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    Global Warming Quiz: Science, Economics And Non-Hippie Solutions
    By Enrico Uva | December 3rd 2011 04:36 AM | 14 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
    About Enrico

    I majored in chemistry, worked briefly in the food industry and at Fisheries and Oceans. I then obtained a degree in education. Since then I have...

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    1. There are only three economies in the world that collectively account for about 55% of the world's carbon dioxide emissions. Identify them and explain why.

    The economies are China 23%, the United States 18%, and the European Union 14%.

    Why? Well accounting for about 67% of the $63 trillion world gross domestic product are these same  economies, and they are powered by fossil fuels. In light of global warming, this seems, on the surface, like a regrettable choice on humanity's part. But how could we have possibly not made use of such ubiquitous energy-intensive chemicals such as natural gas, petroleum and coal, especially when they have also been used as raw materials to make roads, plastics, dyes and pharmaceuticals?

    2. If we look more closely at the top seven carbon dioxide producers (China, USA, EU, India, Russia, Japan, and Canada), which countries release the most carbon dioxide per dollar of GDP? And why?

    They are India 0.97 kg/$GDP, Russia 0.72 and China 0.62. (Some middle eastern countries have even higher values but they are not  among the top emitters.) India and China both rely heavily on coal as an energy source. Even though the United States generates half of its electricity from coal, it only accounts for 23% of the nation's total energy sources. In contrast, coal supplies China with 71% of its energy. When coal is compared to other fossil fuels it releases the most grams of carbon dioxide on a kWh of energy basis. More specifically, coal releases from 715 to 940 g/kWh, depending on whether it's coking coal or lignite, but crude oil produces 610, while natural gas only releases 340 g/kWh.

    In addition, China and India's industries use a greater proportion of energy compared to what's consumed by residences, services and transportation. Russia is not as dependent on coal, but it has the coldest climate and the longest transportation routes among the largest economies , rendering it less efficient.

    Although it is true that these economies are doing next to nothing to curb their emissions, they are merely repeating what North America and Europe did during their industrial phases. China's cheap exports to the West, its appetite for Canadian raw materials and the fact that they own a lot of US treasuries all help Western economies. In that context, the better kg CO2/$GDP numbers of countries like Canada and Germany are self-deception.

    3. But is global warming only about carbon dioxide and fossil fuels? How big is the contribution from other sources?

    CH4(methane) and N2O(nitrous oxide) are more powerful greenhouse gases in that on a per molecule basis, they absorb more infrared than CO2 and remain longer in the atmosphere. If you calculate the CO2 mass equivalent of CH4 and N2O, they are responsible for about 22% of the world's greenhouse gas total.

    Recovery of methane for fuel purposes--recall that it generates only a little more than half of the CO2/kWh than petroleum--- might be a more efficient strategy than trying to persuade people not to eat meat.

    4.    The ozone problem was alleviated not just though legislation but by replacing CFC's with similar compounds that contain less chlorine. Similarly, the acidic precipitation problem became far less serious thanks to technology. Industry-adopted scrubbers that reacted sulfur dioxide(
    SO2 ) with lime(CaO) to produce calcium sulfate (CaSO4) which is either sold as wall boards(drywall) or which end up as non toxic landfill. There's also a different technique that converts SO2 into sulfuric acid, which has long  been one of industry's most useful chemicals. Can CO2 also be filtered?

    Four years ago (in 2007) the Virgin Earth Challenge offered a $25 million prize to whoever could demonstrate a commercially viable design to remove greenhouse gases fro the air. A month ago(November 2011), from more than 2600 applications, 11 finalists were announced. These are Biochar Solutions, from the US; Biorecro, Sweden; Black Carbon, Denmark; Carbon Engineering, Canada; Climeworks, Switzerland; Coaway, US; Full Circle Biochar, US; Global Thermostat, US; Kilimanjaro Energy, US; Smartstones - Olivine Foundation, Netherlands, and The Savory Institute, US

    Some of the technologies rely on an aqueous sodium hydroxide solution(NaOH(aq)) which reacts with CO2 from concentrated sources such as power plant emissions. The product is sodium carbonate(Na2CO3), commonly known as washing soda. There is also the possibility of pumping it underground and/or having it absorbed by certain minerals. The filtration approach is the most sensible and the most realistically attainable goal towards alleviating global warming. Changes in lifestyle and so-called wise consumer choices are not only less likely to materialize, but they seem to have more unpredictable spinoffs and undesirable effects than technology itself.

    Sources: 
    United Nations Statistics Division, Millennium Development Goals indicators
    http://earthtrends.wri.org/updates/node/274
    http://www.duke-energy.com/environment/air-quality/sulfur-dioxide-scrubbers.asp
    US Dept. of Energy, "U.S. Primary Energy Consumption by Source and Sector, 2008" (2009)

    Comments

    Who cares ??? MMGW is a scam anyway. Forget about it. MMGW has been Y2K'ohed

    Gerhard Adam
    Y2K'ohed
    Such a statement could only be made by someone ignorant of the problem and the huge effort expended to avoid it.
    Mundus vult decipi
    UvaE
    If in the next two decades a substantial amount of carbon dioxide is filtered---or if world economies stagnate for an extended period--- and climate stabilizes, some people unaware of what was going on will say out of the blue, "See. It was all a hoax!"
    Oh surely not! I mean they didn't say anything like that when we fixed the Y2K problem, did they? Programmers up all night, ancient customer data bases resurrected to try to track down every affected system... after all that hard work, surely you've never heard anyone say "There! It was all hype, you can't trust experts!"  They wouldn't be so stooopid.
     
    Please review this brief given to the EPA chiefs of north America at the Commission for Environmental Cooperation.
    The most cited soil scientist in the world, Dr. Rattan Lal at OSU, was impressed with this talk, commending me on conceptualizing & articulating the concept.
    titled:
    The Establishment of Soil Carbon as the Universal Measure of Sustainability

    A Report on my talk at CEC, and complete text & links are here:
    http://tech.groups.yahoo.com/group/biochar-policy/message/3233

    The Australian's have opened this soil carbon door for Aussie farmers, to have their carbon accounted for , to do well while doing good.
    Biochar Capacity Building Program:
    http://daff.gov.au/climatechange/cfi/biochar
    Carbon Farming Initiative:
    http://www.climatechange.gov.au/cfi

    Other Biochar applications, Not included in the CEC talk , are current Biochar mercury remediation work I instigated with DuPont & ORNL in Waynesboro, VA, showing a 95% reduction of Hg moving up the food web, and the Japan Biochar Association's work toward radionuclide remediation.
    Also as a feed ration for livestock (1/2 CH4 belching) & aquaculture (2X size);
    http://superstoneclean.com/video-presentations/

    The Bio-Refining Technologies to Harvest Carbon.
    The photosynthetic "capture" collectors are up and running all around us, the "storage" sink is in operation just under our feet, conversion reactors are the only infrastructure we need to build out. Carbon, as the center of life, has high value to recapitalize our soils. Yielding nutrient dense foods and Biofuels, Paying Premiums of pollution abatement and toxic remediation and the growing Dividend created by the increasing biomass of a thriving soil community.

    Since we have filled the air,
    filling the seas to full,
    soil is the only beneficial place left.
    Carbon to the Soil, the only ubiquitous and economic place to put it.

    Actually the natural gas to electricity ratio depends greatly on the type of plant. If you just boil water you get 35% efficiency since the turbines and etc can not that terribly hot steam. If how ever you go to a combined cycle plant where the gas is burned in a gas turbine, and the waste heat used to boil water you get to 60% (thanks to the better Carnot efficiency of a gas turbine, due to a higher output temp of the engine). So if you combine the 2 to 3x CO2 change due to the greater H to C ratio in methane, with a near doubling of the efficiency of the plant you get from 4 to 5+ times the amount of electricity per unit of CO2 emission. These plants also have the advantage of being faster starting than a plant that just boils water to make electricity.

    Thanks Enrico. There is too much kumbaya mentality surrounding this issue. I have long since abandoned the expectation of wide scale societal change in daily habits. Humans don't do that. As Camus wrote: "Only in novels does one condition change or become better." So I opt for a new technologies approach because we have run out of time and need new toys for the multiple new challenges coming our way.

    Some of the technologies rely on an aqueous sodium hydroxide solution(NaOH(aq)) which reacts with CO2 ..
     
    And the NaOH comes from?   Let me guess, it's regenerated from the Na2C03. This just gives us the CO2 back.

    Alternatively it can be produced afresh from salt. This gives acid by-products like HCl or Cl2 to dispose of instead of CO2. Apparently my lifestyle costs several tons of CO2 a year: chlorine can be used to make PVC but there's only so much plastic I can use. Or are these wonder technologies going to dump tons of hydrochloric acid per person down the drain each year? And where's the energy going to come from to create the NaOH? Oh yes, I know. A nuke to power the scrubber.

    Our fossil fuel technolgy has some interesting chemistry. It just so happens that carbon and hydrocarbons out of the ground and oxygen out of the air provide a good source of energy, courtesy of archaic plants who took CO2 from the atmosphere and released oxygen... the very process we are wanting to reverse. Carbon, hydrocarbons and oxygen are all extraordinarily inert at normal temperatures considering there is so much energy to be released. But if it wasn't for the bond stability we would think of oxygen as a wildly acidic gas, just like chlorine. Combustion transfers the acidity to the carbon dioxide - acidity does tend to be conserved in chemistry. Even if we found a natural resource to produce basicity - a nice big lump of sodium metal, or a pipe to the centre of the earth to pump up molten iron - we'd need an equivalent amount of material.

    The only way we could avoid this problem would be if we ran the original photosynthetic process alongside the fossil fuel burners, effectively making everything solar-powered via biofuel whether explictly or not. You could keep your coal burners in less afluent areas and run solar biofuel factories as a favour to humanity in the others. But you wouldn't burn the fuel. You'd crack it to create coke and hydrogen (wasting 3/4 of the energy in the process) and dump the coke. Preferably back down the coal mines. So its coal up from one mine and coke down at another. I can't think of any reason why that won't work. :)
     




    UvaE
    And the NaOH comes from?  Let me guess, it's regenerated from the Na2C03. This just gives us the CO2 back.
    That's a correct sarcastic guess. But the carbon dioxide does not necessarily have to be released again into the air. There are many industrial uses for carbon dioxide, and presently not all the raw gas for these applications is a byproduct of other processes. Admittedly, some of the applications end up releasing it into the atmosphere eventually.

    What if the carbon dioxide is pumped into lakes? If there's a carbonate lake bed, the resulting carbonic acid can end up as more calcium carbonate. It's the reason that southern US lakes are not sensitive to acid rain.
    And where's the energy going to come from to create the NaOH? Oh yes, I know. A nuke to power the scrubber.
    NaOH production could be alternately powered by hydroelectricity-rich areas like Quebec and Brazil. Brazil also has major access to seawater; the gulf of St. Lawrence is saline enough, and the people of Gaspe would definitely appreciate the job opportunities.

    Alternatively it can be produced afresh from salt. This gives acid by-products like HCl or Cl2 to dispose of instead of CO2.
    There are tons of markets for HCl and chlorine that are unrelated to plastic production.
    Carbon, hydrocarbons and oxygen are all extraordinarily inert at normal temperatures considering there is so much energy to be released. But if it wasn't for the bond stability we would think of oxygen as a wildly acidic gas, just like chlorine. Combustion transfers the acidity to the carbon dioxide - acidity does tend to be conserved in chemistry.
    Your Lewis acid view of things is interesting. The driving force for the electron pair transfer in combustion is really coulombic. Oxygen has a high nuclear effective charge, which pulls electrons in, and subsequently the pair of tight C=O and O-H bonds formed in carbon dioxide and water, respectively, is what lowers the potential energy of the products of hydrocarbon oxidation.
    What I was getting at is that scrubbing the gases is one problem, Getting rid of it is quite another. I'm sure you understood that.

    As for disposing of the acid products, this is why I mentioned that I use several tons of carbon a year. Industry would have to absorb the equivalent amount of "acidity". I don't know about "some of the applications end up releasing it into the atmosphere" - checking your link and a ten second visit to Wikipedia has confirmed my belief that practically all of them do - they just use CO2 as an inert gas or a solvent. Apparently the only chemical products are methanol, urea, carbonates and bicarbonates, and sodium salicylate. And anyway, don't forget, you have to break that nice C=O bond before you can make the organic compounds. That's going to require all the energy that you got by oxidising the carbon in the first place.
     
    The lake bed idea is problematical from an ecological PoV. I dare say there are some lakes which are naturally very alkaline which could absorb a bit but a carbonate lake bed means, basically, limestone, which you are proposing to dissolve, more or less at a natural pace, and thus add mineral bicarbonate to the lake water. This is serious pollution - even though bicarbonate is not toxic, the ecology would be devasted. It's the same old acid-base thing. 

    Like I say, there may be "tons of industrial uses for HCl" but there aren't any "industrial uses for tons of HCl".  :)

    Not per year per person.

    The most plausible disposal route seems to be to forget about covalently bonding the carbon but to store it back underground as CO2 in a supercritical state. There may even be enough old oil wells to tide us over while we build nukes or windmills or whatever. 

    Cheers!
     


    UvaE
     
    There may even be enough old oil wells to tide us over while we build nukes or windmills or whatever.
    Or abandoned mines.
    Not so easy. Oil wells are naturally pressurised so you can pump dense supercritical CO2 down them. Mines are open to the atmosphere limiting the pressure to one and a tiny bit atmospheres, not enough to get rid of large amounst of CO2, unless, of course you turned it to dry ice. That might work. I certainly don't fancy the idea of pressurizing the old coal mines round here to 500 atmospheres and then banging a cork in :)
     
    UvaE
    The following comments are actually from Bente Lilja Bye's blog but they are very relevant to the thesis of the article.

    Climate change rests with the individual, each one of us making little changes for the greater good.
    What if the "little changes" only come from too few committed people? 'Especially if they get political, and get their actions neutralized by the inertial reaction of threatened interests.

    The problem has some parallels to cholera in 19th century London. There was no sum of actions from individual ordinary citizens that saved the day. Scientific understanding of the problem and the chemical treatment of water is what proved to be the durable and long term solution to the crisis.

    Similarly we cannot rely on enough people to conserve energy or expect large cities without access to hydroelectricity to generate massive amounts of electrical power without fossil fuels. So in that case, the wastes (carbon dioxide) have to be filtered.
    Alfred Differ
    If I am to make little changes for the greater good, the technique had best not rely upon me doing it intentionally.  The incentive to stay focused would be what?  8)

    There is such an incentive and technique though.  Drive the price up high enough and I'll conserve without anyone having to tell me to do it.  Prices are signals that don't require law.

    Still... it's nice to see the filtration effort being worked.  If prices go up high enough we need these alternate efforts as escape paths.
    -Dream Big. --Grow Up.