This Climate Fix Might Be Decades Ahead Of Its Time (carbon capture)

This Climate Fix Might Be Decades Ahead Of Its Time
June 27, 2013
http://www.npr.org/2013/06/27/189522647/this-climate-fix-might-be-decades-ahead-of-its-time

Every year, people add 30 billion tons of carbon dioxide to the air, mostly by burning fossil fuels.
That’s contributing to climate change. A few scientists have been dreaming about ways to pull some of that CO2 out of the air, but face stiff skepticism and major hurdles.

Peter Eisenberger is a distinguished professor of earth and environmental sciences at Columbia University. Earlier in his career, he ran the university’s famed Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and founded Columbia’s Earth Institute.

He started looking for a way to pull carbon dioxide right out of the air. “And it turned out the best device already exists,” he says. “It’s called a monolith. That is the same type of instrument that’s in the catalytic converter in your car. It cleans up your exhaust.”

Eisenberger’s monoliths grab carbon dioxide from the air and release it again when you heat them up.

The company has built two pilot plants at SRI International in Menlo Park, Calif.
But of course there are big issues to solve: What do you do with the carbon dioxide once you’ve captured it, and how do you make money?

Growers pipe carbon dioxide into greenhouses.
Oil companies pump it underground to help them squeeze out more oil.
Soda companies use it to put bubbles in their drinks.
These are mostly small-scale applications.

Maybe someday Eisenberger could get paid to clean up the atmosphere by sucking out the CO2 and burying it underground, though there’s no market for that now.

But using carbon dioxide to make fuel could someday be big. So Eisenberger’s first project involves using CO2 to feed algae that churn out biofuel.

“Our first demonstration plant is being erected right now down in Daphne, Alabama, with an algae company called Algae Systems, which sits on Mobile Bay,” Eisenberger says. “They’ll be floating their algae in plastic bags on the top of the water. We’ll be piping in CO2 that we pull out of the air, and the sun will do the rest.”

Of course, this one project will have zero effect on how much carbon dioxide is in the earth’s atmosphere.

Eisenberger says if he can open the door to capturing carbon dioxide from the air — and make the process cheap enough — someday we could actually slow down, or possibly even reverse, the buildup of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

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Renewable Energy as Share of Total Primary Energy Consumption

Renewable_energy_2011_June302013Renewable Energy as Share of Total Primary Energy Consumption

Annual Energy Review
Release Date: September 2012
Next Update: August 2013
http://www.eia.gov/totalenergy/data/annual/index.cfm

Could Some Midwest Land Support New Biofuel Refineries?

Could Some Midwest Land Support New Biofuel Refineries?
January 16, 2013
http://www.npr.org/2013/01/16/169538570/could-some-midwest-land-support-new-biofuel-refineries

if you take farmland currently used for food and instead plant crops for fuel, you reduce food supplies and drive up prices.

Philip Robertson and colleagues at Michigan State University’s Kellogg Biological Station have been looking at plants that don’t require farm fields. “First, we discovered that the grasses and flowers that take over fields once you stop farming produce a fair amount of biomass, especially if you provide them a little bit of fertilizer,” Robertson says.

“Is there truly a climate benefit to doing this, or are we just robbing Peter to pay Paul?” Robertson wanted to know. After all, if you leave those lands alone, the plants will soak up carbon dioxide and store it in the soil, and that’s good for the climate.

Their answer: Using these crops for fuel is much better for the atmosphere than burning gasoline.

They figured that it would become too expensive to transport this heavy and bulky plant material more than 50 miles, from field to refinery. “At the end of the day, we discovered we could produce enough biomass to supply 30 or so of these potential biorefineries,” Robertson says.

a lot of this acreage is in the Great Plains, which wouldn’t produce a reliable crop year after year. “One year you may have high rainfall and high crop yields and be able to sustain your facility, [but] the next year you may have a drought,” Liska says.

the Biotechnology Industry Organization, an industry trade group, says nobody has plans just yet to use this kind of plant material to make biofuels. Instead, the young industry is eyeing other sources of material to use as a feedstock. “Every region of the country has some form of biomass — so the Northwest would have sawdust and wood waste; the California area might have rice straw or wheat straw,” Erickson says. Refiners in the Midwest are looking at corn cobs, and a plant that’s actually operating in Florida uses dead citrus trees. “As this technology progresses, we’re going to see a great diversification of biomass supply,” Erickson predicts.

But biofuels could at best provide only a tiny fraction of our energy needs.
Plants are very inefficient when it comes to capt uring solar energy.
“If you were to take every gram of crops produced anywhere in the world for all purposes — and that includes every grape, every ton of wheat, every ton of soybeans and corn — and you were to use that for biofuels and essentially stop eating, those crops would produce about 14 percent of world energy,” says Timothy Searchinger, an associate research scholar at Princeton University.

the more we try to expand biofuels, the more we risk displacing crops for food, or chopping down forests, which store a huge amount of carbon.

Searchinger says Europe has recently recognized those potential hazards and is scaling back its biofuels ambitions.

“They realize that it was a mistake, and their compromise for the moment is essentially to cap what they’re doing, and then they promise by 2020 to phase out all government support for biofuels.”

see also:
http://stateimpact.npr.org/pennsylvania/tag/alternative-energy