The Viridian Design Movement


Viridian Note 00280: Weird Sequestration Schemes

Bruce Sterling []

Key concepts
carbon sequestration, stratospheric dust, vegetated deserts, dry ice balls, oil bed injection, carbon composite materials, carbon consumer products, orbiting mirrors
Attention Conservation Notice
The kind of half-baked jabber British business magazines emit as the depth of the climate problem begins to dawn on them. Also includes notice of a forthcoming tech lecture at Stanford in California. Almost 2,000 words.

Links: US Department of Energy "Carbon Sequestration: Advanced Concepts." "The entire global emissions of carbon in 1990 could be contained as magnesium carbonate in a space 10 kilometers by 10 kilometers by 150 meters."

Federal Carbon Sequestration R&D circa 1999 (the last time they bothered to print it up, apparently).

Financial Times, November 8 2001 20:30 Article by Vanessa Holder

"Down-to-earth plans for CO2

"Scientists are developing technologies to trap and store
carbon dioxide but there are risks, says Vanessa

"As ministers argue over the finer points of the Kyoto Protocol on climate change in Marrakech this week, some researchers are considering a radically different solution to the problem.

"They are seeking methods of trapping and storing the carbon dioxide emitted from burning fossil fuels, as a means of postponing fundamental changes in the way energy is generated and used.

"Some of the more futuristic proposals have included injecting dust into the stratosphere, 'greening' the deserts, creating artificial reefs of genetically engineered algae and building giant insulated balls of dry ice. (((One has to wonder how and when the term "futuristic" became a synonym for "far-fetched.")))

"Other suggestions are less eye-catching but not much less ambitious. Interest in the topic has been stimulated by the US administration's search for alternative methods of tackling climate change, following its rejection of the

Kyoto Protocol. ((("We're already behaving like lunatics
so roll in those giant balls of dry ice!")))

"'We all believe technology offers great promise
significantly to reduce emissions especially carbon
capture, storage and sequestration technologies,' said
President George W. Bush in May. (((Okay, grant 'em this
much it beats treating the atmosphere as a sewer.)))

"In 1999, a US Department of Energy report listed potential benefits from carbon sequestration, ranging from new materials to improved agricultural practices. The approach was 'truly radical in a technology context', it said.

"In July, the DoE announced plans to spend $25m on studying methods of capturing carbon gases and storing them in underground geological formations or in terrestrial vegetation such as forests. Its goal is to develop sequestration that costs $10 or less per tonne of carbon, about 30 times less than many current options. ((("Plans" to spend "25 million?" Oh! For a minute we thought you really meant it.)))

"Forests gradually absorb carbon from the air. But for most carbon storage techniques, the carbon dioxide must be captured immediately after combustion. Techniques are already available: carbon dioxide can be absorbed from gas streams by contact with solvents and activated materials or by being passed through special membranes.

"Other techniques are under development. One proposal involves an 'oxy-fuel' boiler developed by Praxair, in New York.

Praxair, an actual industrial company with some actual products.

"The boiler uses a membrane to separate oxygen from other gases in air. When this burns it produces a concentrated carbon dioxide exhaust, which is relatively

easy to capture. (((Gotta be a civilian app here somewhere
maybe you can build 'em into birthday candles.)))

"Some researchers think the carbon dioxide removed in this way could be recovered and transformed into commercial products, such as plastics and rubbers, that are inert and long-lived. (((Dump the trash into consumer products!))) A 1999 Department of Energy report speculated carbon could find a new market in ultra-light vehicles made from advanced composite materials. (((Make even more cars with the smut!)))

"But most approaches simply involve storing carbon dioxide. One popular line of research involves injecting carbon dioxide into oilfields. Work commissioned by the International Energy Agency estimates that depleted oilfields could store 126bn tonnes of carbon dioxide. (((After all, oil fields, that's where a lot of it came

from.))) Because injecting carbon dioxide enhances the
recovery of oil about 70 oilfields worldwide already
use the technique this may even become a source of
profit. (((Use the smut to squeeze out more smut and burn
that too!)))

"Another possibility is locking up carbon dioxide permanently by making it react with naturally occuring mineral oxides to form carbonates, thereby avoiding the need for underground reservoirs. (((Turn it into big rocks!))) But according to the IEA, this approach would cost at least $62 per tonne of carbon dioxide. (((One wonders how much a ton of airborne carbon dioxide costs us in weather damage. Big rocks for $62 a tonne, that doesn't sound too bad... maybe you can build giant weatherproof bunkers with them.)))

"Another avenue of research concerns the ability of carbon dioxide, under certain conditions, to form stable hydrate molecules. These are similar to the methane hydrates thought to occur in large quantities under the sea and in permafrost regions. (((At least, hydrates occurred there until the sea and the permafrost started warming up.))) But estimated costs exceed $500 per tonne of carbon dioxide, the IEA says.

"Storing carbon in trees and agricultural land is a

cheaper and better-understood approach to sequestration.
Attempts to improve the storage of these land sinks
which currently store about 40 per cent of man-made carbon
dioxide emissions are encouraged under the Kyoto
Protocol. (((Especially if you are Russia sell lots of
oil, underprice OPEC, and plant trees right into that
thawing permafrost!)))

"But the issue is controversial, not least because much of the carbon stored by growing trees will later be released. In a cautious report issued this year, the Royal Society warned that planting new forests could even prove counter-productive. Rising temperatures could kill off the forests, releasing their carbon to the atmosphere over a relatively short period. (((Like, if these forests catch fire wholesale in greenhouse droughts, Indonesia and Mexico-style.)))

(...) "Many of the concerns about storing carbon on land also apply to proposals for storing carbon dioxide in the deep oceans. (((Drown the stuff!))) In principle, the deep oceans have an enormous capacity to store carbon dioxide, because the high alkalinity of seawater means it is largely stored as carbonate ions. Currently, the oceans remove about 30 per cent of the annual carbon dioxide emissions produced by man, according to CSIRO, the Australian research organisation. (((Put it on shore and have the warming oceans rise up and swallow it.)))

"Researchers seeking to increase the storage capacity of oceans are examining two main options: injecting carbon dioxide into the deep sea; and increasing the uptake of carbon by marine phytoplankton by adding iron and other nutrients to the ocean. (((Turn the coal into seething ocean goo.)))

"But there may be risks. (((Really?))) Last month in Science, the international science journal, US researchers called for more research on the possible biological effects of deep-sea carbon dioxide sequestration. Deep-sea animals may be highly sensitive to environmental changes in carbon dioxide concentration and acidity, they said. (((An interesting objection, given that half the coral reefs are dying from greenhouse heat right now.)))

"Another concern stems from the possibility that stored carbon may suddenly be released. (((The Fizzing Coke Can scenario.))) The danger was illustrated in 1986. More than 1,700 people living near the shores of Lake Nyos in Cameroon were asphyxiated after a plume of carbon dioxide bubbled up from the bottom of the lake. (((More Involuntary Parks.)))

"Even if stored carbon dioxide leaked from the ground or ocean without causing immediate damage, its impact on the climate could be highly damaging. 'Unless the prospect of uncontrolled release of carbon dioxide can be demonstrated to be unrealistic, sequestration may prove unacceptable,' according to research by the IEA reporting that after 50 or more years, leakage of only 1 per cent a

year could amount to more than 1bn tonnes of carbon
released to the atmosphere annually. (((Aw come on 50
years from now? Who cares? There's 9 billion of 'em.)))

"Many environmental campaigners oppose research of this sort. 'The global climate is a highly non-linear system determined by complex feedback processes and we still have a poor understanding of how it works. Any attempt deliberately to tinker with this system could backfire very badly,' says Ben Matthews, an environmental activist. (((But Ben, dude, there's no status quo ante left. We're already way, way into tinkerdom.)))

"For many environmental campaigners, a technological 'fix' to allow continued consumption of fossil fuels is anathema. It is analogous, they say, to running down our kidneys to the state where we have to be permanently attached to a dialysis machine. ((("No kidneys left? Tough luck! We never researched that! Woulda been anathema!"))) At the least, the possibility of dealing with carbon emissions could distract politicians from the need to improve energy efficiency and renewable technologies. (((Not as distracted as they are by ExxonMobil with a wheelbarrow full of cash, though.)))

"There is, indeed, a risk that advanced carbon sequestration techniques could lull the world into a false sense of security. (((What's supposed to lull us out of that?))) But if the climate change problem becomes overwhelming, we shall need all the help we can get."

(((Yes, those schemes are ludicrous, and they've got no political will or market push behind them anyway, but you know, we Viridians have cheerfully publicized even stranger things.)))


Topic: Mirrors & Smoke, and Other Shady Schemes

Speaker: Robert G. Kennedy III, PE

President, The Ultimax Group, Inc.

Stanford University

Computer Systems Laboratory Colloquium 4:15PM, Wednesday, November 14, 2001 Gates Computer Science Building NEC Auditorium, Room B03

About the talk:

390,000 of solar sails, placed in non-Keplerian orbits around the Sun-Earth L1 Lagrange point, can intercept enough (~0.25%) sunlight to offset global warming and concomitant rapid climate change due to anthropogenic CO2, or if you will, a mirrored Maunder Minimum. Such mirrors can also provide total planetary electricity demand, estimated at 300 quads (quadrillion BTUs) by 2050, displacing all terrestrial carbon-burners.

The capital cost of solar sails is at least an order of magnitude less than the sum of economic, social, and environmental damages/externalities due to unmitigated climate change over the next century, rough order of magnitude (ROM) estimate US$200 trillion in 1999 dollars. The capital cost may also be less than the already budgeted replacement/expansion cost of the world's energy generation plant (ROM est. US$20 trillion through 2050).

This world-saving concept is:

  • scalable (twice the mirror produces twice the effect),
  • uncoupled (each mirror works independently of the others),
  • incremental (pay as you go with immediate benefit),
  • unobtrusive (umbra does not reach Earth, so the sails are essentially invisible), and finally
  • reversible (sails can be moved off-axis to restore insolation).

Who should attend? Students interested in:

  • advanced control systems,
  • energy generation and transmission,
  • physical optics,
  • orbital dynamics,
  • engineering economics,
  • systems science, and
  • climate change issues and public policy.

Basic models will be used to demonstrate the concepts and a short CG animation prepared for European broadcast television will be shown.

Material included in this presentation appeared in part in the summer 2001 issue of Whole Earth Review magazine. (((That was Whole Earth Review's Viridian Issue. Break a leg, Robert!)))

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