take your (and mine) chances on some skeptical hunch?

marcus

I guess I'm just a little bewildered about all you people that can't seem to get your heads around CO2 and climate change. What evidence would it take to convince you?

We can find no other plausible causes to account for the observed warming. That CO2 is a GHG is fact and that its concentrations have increased due to industrialization is fact. Even our estimates for the amount of warming that should be occuring due to CO2 increases is spot on.

Past climate changes had causes. For many of these events we know what those causes were (such as orbital changes) but those causes simply aren't operating today. So while there is a little uncertainty it is rather a small amount of uncertainty, ie it is VERY LIKELY that the global temperature increasese since mid last century are due to anthropogenic GHGs.

Do you really want to ignore science and take your (and mine) chances on some skeptical hunch?

averagejoe

One...

averagejoe

...post...

averagejoe

... is enough...

marcus

I know. Sometimes the internet doesn't behave as expected...

amazingdrx

"more intelligent posters"

Hehey, good to see the old insult comic is back.

Calamity

Hmm. I still think there are far more compelling and disambiguous reasons to go for pervasive energy efficiency and clean renewable energy generation than AGW. Cleaner air, waters, soil, more responsible and effective energy use, national security (energy independence, cutting off funds to extremist organisations and persons). And at the same time less CO2 emissions. No need for silly carbon capture technologies and geological storage. And we need to be going that direction anyway, since fossil = finite on a human timeline plus demand just keeps growing. Might as well do it now.

But like Pelinoc cleverly noted, let's not underestimate the status quo. It tends to get in the way of doing the "right" things. And it's historically proven to be quite effective in doing that...

marcus

"No need for silly carbon capture technologies and geological storage"

Check out these animations of temperature changes. I think you are making a big mistake.

http://data.giss.nasa.gov/gistemp/animations/

dbandfun

Um, what's the chemical potential difference between CO2 in the atmosphere and this sorbent? Even without considering mass diffusion limitations, this is a horribly bad idea. All that this press release told me was that these guys don't understand thermodynamics. I've seen more realistic ideas at high school science fairs.

averagejoe

It seems like the best approaches would be those that serve several purposes at one time. I believe Engineer-Poet and DRX have mentioned concepts like biochar/pyrolysis and the prairie grass/buffalo/windfarm idea. Why not use low input approaches... or approaches that multiply the output benefits for a given level of inputs? The technology in the above article is interesting, but too expensive.

According to the article, "one million devices would be required to remove one billion tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere." In 2006, we (the U.S.) contributed 5,877 million metric tons of CO2 to the atmosphere. In other words, the article's approach costs mucho dollars.

Even the worst case scenarios in the IPCC report take place over the next 50-100 years. Seems to me that PHEV's, biofuels, solar, nuclear, etc. will take care of the problem long before then.

amazingdrx

Yep Joe. An internet enabled grid would store/conserve enough energy to make utility scale backup or storage for wind and solar unecessary. Plugin vehicles, appliances, geothermal heating/cooling systems, and biogas/pyrolisis fed fuel cells would all be enabled to smooth out the variations in supply and demand of a distributed renewable grid.

Once carbon emmisions are curtailed with this aproach, pyrolisis and biogas digestion that enables a complete conversion to organic farming would remove carbon already in the atmosphere that has brought the climate to this already disastrous stage.

Together this could reverse GHG climate disaster within a decade.

BILL HANNAHAN

MARCUS asks
[I guess I'm just a little bewildered about all you people that can't seem to get your heads around CO2 and climate change. What evidence would it take to convince you?]


A long belittled theory that global climate is heavily affected by solar flair radiation affecting cosmic ray energy is now rapidly gaining traction.

Catch the July Discover at your library.

Here are some links.

http://www.spacecenter.dk/research/sun-climate/cosmoclimatology

http://epw.senate.gov/public/index.cfm?FuseAction=Files.View&FileStore_id=c5e16731-3c64-481c-9a36-d702baea2a42

http://epw.senate.gov/public/index.cfm?FuseAction=PressRoom.Blogs&ContentRecord_id=0df9b3cd-802a-23ad-4984-5ac0c6d42605

http://epw.senate.gov/public/index.cfm?FuseAction=PressRoom.Blogs&ContentRecord_id=B82EAA82-802A-23AD-49E8-30B49D1BC8F5


If this keeps up there will be a huge new market for crow within two years.

Marcus:

It’s pretty obvious that the average temperatures on earth have increased (if not, the instruments are bogus, which would make us rather incompetent). And yes, increased CO2 seems suspicious, at least to explain modern warming. But it’s not completely certain that CO2 (at least alone) is a complete explanation. What’s even less certain is that sequestering a bunch of it will slow down, stop, or even reverse warming at all. And even if it does will it reverse warming immediately? The climate is both complex and subtle; no guarantees can be given. We may be stuck with warming for quite some time so let’s not forget about adaptation measures.

And there’s more. These systems can only capture what their power plant creates (CO2 from coal/gas). That is, they can at best (if you capture almost all the CO2) be almost carbon neutral. If you don't generate CO2 in the first place then you don't have to capture it either. Isn’t preventing better than curing? That is what efficiency measures do, and they can be applied everywhere, not just in coal/gas generation plants (which are just one source of CO2 emissions). They also lower the energy use, while these carbon capture devices actually require more energy.

There may be hidden danger in these systems, in that they may result in more coal fired plants being constructed. “Hell, we’ve got these sequestration devices, let’s build some more coal plants”. Rather dubious, as if CO2 emissions are the only problem coal has. Coal mining, for example, results in severe environmental damage (although “mountains slowly disappearing” isn’t exactly what I’m thinking of. The USA has a lot of coal, but not THAT much, lol).

But really, it surprises me that supply side fixes are getting so much attention while right now the fruit is hanging almost to the ground on the demand side. Biofuels are a shining example. They have limited potential, but when demand is decimated, biofuels get leveraged from a marginal contributor to a major asset. For the short to medium term, demand side fixes should get priority. In the medium to long term, more emphasis can be put on supply side fixes.

Want to hear something funny about geological CO2 sequestration? A carbon molecule weighs less than an oxygen atom, and there’s two oxygen atoms in CO2. That’s right -- you’re storing more than twice the weight in oxygen than you’re storing carbon. I wouldn’t call that “carbon sequestration”. I call that “oxygen sequestration”.

I called geological CO2 sequestration “silly” not BECAUSE they reduce CO2 emissions, but because they ONLY reduce CO2 emissions.

That was my comment. Stupid Typekey system, I already signed in...

Calamity

It's working! It's working! Can you believe it...

Calamity

"These systems can only capture what their power plant creates (CO2 from coal/gas). That is, they can at best (if you capture almost all the CO2) be almost carbon neutral."

Sorry - I meant "it's better not to generate CO2 at all"

Calamity

"and they can be applied everywhere, not just in coal/gas generation plants (which are just one source of CO2 emissions)"

Gotta get myself some coffee...

marcus

Regarding solar flares and cosmic rays, they show no long term trend matching the increasing trend in surface temperatures. No scientific peer reviewed article has been published proposing they are responsible for the current warming. Discover magazine is not peer reviewed.

Regarding whether this specific technology will do the job or not is not my point. My main concern is the question of whether it is in general helpful for reducing anthropogenic climate change by sequestering CO2. Obviously due to the oceans, climate change has a large lag time relative to atmospheric CO2 concentrations. However where we end up at by the end of this century and later depends on CO2 concentrations now. It is not just CO2 of course. Methane and other GHGs also contribute. Does that take away from doing something about CO2 though? I don't see why. I absolutely agree that the demand side of the equation needs more attention.

Calamity

I suppose a lot also depends on economics. If a billion dollars in carbon sequestration technologies yields a much higher CO2 reduction than a billion dollars spent in major efficiency programs then maybe it's not so bad.

Are there any macro-scale studies on this?

Tony

Highly suspicious: the concept is very promising, but Columbia University's involvement makes me doubt that they have a successful prototype. After the huge failure that is Biosphere II, suspicion is warranted. What's really annoying is the failure of journalists to pin these people down on the chemicals and energies involved. Is their chemical an amine, a ionic solvent or what? What are the watts hours of electricity required to separate one kilogram of carbon dioxide? What role does temperature play in absorption and release of carbon dioxide from the absorbent? Since active removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere may be required for the continued survival of human civilization, there needs to be more probing interest in the specifics of this and other groups solutions.

Nucbuddy

This article seems to hint that the energy cost is 1,000 kWh/ton.

groovygreen.com/groove/?p=1500

Nearly 90,000 tons of carbon dioxide a year — roughly the amount emitted annually by 15,000 cars — could be captured by the structure. [...] Paired with a windmill, the carbon-capture tree would generate about 3 megawatts of power, Lackner calculates, making the operation self-sufficient in energy.

Since there is no such thing (as of yet) as a windmill that creates a continuous average power of 3 megawatts, perhaps Lackner meant a continuous average of 1 megawatt. That would mean the 90,000 tons/year would cost 8,760 (365 x 24) megawatt-hours/year, which would be 1 megawatt-hour for every 10 tons, or 100 kWh per ton.

If those kWh were produced by a nuclear power plant at a levelized cost of $0.03/kWh, the energy-cost per ton would be $3.

However -- unless the reporter made a mistake -- those are tons of carbon dioxide, and not tons of elemental carbon. Correcting for the oxygen attached to the carbon, the cost would rise to some $9 or $10 per ton of captured carbon.

Calamity

Nucbuddy: if you're going to build a nuclear powerplant, you could also sell the electricity to other states/nations. Seems like you could get much more than 3 cents/kwh when exporting. Perhaps it would be more fair to compare to that income, as that's what you're missing when you use the power for these CO2 capture devices instead.

And anyway, that's just the energy costs. There are other operating/maintenance costs and production/installing costs.

Besides, nuclear power is not very responsible (prove me wrong). And neither are these dubious contraptions (prove me wrong).

Combining NP with with these devices? Downright irresponsible! (again, prove me wrong)

This technology represents a completely wrong way of thinking.

Compare it to this general outline:

1. Efficiency
Improving efficiency on a large scale means cutting total energy demand drastically which is what must be done anyway. This can be done quick, cheap and environmentally sound. A kwh saved is also MORE than a kwh generated, as it evades transmission and distribution losses.

2. Renewables
With major efficiency gains, it will be easier for renewables to generate a large part of total energy demand.

3. Charcoal sequestration
With efficiency measures cutting demand in all sectors and large scale renewables taking care of a large part of the supply, a relatively small amount of carbon need only be sequestered. Charcoal sequestration can do it all, the carbon is not going anywhere, it's good for soil fertility and yields valuable byproduct fuels.

There you have it, the roadmap to a carbon-lean world, eventually carbon negative. Still no need for dubious technologies like atmospheric CO2 capture.

With many other advantages, including a cleaner environment, more fertile soil, increasingly responsible and effective energy use, responsible capital allocation, jobs creation, national security (including energy independence, no more funding of extremist organisations etc).

But now I'm just repeating myself...

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