10. 12. 2007

Bali

Bali discussions duly chuntering on. And my heart goes out to all those poor NGO stalwarts who have to sit there day after day listening to the mind-crushing mediocrity of most government delegations.

By way of inspiring contrast, I have just discovered WWF's excellent publication, 'Climate Solutions: a Vision for 2050'. It does a lot of the usual stuff, tracking out different scenarios in a very low-carbon future through to 2050, elaborating on the so-called 'Princeton wedges' (devised by Pacala and Sokolov) and highlighting in the process just how urgent it is to turn Bali-esque hot air into instant greenhouse gas abatement schemes.

Without a huge amount of enthusiasm, 'Climate Solutions' also emphasises just how crucial it is going to be to sort out two aspects of the journey to a low-carbon economy which environmentalists are understandably somewhat uncomfortable about: carbon capture and storage, and the extensive use of gas as a 'transition fuel'.

Oddly enough, both of these are really all about coal. How many times have you heard eminent energy experts pontificating about the 'inevitability' of massive increases in the use of coal over the next two or three decades? The International Energy Agency, for instance, estimates no less than a doubling of the use of coal by 2030, basing their predictions on the fact that coal use has gone up by 23% over the last five years! If that 'inevitability' happens for real, then we're all as good as stuffed.

So, according to WWF, two things have to happen. First, gas has to be substituted for coal wherever and whenever possible. A combined-cycle gas turbine plant emits no more than 40% of the emissions of a standard coal-fired station. With the biggest reserves of gas in just three countries (Russia, Iran, and Qatar) that inevitably means a massive increase in LNG (liquefied natural gas) facilities all around the world. And thatís quite challenging from an environmental point of view.

Secondly, we have to get stuck into capturing the CO2 which would otherwise be emitted from coal and gas-fired power stations, and sticking it back underground in old oil and gas reservoirs or saline aquifers. Substantial additional costs (at least $50 a tonne), huge logistical and legal issues all now loom - but as WWF uncomfortably reminds us, there's absolutely no way of getting through to a low-carbon world by 2050 without billions of tonnes of C02 being kept out of the atmosphere in that way.

And that's quite a challenge from an environmental point of view! But WWF never said it was going to be easy.

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Comments

14. 12. 2007
Brian Adams

The WWF report and comments on it make a lot of sense.

May I know if the figure of $50 a ton for the cost of carbon capture is based on capturing it at the factory/power station chimney as seems to be suggested? If so, this process is both expensive and more importantly reduces the fuel efficiency of the plant. Another possibility is to remove the CO2 directly from the atmosphere at a remote site suitable for immediate sequestration without having to transport it. This to be paid or by the polluter conventionally or by carbon trading. The simplest capture method would be to the pass large quantities of air through a fine spray of cold sea water thus mimicking the action at the interface between the atmosphere and the ocean during storms.

14. 12. 2007
Spamlet

Seems to me the best way of sequestering CO2 would be to make it into coal and bury it...

And landfill would be a good way too...

And meanwhile, having seen them actually setting fire to methane escaping from thawing permafrost and snow, on TV the other week, I'd say it was pretty essential to begin covering the steppes in plastic poly tunnels - like the coast of Spain appears to be already - to recover the gas before it escapes and is many times worse than the CO2. Why drill for gas when you can just 'cover and collect'? Who knows, perhaps they can pump CO2 into the permafrost and get CH4 out! Perhaps the CO2 might even be absorbed by the biota in the permafrost as it warms, thaws, and starts to reproduce... Gotta be worth a try.

S

14. 12. 2007
Spamlet

And, incidentally, as news begins to emerge that the US, Canada and Japan, have managed to force the Bali negotiations into a cop out 'compromise' just as they did in Kyoto...

Why did none of the other nations club together and agree not to supply these wreckers with oil? Seems they would have no choice but to declare war on the rest of the world, or go with the majority view for once. Is climate change an important and serious issue or not? If it is then the majority states must stop pulling the punches and take the gloves off!

S

17. 12. 2007
elizabeth

Carbon capture - is any research team trying to make a synthetic chlorophyll which would capture CO2 fast as well as producing a carbohydrate fuel/food? Sheets of it could be trailed through the upper atmosphere?

20. 12. 2007
Adrian O'Leary

Underground coal gasification may provide the answer to some the problems with burning coal.

09. 02. 2008
neil craig

Even if it were true that nuclear power was only going to reduce CO2 by 4%, which i assume is because it obviously doesn't work in cars & because the Commission are making fairly modest assumptions about how much we will build, surely if they really believed in catastrophic warming they would still have to enthusiasticly support nuclear.

Since windmills produce about 1% of our electricity I assume they are cutting CO2 by under 0.2% but I have not seen the environmentalist/Luddite (according to taste) crowd saying we shouldn't build windmills for that reason.

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