Sunday, February 1, 2009

Taking Zero Emissions Goals One Step at a Time

Most level-headed people can agree that there is a need to reduce our emissions. If you ask most geologist, they will tell you that there is not definitive data and evidence to prove that human activity is directly linked to current rates of global warming. Nevertheless, emissions from coal plants and oil refineries needs to be monitored and controlled as we do with our daily municipal waste. I thought Dr. Weber's analogy on a messy room could not only apply to thermodynamics, but the basic need to control our waste at least to protect the integrity of our environment we live in, the same way we try to keep our room clean. Luckily, most of us do not share our room with other people but we all share this Earth and it should be kept in good living condition.

This brings me to the main point of my blog. It is fair to say that everyone eventually wants zero emissions energy. We are seeing the initial progress to this point as countries like Norway are setting ambitious goals of reaching zero emissions by 2030. Other countries are setting similar goals to 2050 or even 2100. In my opinion and with the recent plummet of fuel prices, these goals for zero emissions or evening cutting emissions in half within the next century are mostly just wishful thinking. I mention Norway because there was recently an article in The Economist on Norway and its ambitious and somewhat hypocritical goal of reaching zero emissions by 2030. From the article it is clear that Norway is taking many of the right steps in building a cleaner society, incorporating hydroelectric power where it is effective and funding initial carbon capture and sequestration projects. They are also making regulations on infrastructure such as a strong requirement to build bridges instead of tunnels, where tunnels require lighting 24 hours a day and require more energy than bridges. With these sort of actions, Norway is setting the bar on building a cleaner society and infrastructure. Norway gets blamed as hypocrites for promoting zero emissions by 2030 because they are the 3rd largest exported of gas and the 4th largest exporter of oil. In other words, within Norway their society is striving to be green but the countries they export to are generating more emissions.

An underlying point I saw from this article is that countries may take individual action towards building a zero emissions society, but the problem needs to be solved on a global scale. If Norway became zero emissions by 2030 would that have any impact on the rate of global emissions. Not only Norway, but the countries they export to also need programs to reduce emissions. China is literally just getting their hands "dirty" with there significant amount of coal resources. One of the best things Norway is doing is funding initial carbon capture and sequestration projects (CCS). I strongly believe that CCS is the immediate answer to reducing global emissions. It is obvious on a economic and geologic basis that coal is here to stay. By having governments fund these initially CCS projects, we will be able to learn about the process and make it more efficient and lower the costs. If governments pair the lowered costs of CCS with regulations like a carbon tax and/or a cap-and-trade system then companies like Shell and BP will eventually enter the economic market of CCS. I make an analogy of this process to space exploration. We would not have satellite TVs in every house if countries like Russia and United States didn't take the initial risk of simply sending a man to space. Yuri Gagarin went to space in 1961 and DirectTV, an economically successful company, started in 1993. The timescale for CCS maybe even shorter because oil companies have a plethora of subsurface data on the geologic formations that would be used for carbon sequestration. If we pair CCS technology with nuclear power, we may have the first global step to cutting our emissions at a significant but reasonable rate. Nuclear power can be a crucial component to our energy infrastructure, protecting from a spike in coal consumption as our global population grows. On a regional scale, clean sources of energy like wind power and geothermal energy can be incorporated, but it is too ambitious to think the world can run on only wind and geothermal energy. Obviously we cannot dispose of nuclear waste and sequester CO2 for hundreds of years, but in sufficient time these processes will bring us to zero-emissions energy as we consume our supply of fossil fuels in a cleaner way. Eventually the price of oil and coal will no longer be economic as energy sources like solar will develop cost-effective and efficient technology.


abhishek gaurav said...

There are many complications involved in storing Co2 in the ground. The first one being leakage which you know can be devestating for life under the ground.
Secondly, the storage of CO2 can also cause earthquakes. Professors in UT are working on making it very safe, but not everything is full proof and sometimes we never know, and there is a new complication which nobody had thought about.

Stuart said...

I would like to see a documented example of where CO2 storage caused an earthquake. CO2 is already used in EOR, but there is a limited demand and reservoir space. Saline aquifers are the large capacity reservoir for CO2, but they do not have any immediate economic impact. These saline aquifers need more research and investigation, but current studies show the seals with a permeability of 10^-9 cm/s. You can do the math for how long it would take just for CO2 to flow through 100ft of this cap rock 10,000 feet under the ground

abhishek gaurav said...

You don't need to look so far. Dr Bryant is working on the earthquake stuff currently. I will look at the papers and get back at this topic as soon as I can.

christian said...

It seems to me that CO2 storage is a risky alternative. What are the implications of large amounts of CO2 being stored underground? What are the consequences if a massive amount of CO2 stored were to escape? CCS doesn't seem like a promising future for Zero Emissions and I personally would like to see more funds going into a renewable resource such as solar energy.

David Wogan said...

There are several blog posts from last spring that talk about storing CO2 that might be worth checking out. I did a search for carbon storage and picked a few:

Hopefully Clearing Up Some Misconceptions about CO2 Capture & Sequestration
Carbon Capture and Storage
Carbon Capture in Canada