Tuesday, 24 February 2009

The real problem of carbon capture

There are 3 stages to saving ourselves from certain extinction:

1- Reduce our carbon emissions
2- Eliminate or overcompensate our carbon emissions through offsets
3- Find a way to recuperate and trap the carbon we've emitted over the past 50 years

Reducing and eliminating our carbon emissions is possible. We live in world that's taken a long time to realize there was a problem with our emissions but things are looking much better now than they were 3 or 10 years ago. The government is advertising energy emissions reductions, the media has ongoing programs and articles on the topic and the industry is receiving investment. All this is very slow in comparison to how
quickly we need to make these changes but at least we're moving forwards.
The trouble with climate change is that it is a function of the carbon we've emitted over the past 50 years and it is a function of the carbon we are going to continue emitting. The level of population is already unsustainable at current carbon emissions and resource consumption per capita levels. Ideally we need 500 million people and we have 6-12 times more. By 2050, we'll have 9 billion people at current population growth rates, 9-18 times more than the planet can sustain. Looking at the growth in carbon emissions of our civilization, it is likely that these 9 billion people will emit more carbon than we are now.
Even if these people somehow manage to emit zero carbon, we're still going to have a problem because temperatures will continue rising and with as little as a 2-3 degrees average global warming, 2-3 billion people will be without water. Can we let these future generations die?
No, not if we have just an ounce of compassion in our make up. So we need to regulate births in Western countries, that's about as important as trying to cut carbon emissions to make room for those future refugees. And if anyone's worried about lack of younger generations to pay for other's retirements; don't worry: with climate change we'll have plenty of immigrants just begging to come to work here because the opportunities in their part of the world will have all but disappeared thanks to us importing our rotten development model. We owe them at least a new home so we should start making space.
Now let's assume we do 1 and 2 and we manage to live in a world without human carbon. It's not impossible you know. What then? Well because of the increase in temperatures, Nature will be generating more carbon than it used to. This will come from increased fires, forest loss, methane released from the permafrost, methane released from the oceans etc... So the one problem that no one seems to be addressing right now is: how are we going to trap all this carbon to avoid ever worsening climate change?
This is the one area where we really need to pin our hopes on science and on our collective intelligence. So far there has only been talks about carbon capture in respect of continuing to burn fossil fuels. Talk about carbon capture is related to trapping the carbon emitted by power plants such as coal plants in depleted gas or oil fields. But there has been no talk about how we can reduce the current 380 particles per million (ppm) of CO2 to the much more sustainable 280 ppm we had just 500 years ago. And that's what we need to address to avoid runaway or positive feedback climate change.
First we need to find a place where to stock all this carbon. The good news is we've found a spot, it's on the Eastern cost of America, under the ocean. Second we need to drill that area and get a pipeline running from North America to the Ocean to send all that carbon down below the Earth's crust. Third, we need to invent a gigantic particle hover(s) that can hover up everything in the atmosphere, filter out the carbon and spit out the rest. That's where we've come unstuck, I have not heard a single report of anyone even researching that option.
So if you're a brilliant scientist, forget about re-conciliating general relativity with quantum mechanics and please focus on saving our arses pronto please.

Finally, I mentioned methane earlier in this article. We have huge amounts of methane available almost everywhere on earth and especially buried in the oceans. Methane is the main ingredient used in the production of natural gas that can be used to power vehicles. The only reason why we are not using it now is because of accidents which made it seem less safe than oil or coal. All our vehicles could be running on natural gas. As a matter of fact, all public transport in Bangkok Thailand now runs on natural gas. For an equivalent amount of heat, burning natural gas produces about 30% less carbon dioxide than burning petroleum and about 45% less than burning coal. According to wikipedia those reduced emissions do not include the methane released in the atmosphere in the drilling process (methane units pollute 23 times more than Co2 units). To me it would make a lot of sense to drill methane where it is likely to naturally evaporate into the atmosphere due to global warming ie in the permafrost and in the arctic circles. If that methane is burned and provides us with more eco-friendly transportation at the same time as we avoid its release into the atmosphere, then it should be much more beneficial to us than burning oil or coal.

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