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Carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) is a surprisingly controversial topic. Coal interests and climate change deniers insist, predictably, that it is unnecessary and would create an intolerable drag on the economy. But CCS is also opposed by some militant environmentalists. Their position is that CCS would be a band-aid to justify continued reliance on fossil fuels and prop up an unsustainable "business as usual".
The only way to avoid disaster, as these militant greens see it, is social transformation. We must learn to use much less energy overall, and phase out fossil fuels as quickly as possible in favor of low-carbon alternatives. CCS requires energy and would increase our total energy consumption. It would thus consume resources that these individuals feel would be better spent elsewhere. We must focus, they say, on efficiency, on consuming less, and on replacement of fossil fuels with low-carbon alternatives.
The Problem of Scale
The anti-CCS school has its points. The sheer scale of investment required is daunting if we intend to rely mainly on carbon sequestration to stabilize atmospheric CO2. Consider:
Based on EIA data, pulverized coal (PC) power plants in the US currently consume about one gigaton of coal annually, produce some three million GWh of electricity, and emit about three gigatons of CO2;
Equipping an existing PC plant for carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) using available technology is estimated to cost about $1000 / kW rating. It reduces the plant's net power output by about 24%;
For the country as a whole, that translates to about $425 billion in capital for CC equipment, plus about $100 billion in new generation (assuming NGCC) to replace the power lost to CCS operations;
Add to that a few $100 billion for the cost of the pipelines to transport CO2 to sequestration sites and the cost of the injection wells and pumps for pushing compressed CO2 into deep geological formations.
All told, we can figure on the order of $1 trillion in capital spending. That would be spread over a period of decades, so it's not impossible. It's very much less, for example, than our recent military misadventures have been running. However, it only deals with the ~33% of our CO2 emissions that are associated with coal-fired power generation. Most of the other two thirds is from vehicles, and that portion is harder to deal with.
The bottom line is that, yes, to stabilize atmospheric CO2 levels, it would be a very challenging and possibly futile task to rely only on sequestration of carbon from our current mix of energy resources. We must reduce our consumption of fossil fuels themselves, and shift toward non-fossil alternatives.
The Policy Issue
Well, duh! But that's not really the issue, is it? There's no question that if we decide to burden fossil fuels with something near their true external costs, it will make them a lot more expensive. That will make efficiency and non-fossil alternatives correspondingly more attractive. And even if we decline to tax CO2 and leave future generations to deal with the consequences of our fossil fuel addiction, rising global demand and the increasing difficulty of replacing depleted reserves will eventually get us to the same place. So one way or another, we will be shifting away from fossil fuels.
The issue is just what our policy toward sequestration should be in the meantime. Would the resources we might apply toward sequestration be better allocated to promote conservation and further accelerate the introduction of non-fossil alternatives? Should support for carbon sequestration even be a part of our national energy policy?
If one looks at the issue in terms of return on energy investment -- where "return" means avoided CO2 emissions into the atmosphere -- then sequestration clearly does make sense. The energy cost for CCS using available technology, as noted above, is 24% of a PC plant's power output. New technology might drop that to 15%, or even less. But that technology is unproven. So let's say that 240 kWh will sequester the CO2 from 1000 kWh of PC plant output. That means that if we have 240 kWh of energy from a zero-carbon source, we can either supply it to end users and avoid the CO2 from 240 kWh of coal-fired power generation, or, we can use it to replace the energy lost in capturing and sequestering the CO2 from 1000 kWh of coal-fired power generation. CCS, in this example, is over four times more effective than substitution for reducing CO2 emissions into the atmosphere!
It isn't quite that simple, of course. CCS involves additional capital expenditure that isn't needed for substitution. One could perhaps argue that the value of keeping 760 kWh worth of coal-generated CO2 out of the atmosphere isn't enough to justify the additional capital cost of CCS equipment over and above that of the 240 kWh of zero-carbon energy. Climate change deniers would certainly have no problem with that position. But from an anti-carbon environmental faction, it makes no sense. With the much higher capital cost per annual megawatt hour for renewable vs. coal, the 4:1 advantage of CCS in return on energy investment translates to at least a 10:1 advantage in return on capital. If the avoided CO2 emissions can't justify the capital required for CCS, how can they possibly justify the capital for renewables?
Anthropogenic CO2 either is or isn't a serious threat. If it isn't, then it blows most of the case for renewables. There may still be a "peak oil" case for reducing our dependence on oil; cheap and easily accessed oil is in decline, while economic development in emerging nations is driving demand through the roof. However, that's an oil problem and specific to the transportation sector. It's not an across-the-board fossil fuel problem. Rising oil prices should provide plenty of incentive to improve fuel efficiency and to electrify our transportation without the further incentive of a price on carbon emissions.
If, on the other hand, rapidly mounting levels of CO2 in the atmosphere are the threat that climate science is telling us, then our response logically must consider sequestration as an option. If we can reduce carbon emissions to the atmosphere more quickly by investing capital in CCS than we can via subsidized renewable energy, what rationale is there for not doing so?
I suspect that a big part of what drives the militant green position is concern that, once the investment in CCS for coal-fired power generation has been made, the climate change argument for abandoning coal goes away. If one's real objection to coal is the local environmental damage from mining it rather than global climate change, then opposition to CCS makes tactical sense. It's dishonest, but there's certainly ample precedent in politics for dishonesty. Lobbies expose positions using arguments they think will sell, however little those arguments have to do with their backers actual motives for those positions.
Of course it's not a simple either / or choice that we face. We can and should be supporting both ultra-low carbon energy production and CCS. We can't reduce the cost of ultra-low carbon energy if we don't continue to ramp or at the very least maintain production. At the moment, the double whammy of unnaturally cheap natural gas and withdrawal of subsidies threatens the entire clean energy sector. At the same time, we will never learn what the real economic costs of CCS will be, or discover which forms are the most practical, if we don't start moving beyond lab experiments and small pilot projects.
The Geo-Engineering Hangup
In addition to feelings against coal mining, some of the sentiment against CCS within the environmental sector seems to stem from an ideological opposition to anything that smacks of "geo-engineering". The arguments are couched in terms of rational concerns about the potential for "unintended consequences" and our limited understanding of the complexities of natural systems. But read very much material from that camp, and it becomes pretty clear that it's an emotional issue. The rational arguments are mustered in defense of a position that would still be held, independent of the rational arguments. Geo-engineering is simply evil. To its opponents, it represents the pinnacle of technological hubris, and a "man over nature" philosophy. It runs counter to everything that green militants wish for the world to be.
While I sympathize with their outrage over what humankind has been doing to the natural world, I think that unconditional opposition to all geo-engineering is misguided. There is every reason to be cautious in our approach to it; the systems we would be attempting to modify or control truly are complex, and the potential for adverse consequences is real. But the problem with making opposition ideological and unconditional is that it ignores the fact that humans have been doing "blind geo-engineering" for quite a long time now. Even in prehistoric times, we were using grass fires to control brush and create better habitat for hunting herd animals. Later, we cleared land, killed off predators, depleted fertile soils, and raised cattle, goats, and sheep in numbers that stripped the land and spread deserts. All that was well before we developed industrial technology, when our numbers were much less than today.
Today, we burn fossil fuels at a rate that is changing the atmosphere of the planet. Loss of wildlife habitat and human-caused changes in ecosystems are driving what is shaping up to be the largest mass extinction of species for the last 250 million years. Abandoning technology and quitting fossil fuels "cold turkey" is not an option. It would mean the prompt die off of 99% of human population. But to avoid disaster, we may need to employ some benign geo-engineering. We'll need it to manage our impact and minimize damages.
Geo-Engineering example: OTEC+
An example of the sort of geo-engineering we might be driven to consider is large-scale ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC) coupled with boosting the alkalinity of ocean surface waters (what I label "OTEC+"). I mentioned that approach previously in part 21. It has a number of effects that work together to mitigate global warming and related environmental problems:
Generates carbon-free base load power. This reduces the need for coal and natural gas for power generation;
Brings deep water with enhanced alkalinity to the surface. This counters acidification of ocean waters due to higher atmospheric CO2 levels. It also enables the dissolution of more CO2 in surface waters;
Reduces average temperature of surface waters. Among other effects, this directly reduces average global temperature;
Lowers humidity downwind of cooler surface waters. Water vapor is a much stronger greenhouse gas than CO2, and dryer air allows more thermal radiation to escape from the surface, indirectly lowering average global temperature;
Enhances biological productivity of the surface waters around the OTEC installation. OTEC plants would create local "islands" of cooler, nutrient-rich water around each installation.
As a power generation technology alone, OTEC suffers from capital costs that are likely too high for economic viability -- despite an unlimited supply of free "fuel". But it does lend itself to ocean pH adjustment via dissolution of carbonates in cold, deep waters. It brings those more alkaline waters immediately to the surface, vs. the several hundred to a thousand years it would take for natural ocean circulation to do the job. This system supports ocean sequestration of CO2 from diffuse sources. It would provide a means, for example, to sequester CO2 released from melting tundra, should that develop into a dominant source of emissions.
The long term results of the immediate reductions in water temperatures and atmospheric water vapor are hard to estimate. What can be said with certainty is that changes in ocean surface temperatures have a strong effect on both weather patterns and general climate. Indeed, recent evidence indicates that in past epochs, ocean currents were a stronger driver of global climate change than CO2 levels2. For evidence of the impact of relatively small changes in ocean surface temperatures, one need look no further than the Pacific El Niño / La Niña Southern Oscillation (ENSO). ENSO affects an ocean surface area several orders of magnitude larger than would be affected by any single OTEC plant; however, an El Niño episode is defined by an increase in average surface temperature in the tropical east-central Pacific of as little as 0.5 °C. At that, its ability to affect global weather patterns is infamous. The temperature change associated with OTEC operation -- at least in the immediate vicinity of the plant -- would be 10x greater.
The good news / bad news for this system is that the impact of individual OTEC installations, when measured against the natural thermohaline circulation, would be minute. OTEC requires a cold water flow of 175 -- 200 cubic meters per second per gigawatt. That may seem a lot, but it's a bare trickle against the 17 million cubic meters per second of the thermohaline circulation. As a result, we could build and operate quite a number of such systems without fear of adverse consequences. That would allow us to safely study them, and to develop and validate models of their overall effects. It may turn out that OTEC+ systems would not be a cost-effective way to mitigate climate change, but it's the sort of thing we'll need to explore seriously.
Getting on With the Job
The unfortunate fact is that we cannot avoid an immense environmental footprint. There are simply far too many of us for that. The issue then is simply stated. Do we continue to bury our heads in the sand and disown responsibility for our blind impact on the terrestrial environment and ecosystems? Or do we buckle down and get serious about making the impact as benign as possible?
Taking responsibility is admittedly uncomfortable. But I have no sympathy for those who cling to childhood, and dismiss the consequences of our blind actions as "acts of god". I don't think that's what a creator god would expect of us.
Parts 1 and 2 of the article are located at www.energypulse.net.
Nature preprint posted at Skeptical Science web site (Today's Climate More Sensitive to Carbon Dioxide than in Past 12 Million Years) -- http://www.skepticalscience.com/Todays-Climate-More-Sensitive_NSF.html
For information on purchasing reprints of this article, contact sales. Copyright 2013 CyberTech, Inc.
To me sequestration is silly, build more modern Combined Cycle Natural Gas CCNG or fuel switch to Natural Gas. $1000/kw for sequestration will build CCNG. It makes more sense to build CCNG and idle coal or move it coal to a seasonal peaking mode. Just run it during the summer cooling season and maybe a month in the winter based on weather. Spending billions on antique plants doesn’t make sense and a new coal plants with sequestration appears as pricey nuclear with far fewer advantages.
Did anyone notice that US first quarter 2012 CO2 emissions were the lowest in 20 years (EIA). Even under the 1992 Kyoto protocol level. EIA attributes it to mild weather cheap Nat Gas and expensive gasoline.
There is a world outside the US that is not sequestering. This proposed unilateral action will serve only to further lower the standard of living and competitive position of the US. The world’s number one emitter, China will continue to fuel its economy with cheap coal. Does anyone believe that a nation lacking SO2, NOX standards is going to limit CO2 production the feedstock of its economy. Coal is a massive store of solar energy produced over millions of years from atmospheric CO2. It came from the atmosphere and like it or not it is going back at a much faster clip. Unless the World’s nations are going to surrender their last vestiges of sovereignty it is not going to stop. Even massive US cuts would only serve to slow the rate of increase.
This is why I do not worry about CO2 emissions as I have mentioned before whatever cataclysm CO2 might possibly entail will happen. The US historic position as the number one GHG emitter over, it is a rather distant second and will be third in a decade behind China and probably India. The Chinese are already starting to convert coal to liquids for transportation fuels this will entail massive amounts of CO2 production. The huge Mongolian reserves have eliminated the hope that coal consumption will be reduced due to final harvest of the low hanging fruit of Chinese coal.
I am aware of some of the most dire predictions in particular in 2006 James Lovelock predicted that 6 billion or so will starve in coming years and the remaining 500 million more less will have retreated northward or southward towards the poles. Lovelock believed most of the world would quickly become a desert. Lovelock has recently done an about face saying he was wrong and is embracing Natural Gas fuel rather than a nuclear world as he before supported. It is a good thing we did not abandon the modern world baed on his science.
I concede it is obviously and experiment with our own existence as to what will happen. Regardless the CO2 freight train is unstoppable in our current world. I understand many wish for it to be different. Wish in one hand...
I am also a supporter of a simple “at the source” carbon tax, whether it be mine mouth wellhead or oil unloading terminal. I am fine with the tax as long as it is US government revenue, rather than an attempt at a worldwide redistribution of wealth.
Anyway enough, just my thoughts on it
Jim Beyer 8.8.12
I agree that the elephant in the room is the practical implementation of any CO2 emission restriction.
Shutting down any coal plant is a huge capital loss, and China is building brand new ones at one per week! The only way I see the mindset changing is if something really (really!) bad happens climate-wise that the typical person will connect with CO2 emissions. The deniers are winning because the economic implications of CO2 restriction are so extreme.
Jerry Watson 8.8.12
The deniers are winning to do the slow arrival of the promised apocalypse. Nothing makes one look sillier than missing a date for doomsday. Of cousres it is December 21, 2012 so we really should not worry about anything a whole lot in our last few months.
Len Gould 8.8.12
Good article overall Roger. One question. I note your statement in totalling the capital costs of CCS "plus about $100 billion in new generation (assuming NGCC) to replace the power lost to CCS operations". Couldn't that sum be eliminated by simply assigning the CCS power used to being the grid's available reserve, typically 25%? Instead of having 25% extra capacity installed and potentially operational in case any large generators fail unexpectedly, as we do now, we should simply implement legislation which would allow the CCS operations to be shut down for as long as necessary to get any shutdown back up (ideally rarely if ever); allowing generators to release the CO2 instead of sequestering it and provide the saved power to the grid during the emergency.
Overall, I'm still convinced that by far the cheapest way to sequester carbon is to leave the coal and natural gas in the ground in the first place, as much as nuclear, renewables and conservation can possibly substitute.
Len Gould 8.8.12
Jerry. You do know that nearly all the predicted consequences are due to fall on our children's and grandchildren's generations, not the near future, right? And the few and slight consequences predicted for the present are actually more severe than originally estimated.
Roger Arnold 8.8.12
That's an interesting idea Len. I hadn't thought of it.
There's a complication, in that a large part of the power drain (in the post-combustion flue gas scrubbing approach) takes the form of intermediate pressure steam diverted from later stages of the steam turbine and used to regenerate the CO2 sorbant. The system would have to be designed to make the diverted steam switchable between its normal use for sorbant regeneration and its contingency reserve use powering an auxiliary turbine.
The steam condenser would need to be able to handle the added load when the auxiliary turbine was operating. Still, it could certainly be done. Somebody more familiar with steam turbines and power plants would be in a better position to judge, but it seems to me that it could turn out to be a cost-efficient way to handle contingency reserve requirements.
Jim Beyer 8.9.12
I've almost written this before, but hesitated.
Anyway, at the risk of soundling like an idiot, renewable, intermittent sources could be used to separate the air (it's electrically driven) depending on the tankage used. More researve tanks would obviously add cost, but the point is that intermittent sources could be used to make coal burn cleaner and more efficiently.
In some ways, electricity is electricity, but burning coal to produce electricity used to separate air to make the coal burning more efficient may result in producing more net carbon than is optimal. Assuming we want to minimaze that, using other source for the air separation (which need not be completely on-demand) might make some sense.
At the point, the problem with renewables is not so much the cost as the fact that they are intermittent and unreliable from the demand standpoint.
Michael Keller 8.9.12
"Anthropogenic CO2 either is or isn't a serious threat"
This is not a digital problem. Further, we do not have a good handle (just unproven theories) on the adverse impacts of CO2; indeed it might be beneficial.
In the final analysis, what we do in the US about CO2 is essentially irrelevant, as Jerry observed.
Seems to me that makes more sense for the US to concentrate primarily on the economics of energy production and use. For instance, deploy solar in areas where the economics make sense, while relying on technology and market forces to drive the installed costs ever downward. Wind is a narrow niche application.
In any case, the government needs to stay out of implementation and stick to helping research and development efforts, which is actually the Department of Energy's original mission. Their foray into loan guarantees graphically demonstrates the government's fundamental incompetence when attempting to pick winner & losers in the marketplace. Ditto for the "renewable mandates" follies.
As far as CO2 sequestration is concerned, the pre-combustion technologies (for instance Integrated Gasification Combined-cycle) may have some merit as technology drives efficiencies and outputs upward, particularly in areas where CO2 can be used to increase the extraction of oil. Also, as natural gas prices rise upwards, IGCC may have even more merit. The rise of natural gas prices is inevitable as liquefied natural gas is exported from the US, while coal prices will drop as more and more coal power plants shutdown.
Jim Beyer 8.9.12
What about all the money spent in protecting foreign oil interests? I.e., Iraq. Why isn't that noted in your calculus as well?
If you want a truly level marketplace, then remove the tax breaks given to oil drillers, and get offshore oil wells privately insured (good luck with that.)
Perhaps most importantly, the electric utilities have no incentive for consumers to use less power, as they are paid by the kW-hr. Until that gets turned around, you have a basic market paradox.
Jerry Watson 8.9.12
Jim, Fortunately I am a Idiot so I do not have to worry about sounding like one. It has taken me a half century to appreciate how little I know.
I will say this about your comment, wouldn't it make just as much sense to separate water and burn the hydrogen directly for peaking. I think that was the concept of the hydrogen economy. That has fell by the way for building thousands of miles of high lines to directly import wind when it is not needed. The hydrogen economy made more since.
Now I say why not absord atmospheric CO2 and reform it carbon a very energy dense and easy to handle substance. Plants do it why can't we? South Dakota could be the new US energy mecca. Hydrogen is way to risky for me. Would synthetic carbon cost more than coal sure it would, but it would be a way to use all that SD wind. It is energy storage, and makes it portable.
Len, I do care about the future and my grandchildren ages 6, 4 and 3, they obviously need this planet longer than me. They are all could see the turn of the next century. However, I just do not see unilateral action by the US benefitting them. They also need the US to retain economic power to maintain standards of living.
Everyone says the US is in a recession I do not believe it, my gut feel is it is the new normal. The economy will continue to flucate but I feel around a lower level with little real growth, but I hope I am wrong. But what the right action is for my grandchildren is a very complex question. I really do not know what is best to fight global warming or preserve as high of standard of living as is possible, but I do beleive they may well be mutually exclusive. I believe preserving prosperity will have the largest positve impact on them. The US and Canada will probably fare better than most of the world as the planet warms. So I am obviously a selfish nationalist.
Roger Arnold 8.9.12
Jim, you're certainly correct about the problem with renewables. I have doubts, however, as to whether air separation makes a good discretionary application.
The problem is that the way industrial ASUs operate, there's a balance between air liquefaction and distillation. Most of the cooling for the liquefaction stage comes from vaporization in the distillation stage. The units inherently produce near-ambient gas streams. It's several times more expensive to produce liquid oxygen, and it's done in a completely different equipment train. A conventional ASU can certainly be operated on an intermittent basis, but then you need to store very large volumes of oxygen gas -- problematic.
The WindFuels concept that David Doty and his son promote may be a better match. There the discretionary application is electrolysis. It has somewhat the same issue with gas storage, but the volume of gas per buffered MWh is more than a factor of 10 less than it is for an intermittently operated ASU. That helps.
If Doty were to relax his insistance on Fischer-Tropsch liquids as the product and go with methanol, the gas storage issue would largely go away. The capital cost for the methanol production train is low enough that the entire train could probably be operated intermittently.
Roger Arnold 8.9.12
Jerry, I wrote the above reply to Jim's post at about the same time you were writing yours, so I didn't see what you had written until I clicked "submit". But you and I are on much the same track on several issues.
Len Gould 8.9.12
Jerry. "I just do not see unilateral action by the US benefitting them." Actually, we citizens of the rest of the "developed" world would be much happier if the US simply stopped deliberately sabotaging everyone else's efforts to get at least something done.
Michael Keller 8.9.12
Roger, As I recall, the creation of methanol is more complex and more costly than F-T coal to liquids, although both processes use gasified coal to which hydrogen is added.
Also, most chemical process systems do not do well when intermittently operated as the thermodynamics and chemistry require steady and controlled conditions. The unpredictable nature of renewable energy would be an operational and financial nightmare.
Roger Arnold 8.9.12
Michael, your recollection differs from what I understand of the processes. I'm not (and never have been) a practicing Chem E, so I'm not in the best position to comment on these issues. But I did take some graduate level chemistry courses back in the dark ages, and can still read technical articles and do thermodynamic calculations if my arm is twisted.
According to that obscure but well-regarded font of knowledge known as Wikipedia, synthesis gas at 50 - 100 atmospheres and 250 C, reacted over a catalyst made from a mixture of copper, zinc oxide, and alumina, will produce methanol with a selectivity > 99.8%. That's pretty remarkable, if true. It would go a long way toward explaining why methanol can be made so cheaply. It's a gas-phase reaction with a solid catalyst, which is the easiest kind of reaction to manage.
With FT synthesis, you're bubbling synthesis gas through a suspension of catalyst particles in a molten wax. The product is more wax. The catalyst particles need to be separated from the molten wax, and then the wax has to undergo multiple stages of hydrocracking and distillation to yield the final mix of products. At least that's how it used to be done. Maybe there are newer variants that are selective for lighter hydrocarbons that can be used directly. I haven't heard of such, but neither have I looked very hard.
You're right that most chemical process systems aren't designed for intermittent operation. In most cases, the process train represents a high capital investment, and it would be uneconomical to use it intermittently. Start up and shut down are often drawn out processes requiring careful operator attention, with low efficiencies until steady conditions are established. But that depends very much on the process. For water electrolysis, intermittent operation is no problem at all -- aside from its effect on capacity factor and amortizaqtion of capital cost.
Operation at levels below full capacity can often result in higher efficiencies. Especially if heat exchange is involved. It's hard to make blanket statements. In the case of methanol synthesis, I don't really know how feasible it would be to design the process for intermittent operation. But given its relative simplicity, I would expect that methanol synthesis would be a good prospect.
In the worst case, it wouild just be necessary to provide sufficient hydrogen buffer storage to allow the reverse water gas shift and the methanol synthesis (or FT, for that matter) to be used at steady levels.
Michael Keller 8.10.12
Roger, F-T is more geared toward diesel, jet fuel. Methanol can provide gasoline and synthetic natural gas. A high-temperature (~645 F) variant of FT can also produce gasoline, but I believe the methanol process is more efficient.
Both need coal and hydrogen. The later can be produced by a water-shift (CO plus H2O) reaction, but that does produce a fair amount of CO2.
The reverse shift reaction (to get rid of the CO2) is also fairly energy intensive as you're trying to go against the way the process would normally move.
Electrolysis can provide hydrogen, but that requires a lot of electricity and the process is not very efficient. The High-temperature (~+1300 F) steam electrolysis is more efficient, but you need a pretty good source of heat.
Michael Keller 8.10.12
In the "sort-of-related" vein, happen to run into some folks (Bloom Energy) that use natural gas and a high-temperature fuel cell to provide power to commercial establishments. Little tough to get solid financial data, but looks like it works with high electricity prices, renewable mandates and low-natural gas prices. Pretty much describes California.
bill payne 8.14.12
Anti-Coal Coalition Seeks San Juan Plant Transition [Google] Albuquerque Journal, Tuesday August 14, 2012
Saying it’s time for PNM to move to clean energy sources, a coalition of environmental, health and faith groups informed state officials at a hearing Monday it’s launched a statewide petition drive calling for a transition from coal at the San Juan power plant.
In the article and the comments I see “we” used perhaps some hundreds of times. “We” can have many uses, and even more referents. A writer nearly always leaves it up to the reader to figure out who the referent is – that is, seldom does a writer tell us, “by 'we' I mean mankind, or the US, or developed countries, those who burn coal, etc.” And it is quite possible that the “we” in the next sentence has a different referent.
I have said we (humankind) are all pissing in the same pool so often that I'm afraid I might get popped in the nose if I say it again. But I will.
A country that uses CCS in a world that doesn't can't compete. Further, a country that uses CCS is making a great sacrifice while reaping but a tiny measure of the dilute benefits.
And in a world in dire financial straits, with many of the most advanced countries on the brink of going under whence comes the resources for CCS? Not from a billion Africans without electric service who have yet to build the most basic and polluting plants. Not from people who are already suffering malnutrition if not starvation as a result of overpopulation. I can see no salvation whatsoever from CCS.
Don Hirschberg 8.14.12
Some comments above seem to suggest it is somehow possible to make a fuel from, say CO2 or water, that has more fuel energy than the energy used in its production. In Thermodynamics this is called perpetual motion.
Water and CO2 are at the bottom of the (energy) hill. Just as a rock that has tumbled down the mountain into the creek in the valley anything you do with it requires more energy input than you can get back. There are many ways to state the Laws of Thermodynamics, most way appeal to mathematicians. My favorite way is: I You cannot win. II You cannot break even. III You cannot get out of the game.
Way back when I was a school boy all science text books, even grade school General Science texts, along about page six or so told us: Energy can neither be created nor destroyed only converted. All the potential energy of the rock coming down the mountain went to heating up the environment (always at 778 foot pounds per BTU.) How elegant. How beautiful. Basic Thermodynamics has never had to revise or alibi.
Man is very blessed to have carbon and hydrogen atoms that are not yet oxidized. In foods and fuels such as wood and fossil fuels. Making CO2 and H2O is such a fundamental “source” of energy whether keeping us alive - or, oh yes, since yesterday generating electricity.
Alas going from CO2 and H2O to hydrocarbons (or carbohydrates, sugars etc.) takes more energy than the resulting compounds contain. No matter how cleverly we scheme. (The Patent Office will not accept such scheme unless submitted with a working model.) Of course our organic compounds did get made but using far more than their fuel value worth of solar energy. Photosynthesis is not a very energy efficient process. It didn't have to be when hundreds of million of cumulative years of solar energy were used.
Thomas Blasingame 8.15.12
I am involved with the development of alternate fueled locomotives and similar rail mobile electric generating plants. Because this equipment is mobile and usually not stationary (except in the case of the gen sets) we have not taken the requirement for sequestration seriously. Instead we have concenterated on providing combustion in a manner in which NOx will not be formed, and in which CO2 will be converted to syngas for conbustion. It seems to us that it is more feasible to use the CO2 in this manner as a secondary fuel rather than expend the time and expense of sequestration. Are we crazy, or what?
Don Hirschberg 8.15.12
“Are we crazy, or what?”
No, I'd say incompetent and rude.
Jerry Watson 8.16.12
You might want to read the entire thread before being snide and critical. The subtopic line was about “remote wind” like is the case South Dakota where there is lots of energy in form of wind near the earth’s surface. The problem is less than a million live there. We were discussing alternatives to spending trillions of dollars on transmission lines to move that energy to where humans live and having it available when needed. No one was talking about perpetual motion other than you. If you had read it, you would understand the topic migrated to energy storage. I do not know of any storage means that is near 100% efficient. Particularly one like that being discussed that produces a dense enough form of energy storage to justify transporting the end product for use near population centers. You know sort of like coal or natural gas is moved near the end use point before being converted into thermal then mechanical then electrical energy. Even hydrogen really does not meet that standard and is fairly dangerous to deal will when compressed to very high pressures. To clarify the situation it is lots and lots of available energy, which do to location, is not utilized. In that situation economics, not efficiencies would be the driver.
Maybe instead of remembering page six of those tests book you should look at other skills that we had in grade school like imagination.
To create syngas, as in a gasifier, you need a carbon not a CO2 source under the right conditions in a reducing environment with avaible water the carbon will react and actully tie up the O2 in the water molecule and liberate hydrogen which can be separated and used as a clean fuel. All of the carbon is still converted to CO2 it is really just trading carbon and energy for hydrogen.
bill payne 8.16.12
BS artists are in our focus.
Subject: Do you know more about energy efficiency ... 3/10%
A country that uses CCS in a world that doesn't can't compete.
That's one of those statements that sounds reasonable when one hears it. I'm sure a great many would agree with it. I don't. It's wrong on a couple of counts.
First of all, it presumes that electricity accounts for a much larger fraction of the cost of products than it actually does. The worst case estimate for what CCS would add to the cost of electricity is 40%. Guess what? The cost of electricity in Germany is, on average, some 200% higher (i.e. triple) what it is in the US. Last I noticed, Germany was still a strong exporter, with the soundest economy in the Eurozone.
A nation's competitiveness in world markets is a function of many factors. And unless you're looking at aluminum production, the cost of electricity is pretty far down on the list.
Your statement that "we (humankind) are all pissing in the same pool" is of course true. The corollary, that it's futile for one country to limit its CO2 emissions if others refuse to follow suit, is also true. But it ignores the influence that the US, in particular, exerts on global economic policy.
In fact, the world would likely be operating already under some form of cap and trade system for carbon emissions, were it not for the very successful PR and lobbying campaign by fossil fuel interests to defeat moves in that direction within the US.
All that would be needed to bring about a global system of emission pricing is strong leadership by the US. We could simply announce that we are implementing a tax on our own carbon emissions, and will be imposing import tariffs on goods from any countries that don't follow suit. The tariffs will be set at twice the estimated cost advantage that absence of a corresponding tax would give to the particular goods from their country of origin.
Horrors!! Restraint of trade!! Global economic recession!! The WTO would sanction us!! I can hear the cries from righteous free trade fundamentalists of the world. The more erudite would cite the experience of the great depression, when a wave of ill-considered protectionism is widely held to have deepened and prolonged the depression.
Bull! That's not how it would play out. What would happen is that other nations would protest and assert reasons why they should be exempted. But after the necessary show of protest and some give and take of face saving concessions, they would fall in line. They would adopt uniform standards for emission pricing because that's what would be in their own best interests.
China, in particular, would likely heave a secret sigh of relief. They can't afford to act unilaterally, but no other nation has more reason to start cleaning up their coal-fired power plants. Pollution from those plants is literally killing them, and one side effect of CCS technologies is that they pretty well eliminate all other plant emissions as well.
The fact is that no country is better positioned than the US to force the issue. Not just because of our leading role in the global economy, but because no other nation would be less harmed by an outbreak of retaliatory protectionism. That is, if it were to come to that -- which it would't. We have huge resources that could be marshalled to produce what we currently import from China. Consumer prices would rise, but jobs and the economy would boom. Conversely, China and the countries that we would be asking to sign on to emission pricing are absolutely dependent on an unimpeded global export market. They have nothing to gain and much to lose by refusing to sign on. Any threats to retaliate against tariffs that we would impose for their refusal would be empty.
Don Hirschberg 8.17.12
Roger, I am impressed with your analysis. But it presupposes a common purpose among the 200 (?) nations of this planet. It also presupposes that we have not already gone beyond the point of no return in population. I might be wrong, I hope so, in both instances but I'm afraid neither can be be assumed.
I think there has been only one instance of the kind of cooperation you require and that was WWII. And that cooperation was not pretty. Actually very few countries contributed to the defeat of the Axis. The USSR and the English Speaking countries. And no credit to the USSR, they didn't make a choice – it was imposed. The USSR murdered more people than the Nazis. Were these the good guys? Our cooperating buddies?
Look, we cannot get cooperation on patents, copyrights, stealing of pharmaceuticals, etc. from our friends. We cannot regulate our own borders. How in the world can we get them to tax themselves on CO2?
You seem to exist in a world of federal and international governments. Except for my military service I have had almost no contact with my federal government for over a half century. I know only one person who got federal government checks and I don't know the name of a single federal employee.
I guess I don't know what is going on. But there are 50 sub-Saharan countries where the average IQ is about 70. Are you expecting these folks to elect candidates who say they will build generating plants that will give them electricity or those who want to impose CO2 taxes on CO2 emissions?
Jim Beyer 8.17.12
Roger and Don,
You both make good points. I think this is a harder problem (international cooperation) than the remediation technology itself.
Only thing I can think of is when Britain unilaterally decided to end the global slave trade in the early part of the 19th Century. I'm sure that was an economic hardship to some as well. Somehow they got that done. I don't know how that sort of thing would play in this problem domain, however.
Don Hirschberg 8.17.12
I find altruism the only reason (excuse?) for CCS. I cannot find even one example of international altruism. The largest act of altruism must have been the Marshall Plan, etc. at the end of WWII – but that was by one country. (Our cities had not been bombed, nor our country overrun and our war casualties were less than for many. )
When I was born fewer than 2 billion people on the planet lacked electric service. Today more than 2 billion people lack electric service.
As to the ending of the African slave trade it was primarily an economic issue, but is nearly always presented as altruism. Using slaves is terribly expense if there is another way. Slavery still exists in small pockets around the world. The Bible seems to support the slaver more than it does the abolitionists. Same for the Koran apparently. We hardly ever hear about European indentured servants, possibly some not so far removed ancestors of ours.
Roger Arnold 8.18.12
Don and Jim,
There is, indeed, a flaw in what I wrote above. However, I don't think it has to do with any unrealistic dependence on international cooperation.
If the US were to adopt the policy I suggested, then other countries' decisions on whether or not to sign on would not be a matter of cooperation. It would be a matter of self interest. Refusal to sign on to emissions pricing would severely damage their export businesses. Agreeing to them would raise the price of fossil fuels used domestically, but provide a direct economic stimulus in the form of either reductions in other taxes or direct dividends to citizens. It would provide indirect stimulation in the form of jobs in the new CCS sector and the newly energized sectors of energy efficiency and alternatives to fossil fuels. Looked at objectively, it would seem a no-brainer.
The flaw is that it's a pipe dream. It supposes that there is some chance that the US would adopt such a policy in the first place. At this point, the odds of that happening are essentially zero.
One thing we have to be clear about. Given the limited scope for EOR, a price on carbon emissions is more or less necessary to make large scale CCS economically viable. However, a price on carbon emissions is not a "win-win" policy. It would accelerate the transition away from fossil fuels, and destroy literally trillions of dollars in future value for those whose fortunes ride on yet-to-be-tapped fossil reserves. As alternatives became more viable, those reserves would decline in value to the point of being not worth the high cost of tapping them. They would be left in the ground.
If you were the CEO of a corporation whose market valuation was largely based on the reserves to which your corporation held lease rights, then you would be delinquent in your fiduciary duty to your stockholders if you did not do everything you could to promote the idea that CO2 emissions are harmless and should not be taxed. If you were the minister of the national oil company for an oil-exporting nation, you would be guilty of treason.
It's not even necessary to be a cynical villian to hire PR agencies and lobbyists to undercut climate science and defeat legislation that would damage your interests. The most basic fact about human nature is that we all live within stories that we construct concerning ourselves and the world around us. Nearly always, we are the heroes of those stories. But we are also, for the most part, innumerate, scientifically illiterate, and very adept at believing what is convenient or comfortable for us to believe. As my Dad (among others, no doubt) was fond of putting it, humans are not rational creatures, they are rationalizing creatures. If our interests hinge on believing a particular story line, then we will be successful in finding reasons to believe that story line.
Given the wealth already commanded by those who stand to lose if carbon emissions pricing were adopted, and given the power that wealth is able to exert over public opinion and the actions of congress, it's most unlikely that effective climate change legislation could be passed anytime in the near future.
Of course, there are limits. Reality bites, and at some point in the future, it will be as futile to deny the harm done by skyrocketing CO2 levels and rapid warming as it was to deny the harm done by smoking. At that point, the situation will flip, and if economical alternatives are not yet established -- or have been successfully killed off -- then CCS technologies will become the means by which continued use of fossil fuels will be enabled.
It's an interesting question as to how close we may be to that turnover.
Len Gould 8.18.12
"The largest act of altruism must have been the Marshall Plan, etc. at the end of WWII " -- Hardly, Don. The Marshal Plan etc were motivated solely by elite's of victorious nation's wishes to intercept scommunist revolutions by the populaces of the defeated nations. There was no altruism there, entirely self-interest (for the elites). Besides, particularly in the US, they were able to do it on your dime, since they've been able to somehow convince you to maintain a regressive tax system.
Don Hirschberg 8.18.12
Roger posted:“..at some point in the future, it will be as futile to deny the harm done by skyrocketing CO2 levels and rapid warming as it was to deny the harm done by smoking.”
I thought we sorta got past this point, or at least to the point of how bad , not if. Those such as Al Gore who had Manhattan Island imminently under 20 feet of water set things back. (Aside: Long before cigarettes were officially condemned as the principle cause of lung cancer coaches kicked high school athletes off the team for smoking. Cigarettes were called coffin nails even before my time. Anyone who waited for “scientific data” was knowingly playing an insincere game. And it seems as if everyone smoked in the thirties through WWII.)
But what damage did the smoking era do? It shortened many lives. Those that died before Social Security benefits actually did the rest of us a favor. And the use of tobacco was a significant pleasure. (In Korea War there were little free packs with rations and a carton for one buck if memory serves.) Especially for those who puffed into their nineties.
CO2 is quite a different thing.
It has all happened in my lifetime. As I said in my last posting there are fewer people without electric service today than when I was born. Which says what I have been saying for decades, we (humankind) have too many people to solve our problems because population IS the problem.
During the 60's world population was growing at 0.1 billion a year. In a period of three years just growth equaled the maximum world population ever, about 1000 CE. How could any fact be more alarming? Today Africa population is likely over 1.1 billion. This is 5 or 6 times world population in 1930 when my more or less continuous memory begins.
Much has been made of the fact that the US emitted less CO2 in 2011. We are not told more coal was burned in 2011 than in any year. There are likely to be more coal burning plants this week than there were last week. Nice new plants economically justified only if they run some 30 or 40 years?
A quite significant contributor to world food and feed and motor fuel supply is the US corn crop. Even weeks ago I heard it will be the lowest yield in 17 years and it has gotten worse. Principe water tables have been falling for decades. The US government must borrow 40 cents of every dollar it spends and the size of the debt (15 x 10^12) staggers the imagination. I understand the economic situation is even worse in many European countries. I hear recovery will take decades – if ever. Who wants to pay for CCS? Who can? The countries who are frantically building fossil fuel plants to provide their citizens minimal electric service?
Don Hirschberg 8.18.12
Correction. There are MORE without electric service today than when I was born.
Don Hirschberg 8.18.12
Len, the words and phrases in you post reveal more than do your sentences. “motivated solely by Elites” “no altruism there, entirely self-interest” “to maintain a regressive tax system.”
You might have added: “...to each according to his needs.”
I appreciate your interest.
Len Gould 8.19.12
So Don, you're either one of the elites yourself, or sadly illinformed. Either way lol.
Don Hirschberg 8.19.12
Somehow I carry a humor-corrupted idea of elite based on the radio show Duffy's Tavern circa 1941(?).
“In the familiar opening, "When Irish Eyes Are Smiling," performed either solo on an old-sounding piano or by a larger orchestra, was interrupted by the ring of a telephone and Gardner's New Yorkese accent as he answered, "Hello, Duffy's Tavern, where the elite meet to eat. Archie the manager speakin'. Duffy ain't here—oh, hello, Duffy.'" Widepedia
I thought “where the elite meet to eat” and “Duffy aint here” were funny” and I have a picture in my head of Duffy's Tavern solely from my imagination. What the hell. Archie would call me elite.