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Climate response - Aug 11

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Cities, States Aren't Waiting For U.S. Action on Climate

Juliet Eilperin, Washington Post
With Washington lawmakers deadlocked on how best to curb global warming, state and local officials across the country are adopting ambitious policies and forming international alliances aimed at reducing greenhouse gases.

The initiatives, which include demands that utilities generate some of their energy using renewable sources and mandates for a reduction in emissions from motor vehicles, have emboldened clean-air advocates who hope they will form the basis for broader national action. But in the meantime, some businesses say the local and state actions are creating a patchwork of regulations that they must contend with.

This flurry of action is part of a growing movement among state and local leaders who have given up hope that Congress and the administration will tackle major issues, and are launching their own initiatives on immigration, stem cell research and energy policy. Last week alone, former president Bill Clinton launched an effort with 22 of the world's largest cities to cut their emissions, while California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) and British Prime Minister Tony Blair said they will explore trading carbon dioxide pollution credits across the Atlantic.
(11 Aug 2006)


Nature editorial: capturing carbon

Editorial, Nature
Sequestration of greenhouse gases could play an important role in capping emission
Fresh approaches to energy use and production are vital if serious climate change is to be averted and developing countries are to attain the standards of living to which they aspire. However, the rich nations spend a deplorably low proportion of their research funds on energy - far less, in real terms, than they were spending 25 years ago.

...Bringing carbon sequestration onto a faster track requires more than scattered demonstration projects and a vague hope that prudent industries might voluntarily adopt it at some point in the future. The International Energy Agency predicts that 1,400 gigawatts of new, coal-fired generating capacity will be commissioned worldwide in the next 25 years. The United States has proposals for 153 coal-fired plants under consideration, few of which are likely to be designed with carbon capture in mind. And every year, China builds coal-powered plants capable of generating a stunning 75 gigawatts - an energy project on a scale unprecedented in human history. To ensure that carbon dioxide from at least some of these plants is stored away in geologically suitable repositories requires more than research; it needs political will.

Evidence of such political will would include regulations or fiscal incentives to design plants so that carbon-capture equipment can be retrofitted to them with relative ease. And those who build plants must be convinced that, at some time in the future, any carbon dioxide they emit will be a cost to their businesses.

Carbon capture and storage is no panacea. It substantially decreases the efficiency of all existing plant types. It also requires an enormous infrastructure - putting carbon dioxide back down into the ground requires pipes and pumping comparable to that needed to bring oil and gas up out of it. Some reservoirs may turn out to be flawed, leaking carbon back over decades or centuries. Even under the most optimistic assumptions, less than half of human-produced carbon dioxide emissions could possibly be captured and stored.

Even so, carbon sequestration is the only credible option that would allow the continued use of fossil energy without the threat of dangerously altering Earth's climate system. Speeding up its deployment must therefore become a priority on the global energy agenda.

...As the largest and fastest-growing emitters, respectively, the United States and China need to take the lead on this. Not all the approaches to carbon capture will work out, and some money will doubtless be wasted. But the risks are small compared with the potential benefits of making some significant inroads into carbon dioxide emissions
(10 Aug 2006)


Geosequestration

Catalyst, ABC (Australia)
As the climate clock keeps ticking, a Federal Government committee is soon to decide where to commit half a billion dollars to reduce Australia’s green house gases.

One possible solution is called ‘Geosequestration’. It involves capturing and burying carbon dioxide from coal-fired power stations instead of releasing it into the atmosphere.

Will this ambitious plan work and will it work in time?

As the Prime Minister warms up the debate on nuclear energy, and scientists say signs of global warming are more pronounced than ever, Catalyst revisits a story Mark Horstman filed for the program two years ago.

...Mark Horstman: Carbon dioxide ...plants breathe it in, we breathe it out. It’s a natural part of the world. But the problem is that we’re making too much.Now you might think that most of it comes from traffic. In fact, that accounts for only about 14 percent. The biggest sources of carbon dioxide in Australia are power stations.

Narration: Australia has 24 large power stations supplying 80% of our electricity. At their hearts are massive furnaces that burn coal.. more than a quarter of a million tonnes of it every day.

...Dr David Harris: The best way to get the carbon dioxide is out is a process that delivers the carbon dioxide in a high concentration, high pressure form. That’s the reason why we are looking at coal gasification as a core technology for power generation.

Narration: There’s a catch… this means replacing all our power stations with brand new ones. But many of our existing stations still have lifespans of 15, 20, even 50 years with more of the same on the way… so whichever way you look at it these changes will come at a cost.

Barry Hooper: If one’s talking about traditional power stations or even the more advanced energy systems that are likely to be needed to reduce the cost of capture the efficiency reductions could be in the order of 6 to 12 per cent.

Mark Horstman:So does that mean in effect we have to burn more coal to make more power to catch more carbon dioxide?

Barry Hooper: Yes, there is an energy penalty to actually capture, purify, compress and actually store the CO2, and that’s an unavoidable fact.
(10 Aug 2006)
Contributor SP writes:

The imagery used in the show illustrated the massive scale required if this idea is to be successful.

I thought it telling that the researcher (Iain MacGill) was hesitant to make a direct criticism of Government policy, leaving it instead to Mark Horstman to ask the obvious question "will geosequestration save the planet or just save the coal industry?"

My reading is that this report is less optimistic than the Nature editorial, or that the Nature editorial is saying that for it to be effective we have to implement it now, essentially taking a bit of a gamble.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

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