Sep 1, 2009 | 28
Do you really want to start messing with the atmosphere? If not, then stop emitting so much CO2. Or so argues the U.K.-based Royal Society, the same people who brought you Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin and Stephen Hawking. A new report by the Society analyzes so-called geoengineering—"the deliberate large-scale manipulation of the planetary environment," or consciously tweaking Earth's climate in an attempt to stave off global warming—and finds that it is feasible and worth studying carefully, but probably not something we want to get involved in.
Artificial volcanoes, mirrors in space or other climate-altering schemes might be the last, best hope for mankind if we don't get started reducing greenhouse gas emissions pronto—specifically a 50 percent reduction (at minimum) in global emissions from 1990 levels by mid-century, according to a 12-member panel convened by the Society. "Geoengineering and its consequences are the price we may have to pay for failure to act on climate change," said report chair and climate modeler John Shepherd of the University of Southampton in a prepared statement. "Used irresponsibly or without regard for possible side effects, geoengineering could have catastrophic consequences similar to those of climate change itself."
Aug 10, 2009 | 2
A large, coal-burning utility in the U.S. and another in China have agreed to cooperate to develop methods to more cleanly burn coal, including so-called carbon capture and storage technology. Duke Energy will partner with China's Huaneng Group to further develop and build technologies to gasify coal and strip it of its impurities, including the carbon dioxide that would otherwise be released into the atmosphere from coal burning. As it stands, Huaneng releases some 285 million metric tons of CO2 per year while Duke emits 112 million metric tons, according to data from the Center for Global Development, a Washington, D.C.-based thinktank.
"We find ourselves at a pivotal point in world history," said Duke Energy CEO Jim Rogers in a statement announcing the partnership. "China has committed to rapidly developing clean-energy technologies, as has the U.S.… Working together, the U.S. and China can commercialize and drive down the cost of these technologies for the benefit of the entire world."
Jun 18, 2009 | 9
Despite vast changes in climate since the early Pleistocene, 2.1 million years ago, carbon dioxide levels have stayed pretty stable until lately, according to a study published online today in Science.
All of that consistency, in which peak CO2 levels averaged 280 parts per million, makes today's concentration—385 parts per millions, which is 38 percent higher—all the more stunning, the authors report. Previous work showed stable CO2 levels going back about 650,000 years.
For the new estimate, the researchers analyzed ancient plankton shells beneath the Atlantic Ocean floor, rather than relying on data from polar ice cores, which can only give readings for the past 800,000 years. The tiny shells provided info on CO2 levels as well as temperature and ocean acidity.
May 20, 2009 | 25
The history of engine improvements in the U.S. has tended primarily in one direction: raw horsepower. Engines have gotten bigger and more powerful over time—and that's certainly what automakers have used as a key selling point. But U.S. automaker Ford has decided to take turbocharging and direct fuel injection in another direction: fuel efficiency.
Yesterday, Ford began production of what it's calling the EcoBoost engine: a new gasoline motor that employs turbocharging, direct fuel injection, variable timing in the valves that control fuel and exhaust flow to make a smaller, lighter six-cylinder engine perform like an eight-cylinder engine.* When these technologies are combined, "you can now significantly downsize the engine," says mechanical engineer Dan Kapp, Ford's director for power train research. "The fuel efficiency comes from a much smaller displacement engine providing equal or, in most cases, superior performance to the engine you're replacing."
May 20, 2009 | 18
Capturing the carbon dioxide that wafts up the smokestack after burning coal (or any other fossil fuel) has been identified by everyone from President Obama to the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change as a critical technology to help keep the lights on while combating climate change. And now there has been yet another successful demonstration that the technology to capture that CO2 from flue gas might actually work: chilled ammonia can capture more than 88 percent of the greenhouse gas before it goes up the smokestack.
Alstom Power and We Energies have released preliminary data on their carbon capture pilot project at Pleasant Prairie, Wisc. The pilot plant, set up to siphon the CO2 from a small stream of the total flue gas using chilled ammonia, not only captured most of the CO2, it captured it in a more than 99 percent pure form, according to Robert Hilton, vice president of power technologies and government affairs at Alstom, which is important for any future storage or industrial reuse. "We can [capture] 90 percent [of the CO2] and do it consistently," he notes. "We've done over 90 percent at times."
May 4, 2009 | 23
What is the "right" level of carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere to prevent "dangerous" interference with the climate? In the last two centuries, concentrations have risen to roughly 387 parts per million—and are rising by roughly 2 ppm per year thanks to the more than 30 billion metric tons of CO2 humans put into the atmosphere annually through things like burning fossil fuels and cutting down trees. (That's up from 280 ppm for all of recorded history before the Industrial Revolution.)
Climatologist James Hansen, for one, thinks the answer is 350 ppm. While recent changes are small compared to the massive climate shifts in the Earth's history—as much as 10 degrees Celsius warmer—the reasons for today's shift is different (humans) as is the speed. "Humans are now 10,000 times more powerful than natural geologic changes," Hansen said at a conference this past Saturday organized by students of Columbia University's masters program in climate and society to examine whether (and why) 350 ppm might be the right number. "We're now, unfortunately, in charge of future changes."
Apr 16, 2009 | 1
Are there any short-term solutions to climate change? One potentially quick fix being bandied about in India is the replacement of old cooking stoves that produce Earth-warming, lung-clogging black carbon (a.k.a. soot).
Soot accounts for 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, second only to carbon-dioxide (CO2), which accounts for 40 percent of the emissions blamed for global warming, according to today's New York Times. Scientists including Veerabhadran Ramanathan, an atmospheric physicist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego, are promoting solar-cookers as a quick fix to the soot problem while more complex technologies are developed to reduce the CO2 emissions, the Times reports.
Feb 24, 2009 | 5
The Orbiting Carbon Observatory (OCO), NASA’s satellite to track CO2 emissions on Earth, failed to reach orbit after blasting off early this morning, crashing in the waters off of Antarctica and dashing hopes for the $278-million mission.
The payload fairing—a shroud that covered the OCO to protect it during its trip through the atmosphere—failed to separate from the Taurus XL booster rocket carrying the satellite after it took off from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California at 1:55 A.M. Pacific time (4:55 A.M. Eastern time), NASA said.
“The satellite reentered the atmosphere and fell into the ocean just short of Antarctica,” Alan Buis, a spokesperson for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, tells us. “The mission is lost.
Jan 26, 2009
California and other states that want to set stricter tailpipe emissions and fuel-efficiency standards may get their chance. Pres. Obama today ordered the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to review its rejection of the Golden State’s application for a waiver to the Clean Air Act, which allows states to enact their own rules if they can prove that they’re tougher than federal pollution standards.
Obama said during his campaign that he’d reverse the waiver rejection, the Associated Press notes, and the agency is expected to do so. New EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said during her Senate confirmation hearing January 14 that she would “very, very aggressively” review California’s application, which was submitted in 2007 and denied later that year by the Bush administration, which agreed with auto industry arguments that it would be tough to enforce different standards across the country.
Jan 23, 2009 | 1
Take a deep breath: there's now a satellite monitoring how much greenhouse gas we're expelling into Earth's atmosphere.
"Ibuki"—"breath" in Japanese—was launched into the cosmos today from Tanegashima, a remote island in the southern part of the country. As it circles the planet every 100 minutes for the next five years, Ibuki will collect information about carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (the crucial culprits in rising temperatures on Earth) that will provide insight into global warming.
"Global warming is one of the most pressing issues facing the international community, and Japan is fully committed to reducing CO2," Yasushi Tadami, who's working on the project for Japan's Environment Ministry, told the Associated Press. "The advantage of Ibuki is that it can monitor the density of CO2 and methane gas anywhere in the world."
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