CO2 climbed sharply over the past 5 decades

This chart shows the levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide as measured from Point Barrow, Alaska, from 1974 to 2007.

CO2 climbed sharply over the past 5 decades Swinging CO2 Levels Show The Earth Is ‘Breathing’ More Deeply  
August 08, 2013

If you look at the graph of carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere, you’ll notice that it has climbed sharply over the past five decades, from about 315 parts per million to 400 parts per million.

Coal Loses Crown As King Of Power Generation

Coal Loses Crown As King Of Power Generation
January 11, 2013

Just a few years ago, Georgia Power generated nearly three-fourths of its electricity with coal. Last year, for the first time, natural gas edged out coal, and just this week the company announced plans to close 10 coal-fired power generators within the next few years.

within a few years only a third of the company’s power plants will run on coal.
The company has already built three new natural gas plants. It’s expanding a nuclear plant and going bigger into solar and wind

The dramatic and swift shift away from coal at Georgia Power is part of a nationwide trend: After decades in which coal was king of electricity generation, natural gas is making a bid for the title.

The development already has shrunk the electricity industry’s environmental footprint and reduced prices on wholesale power.

One factor is the expectation that low prices for natural gas will continue because of the shale gas boom across the country.

Another is that new federal rules require coal plants to clean up the mercury and other toxic chemicals in their exhausts.
Installing those pollution controls makes no sense when gas is so cheap.

He says whether the trend continues after 2018 depends on several factors:
– how much the economy and demand for electricity pick up
– whether natural gas prices stay low
– if the federal government comes up with new regulations to limit greenhouse gases and clean up solid wastes from existing power plants

Shea predicts coal will not be the only loser in what he calls electric companies’ “dash to gas.” “We’re not seeing any new coal built,” he says. “But we’re also are not seeing much occurring in the nuclear sphere.
And importantly, the price of gas right now is starting to freeze out the demand for renewables.”

Still, natural gas is cleaner than coal, so the shift from coal already has decreased overall greenhouse gas emissions from electricity generation.

But Brune cautions that we can’t rely on natural gas to stabilize the climate and stop the catastrophic effects of global warming that we got a taste of last year. Brune says that means the country has to figure out a way to make the shift to natural gas a temporary one.

see also:
Miners Weather The Slow Burn Of Coal’s Demise
July 14, 2012

Could Some Midwest Land Support New Biofuel Refineries?

Could Some Midwest Land Support New Biofuel Refineries?
January 16, 2013

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:

Synthetic Biology: Making Diesel Fuel From Yeast

Put Down Oil Drill, Pick Up The Test Tube: Making Fuel From Yeast 
June 28, 2013

synthetic biology — genetic engineering taken to a whole new level.

His most successful project to date: Jay Keasling and his team inserted or tweaked a dozen genes in yeast cells and turned them into tiny factories that churn out a partially synthetic version of artemisinin, a key drug in the leading treatment of malaria. (The usual source of artemisinin is a tree known as sweet wormwood, and there are not enough to meet the global demand.)

And now Amyris, one of the companies Keasling founded, “has a factory in Brazil that’s using the engineered yeast, taking in sugar and spitting out a product that’s a diesel fuel,” Keasling says. Already, that diesel is in buses in Rio and Sao Paulo.

There is, of course, a catch: “This diesel is still more expensive than petroleum-based diesel by quite a long shot.”

Change the Course: Help Save the Colorado River

Change the Course: Help Save the Colorado River
Feb 26, 2013

The Colorado River may have cut the Grand Canyon, but for much of its course the river is no longer so mighty.
Most of the time, the Colorado no longer even reaches the sea.

QUEST: Exploring the Science of Sustainability

see also:

Economists Have A One-Page Solution To Climate Change

Economists Have A One-Page Solution To Climate Change  
June 28, 2013

A global problems that seems intractable.

Climate change seems like this complicated problem with a million pieces.
But Henry Jacoby, an economist at MIT’s business school, says there’s really just one thing you need to do to solve the problem: Tax carbon emissions.

As with any fix for climate change, a carbon tax would hit some people harder than others.
People with long commutes would pay more.
People who work in coal mines could lose their jobs.


Carbon Tax and Energy Rates

Composting On The Way Up In New York City High-Rises

Composting On The Way Up In New York City High-Rises
June 27, 2013

New York is not the first city to turn its food waste into fertilizer.
It’s already required in a number of cities, including San Francisco and Seattle.
In fact, when it comes to recycling in general, New York lags far behind other big cities, with a recycling rate of just 15 percent.