Sep 25, 2009 | 25
The U.S. Secretary of Energy—channeling former Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev perhaps?—has one thing to say in this week's Science to the greenhouse gases emitted by coal-fired power plants: We will bury you. Nobel laureate Steven Chu's department has funneled $3.4 billion in stimulus dollars to research and develop the technology known as carbon capture and storage (CCS).
But to give you a sense of the challenge, here are his estimates of the scale of the challenge: six billion metric tons of coal burned every year, producing 18 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide and requiring an underground storage volume of 30,000 cubic kilometers per year with untold consequences on subsurface pressure, mineral composition and the like. And we are nowhere near that scale: "We now sequester a few million metric tons of CO2 per year," he wrote, largely from cleaning natural gas or so-called "enhanced oil recovery" efforts, in which CO2 is pumped down to flush out more of the valuable petroleum (and therefore not as useful, from a climate perspective, as sequestration for its own sake).
Sep 22, 2009 | 16
President Obama gave his first major speech on climate change today at the United Nations, part of a special session convened by U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. The reason for the session? Lack of speed in international negotiations to address climate change.
You can see the president's speech here:
In addition to reaffirming the U.S. commitment to addressing climate change, the president listed some recent accomplishments: new efficiency standards for all vehicles, billions of dollars for renewable energy development, and the nation's first mandatory greenhouse gas reporting system. He even noted a plan to work with the world's other largest economies, known as the G20, to "phase out fossil-fuel subsidies so that we can better address our climate challenge."
Sep 11, 2009 | 23
How do you make a movie about changes to the ocean's chemistry? See here:
Sven Huseby and wife Barbara Ettinger have made a new documentary about ocean acidification, the other offspring (along with global warming) of the rising concentration of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere (and the one that can't be covered up with a good batch of geoengineering.) As a staffer at the marine environmental group Oceana once told me: "If the ocean goes, we're all toast."
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 25, 2009 | 46
In a bid to avoid regulations on the greenhouse gas emissions contributing to climate change, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce wants to put the science of global warming on trial. "It would be evolution versus creationism," the chamber's William Kovacs, senior vice president for environment, technology and regulatory affairs, told the Los Angeles Times.
In other words, the chamber hopes for a "Scopes monkey trial for the 21st century," referring to the famous 1925 court case that determined whether evolution could be taught in Tennessee (a battle that has broken out again in states like Texas). The chamber, which represents millions of U.S. businesses, is urging the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to set up a hearing to discuss the science behind that agency's move to declare carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases a threat to human health and therefore subject to regulation under the Clean Air Act.
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."
Jul 27, 2009 | 2
Spanish pearl mussels don’t usually make it into their 30s. The same species bathing in Russia, however, can live for nearly 200 years.
The secret to the Russian pearls’ longevity may be slowly undermined if Earth’s seas continue to warm, because cooler waters supply the fountain of mussel youth, according to a study published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
“We wanted to see whether the geographical variation in life span that we see in all sorts of species has a common physiological basis in temperature,” study co-author Stephan Munch of Stony Brook University in Long Island, N.Y., said in a statement. Alternatively, one might expect local adaptations or geographic variations in predator and food abundance to account for disparities in longevity.
May 26, 2009 | 7
Increasing temperatures and carbon dioxide levels in the world’s oceans may actually speed the growth of starfish, according to research published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The results contrast with previous findings of global warming’s negative effects on the five-armed fish’s relatives.
“Mollusks, bivalves, clams and mussels respond negatively to increased carbon dioxide,” says Rebecca Gooding, a doctoral student in zoology at the University of British Columbia and lead author of the paper. On the other hand, she says, compared to their invertebrate cousins, “starfish are growing faster, getting bigger faster, and they’re eating more.”
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 19, 2009 | 39
The Obama administration unveiled a plan to boost fuel efficiency standards for cars and trucks to an average of 35.5 miles per gallon by 2016—four years ahead of current schedule and up from an average of just 25 miles per gallon today.
The new standards (pdf) will also impose—for the first time ever—a limit on greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles at 250 grams per mile in 2016 under the new proposed rule. (That’s about 5.5 ounces per kilometer, for those of you who like your units mixed differently.)
There are very few vehicles capable of meeting the new standards today, which would mean more hybrids and possibly even electric or other alternative vehicles would have to hit the road within seven years for automakers to comply.
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