Sunday, December 30, 2018

They Are Going to Blot Out the Sun (Part 2)

I thought I'd put a graphic here illustrating how industrial Carbon Sequestration is supposed to work.  But it was too complicated, and frankly, boring.  So instead we have a screen capture from the 1971 Japanese film, Godzilla Vs. The Smog Monster.  It's just as well.  Godzilla has about as much chance at saving our bacon as Carbon Sequestration.  

In last week's fun installment of Thee Optimist, we talked about how the human race (and by extension, all life on earth) is facing a little problem with climate change.  

We also talked about how there are generally three agreed-upon methods for stopping (or maybe just slowing down a little, or maybe not really) the violent climate change which is suddenly racing ahead of us.  

We looked at the favored method, Reducing Carbon Emissions, and hopefully we debunked this non-starter for all eternity.  Ain't gonna happen. 

See Related Article: They Are Going to Blot Out the Sun (Part 1)

Today, let's chat a bit about a less popular method, one that's nevertheless been doing a heck of a job and coming on strong.  That method is Carbon Sequestration.

The gruesome political football known as the Bayway Refinery in Elizabeth, New Jersey.  Originally opened in 1909 by Standard Oil and currently owned by Phillips 66, the place has changed hands numerous times.  It has long been one of the worst polluters in the United States, and has been cited more than 200 times since the year 2005 for breaking environmental laws.  In 1990, when it was owned by Exxon, it dumped more than half a million gallons of fuel oil into the nearby body of water known as the Arthur Kill.

Method #2: Carbon Sequestration

Unlike Method #1 (Reducing Carbon Emissions, as we indicated earlier), Carbon Sequestration is actually an idea that holds some promise.  

Not only that, it's an idea that many people are working on, and projects to accomplish it are moving forward.  

For a number of reasons, it also isn't going to work.  But there is a lot of money, activity and human ingenuity being squandered on it, and that always seems like progress.

What is it?

Carbon Sequestration is the idea that carbon emissions can be captured in various ways.  For example, plant life, especially rainforests and other large wildlands, capture about half of human carbon emissions each year.  

This is because plants "breathe" carbon and expel oxygen, much in the way that animals breathe oxygen and expel carbon.  Of course, the plants aren't doing their job sequestering enough carbon.  

This is partly because we are cutting the plants down so fast.  It's also partly because we are emitting so much carbon that the remaining plants can't keep up.

Amazon Rainforest with morning fog.  Beautiful.  Rainforests are natural carbon sinks, meaning that they sequester a portion of our carbon emissions.  They do what they can, but we make it hard.

However, our major concern today is industrial Carbon Sequestration.

This is the idea that you can capture the carbon emitted at large, primary sources of such emissions.  Mostly, these places are coal and oil-fired power plants, as well as fuel refineries.  

Once captured, the carbon can be transported to containment sites, and in most scenarios, pumped underground.  In some scenarios, it will be pumped underground at the bottom of the ocean.  In other scenarios, it would be eaten by carbon-eating bacteria, or even just kept in canisters.

Theoretically, carbon can also be captured out of the atmosphere, but it is much less concentrated in regular air than it is at power plants and refineries, making this much more difficult and expensive to do so.  

An illegal coal-fired steel factory in China.  I know, I know.  How is it possible to illegally operate something as large as a steel factory?  I mean, it's not like you can keep it out of sight.  I'm going to make a guess and go with government corruption.

What could possibly go wrong?

Carbon sequestration has attracted a lot of interest and investment.  Around the world, there are currently about three dozen large scale projects in the works or already operating, mostly in the United States.  

As of the fall of 2017, it was thought that all together, these projects were capturing about 30 million metric tons of carbon per year.  That really is progress.  

Except, as we indicated earlier, the human race spews 10,000 million metric tons of carbon into the air each year.  And climbing.  Thus far, these projects are capturing a little less than one-third of one percent of carbon emissions.

They're also expensive.  The Petra Nova project outside Houston, Texas is a retrofitted coal-fired power plant run by NRG Energy.  It is one of the world's largest and most technologically advanced projects.  

The project cost an estimated $1 billion.  It is thought that it sequesters about 1.6 million tons of carbon per year, and will be operational for 20 years.  

That's pretty good.  The only problem with it is that for an estimated $190 million, you could replace 19 million incandescent lightbulbs with LED bulbs (each of which would last around 10 years), and save almost 4 million tons of carbon per year. 

In other words, you could save more than twice as much carbon for a fraction of the cost, simply by handing out a lot of lightbulbs.  You'd also probably have to print out a lot of pamphlets, explaining to people what they should do with the lightbulbs you just gave them.  And make a bunch of celebrity robocalls reminding the people to do it.  

What you wouldn't have to do is spend a billion dollars on a massive construction project that takes years to complete, and saves you less than half the carbon you would save by doing something (relatively) easy.

So the sequestration projects are not cost effective.  Cost seems like an odd thing to quibble about when the world is about to end, but someone has to pay for this.  Private companies won't do it unless they think they can make money from it.

And cost isn't the only problem.

Lake Nyos in Cameroon, where in 1986 a massive amount of naturally occurring carbon dioxide suddenly erupted from the water, killing 1,700 people.

Carbon dioxide is dangerous.  

You don't really think of it that way, but it is.  The larger the quantity, the more condensed it is, the more dangerous it becomes.  

Ever shook a bottle of club soda, then handed it to someone else to open?  Of course you have.  And what happened next?  The club soda came exploding out of there, didn't it?  That's because club soda is carbonated.

Carbon dioxide is under tremendous pressure.  A canister of carbon dioxide can explode.  A pipeline filled with it can also explode.  You cannot breathe carbon dioxide.  You (and everyone in the animal kingdom) must breathe oxygen.  

An explosion of carbon dioxide will supplant the oxygen in the immediate area, causing any animals nearby to asphyxiate.  This exact thing happened to 1,700 people who lived in villages near Lake Nyos in Cameroon.  

The lake naturally sequesters carbon dioxide released by underwater lava flows from a local volcano.  One day in 1986, the lake burped up a giant rush of carbon dioxide, which basically strangled everyone in the vicinity.

A few carbon dioxide explosions in populated areas would quickly cool everyone's enthusiasm for carbon sequestration.  If carbon sequestration is to happen on a scale needed to make a dent in climate change, there will have to be a gigantic government effort around ensuring the safety of the facilities.  Naturally, this will add even more to the cost.

Then there's the fact that leakage will occur, sometimes large-scale leakage.  When you pump the carbon underground, you can't know for a fact if, or for how long, it will stay there.  Which defeats the purpose of doing it. 

Then there's the fact that carbon sequestration, as currently conceived, doesn't do anything to address carbon released from cars, airplanes, and from rainforests being burned.  

It also doesn't do anything about the release of methane, a greenhouse gas that is about 30 times more potent than carbon.  As the world heats up, more and more methane is being released from melting permafrost across the Arctic regions of the world. 

Look!  Cows!

Adding to the problem, there are 1.5 billion cows on earth, each one of which burps (not farts) between 30 and 50 gallons of methane a day.  

A lot of people think the cow thing is funny.  See, because it just can't be real that cow burps and farts are a problem.  Even studying the issue is seen as indicative of how foolish and out of touch liberals are.  

Of course, people think this way because people are glorified chimps.  

In any event, Carbon Sequestration is going to be a failure.  It's taking too long.  It costs too much.  It's dangerous.  It's only effective onsite at power plants and refineries, and doesn't address the many other sources of greenhouse gases.

We're running out of time.  What the hell are we going to do?  Or, to put it more accurately, what are our ruling class overlords and their political lapdogs going to do?

Simple: they are going to blot out the sun.

See Final Related Article: They Are Going to Blot Out the Sun (Part 3)

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