Thursday, February 21, 2008

CO2 Sequestration: Good Science or SciFi?

Whooee! Well friends an' foes, I just left a bigass comment over to BigCityLib's boog an' I'm recyclin' most of it here. BCL has a boog story about an idea fer carbon sequestration by use of giant (100m x several KM's) balloons. The idea is to place these giant air mattresses on the ocean floor, 3 KM deep. CO2 is heavier that H2O and it'll sink to the bottom.

I admit I ain't studied this idea too hard. I'd be happy as Larry if somebody come up with a good CO2 sequestration method. Here in Nanticoke, we know how to remove almost all the particulate and conventional pollution from the coal-fired generators. They done a good job of that up in Lambeth but Ginty sez he won't spend the money on Nanticoke on accounta he's gonna shut it down anyways.

The problem with burnin' coal is the greenhouse gases (GHGs). If we could capture all the GHGs from the 1000's of coal-fired electricity plants around the world, we'd be doin' a great thing. So far, most carbon sequestration ideas are only ideas. There ain't a working version anywhere. That don't mean it can't happen. Maybe someday, someone will build a giant pie-shaped container and put it in space and we'll transport GHGs by space shuttle. That'd be the pie-in-the-sky solution.

I got big doubts about this underwater air mattress idea, though.

We're only beginning to fully explore and understand the deep sea bed. New species are being discovered as we develop and deploy more advanced unmanned submersible exploration vessels.

As soon as I saw this idea, I started to wonder about its effect on life forms. Plankton and other microscopic food sources live on the sea bed. What will happen when we cover the seabed with a plastic bag that's kilometres in length? This idea seems like an extension of the ocean-as-a-dump mentality.

Maybe the plastic bags would work better if they were laying above ground. Maybe in the desert somewhere. There are puncture and leak hazards to consider. If the bag springs a leak 3 km underwater, it'll be harder to repair than if the bag was above ground. Maybe even impossible to repair at such depths.

The energy required to pump CO2 from coal-fired electricity plants located 100's of miles from the seacoast will be considerable. Will there be a net gain with such a plan? Or will it turn out to be like ethanol -- creating as much GHG as it saves?

Schemes like this are "have your cake and eat it too" schemes. We need to be working more on energy efficiency, conservation and renewables. These are proven methods of reducing GHG's and they really do work -- if they are sufficiently funded. How many KWH could be saved by investing the cost of one of these undersea air mattresses into replacement of energy hogging old refrigerators and air conditioners?

New technology is sexy but we already have the technology to reduce GHG's. What we don't have is the political will that earmarks sufficient funding to deploy existing proven technology on a large scale.



The Mound of Sound said...

Deep water sequestration is a controversial idea. To the extent it can be made feasible (and that's a big "if'), it would only work for CO2 that could be captured from emitters in very close proximity to ocean troughs. Inland coal power plants are much too far away.

North of 49 said...

Hi, JB. Chiming in late here, but one bit in your post (say, if your blog is a boog, what's a post? A pose? A pest?) caught my eye:

How many KWH could be saved by investing the cost of one of these undersea air mattresses into replacement of energy hogging old refrigerators and air conditioners?

Amen. In the coverage of BC's latest budget, where Minister Ms Taylor introduced Canada's first carbon tax ever, we also learned that BC Hydro intends to -- after raising rates 15% over two years -- spend $900 million on "smart meters".

The rationale seems to be that if consumers are able to see how much electricity they are using at any given second, conservation by guilt will automatically follow. Now my first gag-take on this was much like yours above: Why pull this stunt when $900 mil could buy about Nine Hundred Thousand low-energy fridges or hot-water heaters (figuring basic units, frill-free, at $1000 a pop, including taxes, installation, and disposal of the old junk), and save a whole whack of energy for sure, rather than using this weird virtual-stick/phantom carrot approach?

Well, to answer my own question, I think this comes from letting MBAs (and those who think like them) develop public policy. The MBAs I know (admittedly few), seem to know a lot about money, lo-o-o-ove technological fixes, but don't have a clue about people and how to really, actually, motivate them.

Now I don't know if this is right, but I have certainly noticed in the last 20 years or so a real lack of imagination, vision, and creativity in not just public policy, but all over the private sector too. After reading Jane Jacobs' last work, Dark Age Ahead, where she talks about "credentialling" pushing out "competence", I'm inclined to think that a lot of our current troubles have to do with the people we allow to be in charge, and not necessarily the visible ones, like PMs and CEOs, but the anonymous "experts" who advise them.

OK, rant over. Love yer boog.