Archive for the ‘Carbon Sequestration’ Category

Shut Up and Light the Charcoal

via Wikimedia

via Wikimedia

What if you went camping with a bunch of friends and they decided it would be really cool to barbecue burgers and brats inside the tent. You take one look at the bright red warning label on the charcoal bag and pitch a fit (you’re also the one who pitched the tent). The label announces in no uncertain terms that burning charcoal inside can kill you. “You can’t grill in here,” you say. “We’re all going to die!” But your friends pooh-pooh your sissy concerns and insist there’s nothing wrong with throwing meat on a hot grill indoors. Where’s your scientific proof that everybody is going to die? What harm is a little smoke going to do? Besides, it might rain and  who wants to get wet? Would you stay in the tent? Slip into your sleeping bag after dinner expecting to get up in the morning for bacon and eggs cooked on the same barbecue? I doubt it.

But that’s pretty much where we are with greenhouse gases and global warming today. The warnings are clear and unambiguous but still there’s a concerted campaign to ignore the blaring claxons and carry on grilling in the tent. Between November 2012 and December 2013 2,258 peer-reviewed articles were published in scientific journals by 9,136 authors detailing man’s contributions to global warming.  Only one article, by a single author in the Herald of the Russian Academy of Sciences, rejected man-made global warming. A new draft United Nations report concludes that the nations of the world have dragged their feet so long in combating climate change that the situation has grown critical and the problem could become impossible to solve with current technologies within 15 years. According to the report, our feeble efforts at instituting alternate energy simply can’t compete with the subsidies offered to the fossil fuel industries. Even as more clean energy comes onto the market, emissions continue to outpace any reduction the clean energy might bring. Failure to reign in emissions, the report says, will saddle future generations with enormous disruption, enormous costs, and the challenge of solving the problems were are creating now with technologies which have yet to be invented.

Still, the climate change deniers soldier on, insisting that filling the tent with smoke is a capital idea and that anyone who says the contrary is a tree hugging alarmist. And the deniers aren’t just fringe characters. Some of them occupy positions of great power and influence, such as, say, the Chair of the House Science and Technology Committee. Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), is a vociferous critic of any attempts to reduce carbon emissions, and has noisily denounced the Environmental Protection Agency’s pollution rules for new power plants. Representative Smith has not turned his back on science entirely, though. Just one day after condemning the EPA, he held a hearing to explore the possibility of extra-terrestrial life. Smith is hardly the lone denier on the committee. The Subcommittee on the Environment is now chaired by a representative who rejects the scientific fact of anthropogenic global warming.

If your camping buddies insisted on filling the tent with a colorless, odorless, and tasteless gas that could kill you within an hour, you could at least go sleep outside. There is no outside when it comes to climate change. We’re all trapped inside the tent.

Treasury Department Quietly Kicks Coal to the Curb

via Wikimedia Commons

via Wikimedia Commons

Back in June, the administration released details of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan. One aspect of the plan is to tilt public financing towards clean energy and to end U.S. government support  for the public financing of new coal plants overseas.

The Department of the Treasury recently issued guidance on implementing that part of the president’s plan. The guidelines are intended to level the playing field for clean energy alternatives and to promote low-emission power generation. The plan accomplishes this goal by ending U.S. support for coal plant funding by multilateral development banks. From now on, the U.S. will not support such projects at all in wealthy countries unless they employ carbon capture and sequestration technologies. In the world’s poorest countries, the U.S. will support only the most efficient coal technology available and only where no other economically feasible alternative exists. The U.S. is the largest shareholder in development banks like the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank, the African Development Bank, and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. While the U.S. is in no position to impose its policy on the banks by diktat, the new Treasury guidelines will likely exert considerable pressure to scrub coal plant funding from the banks’ agendas.

The U.S. isn’t going it alone in reining in funding for new coal plants. The World Bank itself has announced that it will limit financing for new plants to “rare circumstances” where countries have no alternative. The leaders of  Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden joined Obama in Stockholm in September in pledging not to fund any more coal projects.

The Treasury guidelines will have no effect on private financing, of course. And political pressure in favor of burning coal is intense, not just in the U.S., but in India and, of course, China – the world’s most voracious consumer of coal. Indeed, the Treasury action is a reflection of the intense political battle being waged in Washington, and arises out of Obama’s reliance on administrative measures to chip away at carbon emissions in the face of Republican obstruction in Congress. In this case, Obama and the Treasury appear to be taking a page from Teddy Roosevelt’s playbook: they’re walking softly and carrying a big stick.

Research Team Maps Biomass in Tropical Forests

Photo by UWEC. Some rights reserved.

Ever find yourself daydreaming about the distribution of carbon in our planet’s tropical forests? Researchers at the Woods Hole Research Center, led by Alessandro Baccini, collected data on the structural particulars of tropical forests using LIDAR (light detection and radar) technology over the course of two years. The result is a satisfyingly detailed, interactive map of the band of earth found between the tropics of Cancer and Capricorn, that uses a color scale to represent a given area’s above-ground biomass, the density and complexity of the entire vertical range of these tropical forests. This data in turn indicates where in these regions carbon is best stored, and in what quantities. Their map is the most precise report developed of its kind, beating out a similar map created last year by NASA.

Aside from being a fun thing to peruse and guess at, the biomass map has a very good shot at influencing international policy regarding the preservation and cultivation of these forests and the carbon that they contain. The New York Times highlights the implications this new data has for the United Nations’ REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degredation in Developing Countries) program, in that it would allow us to hone in on the areas of forest that most require our attention (or inattention, as the case may be). The Indonesian government has already expressed interest in using the maps to better protect their forests from the negative effects of the palm oil industry, for example.

And while we’re on the subject of tropical forests, a quick aside that might be worth perusing on your lunch break: Google Street View has now officially conquered the Amazon!

BLM Guidance on Carbon Sequestration

A large, naturally occurring CO2 storage system at Soda Springs, Idaho offers a study system. Photo by Idaho National Laboratory. Some rights reserved.

We have posted previously on the potential for carbon sequestration in the US. Our post earlier this month covered a Department of Energy report on carbon capture and storage potential in the US, identifying 5,700 years of potential storage of CO2 emitted by stationary sources. Yesterday, the Bureau of Labor Management issued guidance on proposals for potential carbon sequestration projects on BLM lands, which by its own account make up 5.5 percent of the nation’s carbon sequestration capacity.

The Instruction Memorandum, which details the “processing of land use proposals and permit applications for exploration and site characterization studies,”comes as part of a wave of federal interest in carbon sequestration. In 2009, the Secretary of the Interior urged Congress to establish a program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by storing carbon dioxide underground. In 2010, the President established a task force to overcome barriers to deployment of carbon sequestration within 10 years. BLM director Bob Abbey says in the release that the IM helps achieve Obama’s goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent over the next forty years.

The new guidelines only cover exploratory activities, though. The IM notes that to resolve the liability and stewardship responsibilities for long-term development projects, new Federal legislation may be required, and that we should expect the BLM and other agencies to issue further guidance on related application and review processes.

The IM posts an online reference for determining an area’s CO2 storage potential, and requires prospective “land use proponents” to meet with the BLM to discuss geologic suitability and potential conflicts with existing uses.

Carbon Neutral Coffee: May Both Your Beans And Your Marketing Claims Be Green

Photo by איתן. Some rights reserved.

Like coffee? Well, duh. (I write this from Seattle, WA, so excuse my assumptions.)

But most eco-conscious consumers know that every fragrant, tasty, and imported cup comes at an environmental cost. Last year, a Canadian coffee company commissioned a study that was used to calculate the carbon footprint of a single person’s coffee consumption (based on an average 2.6 cups/day). The study considered every step in the coffee-making process, from farming, roasting, and transporting the beans to boiling the water in your kitchen and eventually tossing the used grounds. The findings? This fortifying habit generates an eye-opening 35 kilograms of CO2 annually (comparable to driving a car about 105 miles).

The environmental impact leaves a lot to be desired, though it nicely sets the stage for companies who would like to work towards – and market to customers who strive for – carbon neutrality.

Enter Coopedota R.L. Earlier this week, the 800 farmer coffee cooperative in Costa Rica announced that after 12 years working towards carbon neutrality, their efforts had finally paid off – they are reportedly the first of their kind to export this certifiably “carbon neutral” coffee.

The certification comes in the form of PAS 2060, a set of materials developed by British independent standards-setter BSI that “allows organizations to ensure their carbon neutrality claims are correct and gain customers’ confidence.” While PAS 2060, which was launched in April of 2010, may be one of few private standards to be recognized internationally, no formal international certification scheme currently exists.

And what is carbon neutrality? Generally, “carbon neutral” describes an entity whose greenhouse gas emissions net to zero, usually by both decreasing carbon emissions as well as sequestering or offsetting an equivalent amount of carbon, or purchasing carbon credits to cover the difference. However, according to the FTC, no uniform definition of the term exists (though I’m sure The CarbonNeutral Company, who purportedly first coined and registered the term in 1998 would disagree).

In the states, we’re still far from any kind of national standard or certification scheme. However, the FTC is making progress towards developing federal regulations that dictate how products can use marketing claims of “carbon neutrality.” The FTC’s Green Guides cover environmental marketing generally, but it’s only in the past few years that consumers and marketers alike have clamored for more specific guidance on carbon neutrality claims. As we reported last October, the FTC is currently in the process of updating the Green Guides to address consumer feedback and to reflect changes in the marketplace.

You can see section VI.E (starting on page 166) of the FTC’s proposal for a discussion of the proposed changes (and initial feedback) relating to carbon offsets and carbon neutrality, or you can jump straight to page 201 for the actual proposed additions to the Green Guides regarding carbon offsets. This language, once approved, will eventually be codified at 16 CFR 260.5.

In the meantime, ease some of your consumer guilt by following these simple rules.

Calculate the GHG Emissions of Your Farm

The USDA has released the space-age sounding COMET-VR 2.0, which – based on user inputs for parcel size, surface soil texture, approximate historic land use changes, tillage and fertilization practices, future land management and carbon storage practices, and current fossil fuel electricity consumption – estimates carbon sequestration and greenhouse gas emissions for a given plot of land.

Photo by David Spencer. Some rights reserved.

According to the USDA, COMET-VR 2.0 is “compatible with national and international standards including the Environmental Protection Agency’s U.S. greenhouse gas annual inventory that documents greenhouse gas emissions nationwide,” and applicable to all agricultural lands in the conterminous 48 states.

Interested in how you stack up? Once you’ve used COMET-VR 2.0 to calculate your GHG emissions, check out the USDA’s GHG Inventory, which looks at agricultural emissions at state and regional levels.

Carbon Sequestration: More Than Just Sweeping CO2 Under Our Nation’s Carpet?

Last week, sassy environmental news website Grist drew attention to a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) report on carbon capture and storage (CCS) potential across the United States. The report was the third edition of an “Atlas” that aims to map out the location and capacity of possible geologic carbon storage sites.

The DOE report focuses on geologic sequestration, which, as opposed to terrestrial sequestration (the less technical removal of CO2 in the atmosphere by plants), involves “separation and capture of CO2 at the point of emissions, the transportation of CO2, and the storage of CO2 in deep, underground geologic formations.” DOE is currently researching five types of underground formations as candidates for permanent geologic carbon storage: (1) saline formations; (2) oil and gas reservoirs; (3) unmineable coal areas; (4) organic-rich shales; and (5) basalt formations.

DOE, with the help of regional partners, has identified an estimated 292 billion to 3,497 billion tons in geologic carbon storage beneath leasable federal lands. And this federal storage makes up only 15 percent of the storage presented in the report. With estimated annual CO2 emissions of 3,748 million tons from stationary sources (such as power plants), Grist has calculated 5,700 years of storage potential across the various eligible underground geologic formations.

The potential may be astounding, but the reality is still catching up. According to the EPA, while underground injection of CO2 has long been used for other purposes, CO2 injection for geologic sequestration involves different technical issues due to potentially larger volumes of CO2 and larger scale projects. With that in mind, the EPA recently finalized rules (Subpart RR–Geologic Sequestration of Carbon Dioxide) requiring reporting from facilities that conduct geologic sequestration. The data collected from such reports will help the EPA track the CO2 sequestered by these facilities and “inform Agency decisions under the Clean Air Act related to the use of CCS for mitigating GHG emissions.”

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Want to see which public companies have CCS on the brain? Visit knowledgemosaic’s SEC Filings search page, and do a text search for the phrase carbon sequestration.

Image by Climate Analysis ... Some rights reserved.

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