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On A Carbon Tax is Not Feasible or Practical

The power to tax is the power to destroy, and in the war on coal, the ultimate weapon is a carbon tax.  Corporate giants now are calling for a carbon tax.  Green zealots demand some kind of punishment for crimes against the environment, hoping "renewables" can provide baseload generation after coal collapses.  The coastal pundits like the idea of a carbon tax because they get to vent their loathing for the oblivious coal-burning rednecks of flyover country, and their elected representatives.  A chorus of angry beggars awaits a promised "dividend" from the carbon tax.

Kowtowing to this absurdity is prudent if you just want to know the cost of doing business.  Uncertainty over the economic impact of actually doing something real about global warming is a cloud over business-as-usual.  A neat solution, from the perspective of dominant companies, would be a carbon tax that cripples the second-tier players with higher costs, and which also provides an excuse for continuing to do nothing to develop new technology: we paid our tax, so we did our bit, and it's up to the fderal government to do the R&D,  Whatever the carbon tax is, they can just roll it into a rate increase.

Revenue from a carbon tax will just go into the general fund.  Even if there's a dedicated fund, that will get looted like Social Security to pay for bigger priorities, like more wars.  It won't help technology development that might stop global warming.  Neither the multinational incumbents nor the candidates they support have any interest in new technology.  "We have all the technology we need" is their battlecry. 

Technically sophisticated people know that non-hydro renewables presently provide only 6.8% of US electricity and can't possibly scale to replace coal for baseload generation.  Also that "Clean Coal" via chemical CO2 capture and underground storage (CCS) won't work at utility scale.

June 13, 2015    View Comment    

On The Case for Carbon Capture

Non-hydro renewables presently contribute only 6.8% of US electricity, after all the subsidies and mandates.  For China, there seems to be no realistic alternative to coal power.  India too. 

Let's hope China can solve the air pollution problems incident to coal power.  The US has failed, so now the world must look to China to develop the technology to capture CO2 and then dispose of it. 

 Enhanced oil recovery (EOR) could use only a tiny fraction of the billions of tonnes each year from coal power.  Even if the huge infrastructure to transport that much CO2 could be built, CO2 compressed to a supercritical state has to be hammered into rocks whose pore space is full of very salty brine.  Where would that displaced ocean of brine go?  The risk of salting the groundwater is not negligible, as technically unsophisticated energy pundits seem to assume.

 Earthquakes from injection wells are another unsolved problem for sequestration.  The earthquake risk is not negligible, and very likely a worse disaster than global warming.   https://www.sciencenews.org/article/pumping-carbon-dioxide-deep-underground-may-trigger-earthquakes

 At the scale of 2 billion tonnes per year, sequestration in the US looks fundamentally impractical, and attempts to make it work (like the recently punted FutureGen2 project in Illinois) are a waste of time and money.  Trying to extrapolate EOR experience to sequestration is an elementary error, as petroleum engineers (Ehlig-Economides, et al.) have pointed out, because EOR is an open system, and sequestration by definition (if it's secure) is a closed system.  Secure storage in an open system is nonsense. 

  Post-combustion CO2 capture by surface chemistry is another fundamentally wrong approach that could never work at a scale that would make an impact on global warming.  https://www.sciencenews.org/article/carbon-capture-and-storage-finally-approaching-debut    Amine sweetening, to remove CO2 from natural gas, is a mature technology (from the '30s) but it can't possibly scale from the oil field to what's needed for a coal plant (5,000 tpd).  Water consumption would double.  Quenching the hot flue gas to 30-60C so the amine sorbents can work is possible but not economical.  Wet cooling at thermal power plants already consumes more fresh water than any other use, and doubling that waste of water during a drought is not a realistic plan. 

June 2, 2015    View Comment    

On Where are the Unicorns?

Cheap petroleum from fracking refutes the value proposition of biofuels.  Food-to-energy (genetically modified corn ethanol) and waste-to-energy (anaerobic digesters, and fast catalytic pyrolysis like KiOR) are old ideas left over from the oil crisis of the '70s.  The value of cellulose feedstocks is in composted organics from slow ablative pyrolysis (without catalysts to get coked), not biofuel. 

May 21, 2015    View Comment    

On New Coal Plants in China: A (Carbon) Bubble Waiting to Burst

Non-hydro renewables presently contribute only 6.8% of US electricity, after all the subsidies and mandates.  For China, there seems to be no realistic alternative to coal power.  India too. 

Let's hope China can solve the air pollution problems incident to coal power.  The US has failed, so now the world must look to China to develop the technology to capture CO2 and then dispose of it. 

Enhanced oil recovery (EOR) could use only a tiny fraction of the billions of tonnes each year from coal power.  Even if the huge infrastructure to transport that much CO2 could be built, CO2 compressed to a supercritical state has to be hammered into rocks whose pore space is full of very salty brine.  Where would that displaced ocean of brine go?  The risk of salting the groundwater is not negligible, as energy experts seem to assume.

Earthquakes from injection wells are another unsolved problem for sequestration.  The earthquake risk is not negligible, and very likely a worse disaster than global warming.   https://www.sciencenews.org/article/pumping-carbon-dioxide-deep-underground-may-trigger-earthquakes

At the scale of 2 billion tonnes per year, sequestration in the US looks fundamentally impractical, and attempts to make it work (like the recently punted FutureGen2 project in Illinois) are a waste of time and money.  Trying to extrapolate EOR experience to sequestration is an elementary error, as petroleum engineers (Ehlig-Economides, et al.) have pointed out, because EOR is an open system, and sequestration by definition (if it's secure) is a closed system.  Secure storage in an open system is nonsense. 

 Post-combustion CO2 capture by surface chemistry is another fundamentally wrong approach that could never work at a scale that would make an impact on global warming.  https://www.sciencenews.org/article/carbon-capture-and-storage-finally-approaching-debut

Amine sweetening, to remove CO2 from natural gas, is a mature technology (from the '30s) but it can't possibly scale from the oil field to what's needed for a coal plant (5,000 tpd).  Water consumption would double.  Quenching the hot flue gas to 30-60C so the amine sorbents can work is possible but not economical.  Wet cooling at thermal power plants already consumes more fresh water than any other use, and doubling that waste of water during a drought is not a realistic plan. 

But the goal of mitigating global warming while developing the Chinese economy could be achieved by kinematic separation in the open von Karman geometry (for CO2 capture by stripping the nitrogen ballast) and CO2 cracking (by radial counterflow shear electrolysis).  CO2 cracking would take a lot of energy (about the same as water electrolysis) but that energy could come from wind at night and the spinning reserve, and the oxygen could be used for combustion instead of air.  The energy for cracking would be about the same as the energy for taking oxygen from the air using a conventional air separation unit.  The elemental carbon thus produced could be very useful carbon nanotubes. 

February 27, 2015    View Comment    

On No China Coal Peak in Sight: Carbon Capture Will be Necessary to Tame Emissions in this Century

What do you do with CO2 once you've captured it?  Enhanced oil recovery (EOR) could use only a tiny fraction of the 2 billion tonnes that the US emits each year from coal power.  Even if the huge infrastructure to transport that much CO2 could be built, CO2 compressed to a supercritical state has to be hammered into rocks whose pore space is full of very salty brine.  Where would that displaced ocean of brine go?  The risk of salting the groundwater is not negligible, as energy experts seem to assume.

Earthquakes from injection wells are another unsolved problem for sequestration.  The earthquake risk is not negligible, and very likely a worse disaster than global warming.   https://www.sciencenews.org/article/pumping-carbon-dioxide-deep-underground-may-trigger-earthquakes

 At the scale of 2 billion tonnes per year, sequestration looks fundamentally impractical, and attempts to make it work (like the recently punted FutureGen2 project in Illinois) are a waste of time and money.  Trying to extrapolate EOR experience to sequestration is an elementary error, as petroleum engineers (Ehlig-Economides, et al.) have pointed out, because EOR is an open system, and sequestration by definition (if it's secure) is a closed system.  Secure storage in an open system is nonsense. 

Post-combustion CO2 capture by surface chemistry is another fundamentally wrong approach that could never work at a scale that would make an impact on global warming.  https://www.sciencenews.org/article/carbon-capture-and-storage-finally-approaching-debut

Amine sweetening, to remove CO2 from natural gas, is a mature technology (from the '30s) but it can't possibly scale from the oil field to what's needed for a coal plant (5,000 tpd).  Water consumption would double.  Quenching the hot flue gas to 30-60C so the amine sorbents can work is possible but not economical.  Wet cooling at thermal power plants already consumes more fresh water than any other use, and doubling that waste of water during a drought is not a realistic plan. 

But the goal of mitigating global warming while developing the Chinese economy could be achieved by kinematic separation in the open von Karman geometry (for CO2 capture by stripping the nitrogen ballast) and CO2 cracking (by radial counterflow shear electrolysis).  CO2 cracking would take a lot of energy (about the same as water electrolysis) but that energy could come from wind at night, and the oxygen could be used for oxyfuel combustion.  The energy for cracking would be about the same as the energy for taking oxygen from the air using a conventional air separation unit.  The elemental carbon thus produced could be very useful carbon nanotubes. 

 

February 26, 2015    View Comment    

On The Growing Risk of Transporting Crude Oil by Rail

Upgrading the crude at the source might help allay growing public concern over oil-by-rail.  Strip out the low ends that cause explosions (like West Virginia) and the heavier than water fractions that would sink irretrievably into the groundwater from spills.  Upgrading should get out the suspended and dissolved solids as well as the water.  Gasoline-by-rail is not a problem, nor is refined oil-by-rail. 

February 26, 2015    View Comment    

On Sequestration on Shaky Ground

Post-combustion CO2 capture by chemistry also looks dubious.  https://www.sciencenews.org/article/carbon-capture-and-storage-finally-approaching-debut   Amine sweetening, to remove CO2 from natural gas, is a mature technology (from the '30s) but it can't possibly scale from the oil field to what's needed for a coal plant (5,000 tpd).  Water consumption would double.  Quenching the hot flue gas to 30-60C so the amine sorbents can work is possible but not economical.  Wet cooling at thermal power plants already consumes more fresh water than any other use, and doubling that waste of water during a drought is not a realistic plan.  The energy penalty of chemical capture (20-35%) is another strike against conventional CCS.  Weakening power generation during expanding demand is a sacrifice that will be hard to sell to the developing world.  Strike three is the impossibiity of secure storage underground at the scale required.  With these three strikes against it, chemical capture and sequestration is clearly not a viable option.  But the goal of mitigating global warming could be achieved by kinematic separation in open von Karman flow (for CO2 capture by stripping the nitrogen ballast) and CO2 cracking (by radial counterflow shear electrolysis).

 

  

January 23, 2015    View Comment    

On Keystone XL: Let's Make a Megadeal and Get Congress to Fulfill a Cleantech Wishlist

The price of oil (<$50) now moots the KXL project.  So why do the proponents need a pipeline over the Ogallalla aquifer?  For export?  How is that good for America, or for Canada?

January 22, 2015    View Comment    

On Sequestration on Shaky Ground

Shaky indeed.  Cracking the bedrock and salting the groundwater are the likely outcome of CO2 sequestration, if it's even possible at the scale of 2 billion tonnes per year.  Trying to squeeze supercritical fluid into rock where the pore space is full of very salty water makes no sense.   https://www.sciencenews.org/article/pumping-carbon-dioxide-deep-underground-may-trigger-earthquakes

 

January 22, 2015    View Comment    

On WSJ Gets it Wrong on 'Why Peak Oil Predictions Haven't Come True'

Shale oil has become so cheap in the US that peak oil fears now seem to have been groundless.  And natural gas is now so abundant that in North Dakota it just gets flared into the atmosphere.  Water is lavishly consumed and polluted by fracking and oil sands extraction, despite the Drought.  So it would seem that something like the loaves and fishes is going on with what we of little faith used to believe were finite natural resources.

The money supply, too, expands by accrual of compound interest without limit.  So does the debt of students  reduced to peonage by compound interest on debts they will never be able to pay or discharge in bankruptcy.  Evidently the Jubilee has been repealed, as well as the laws of nature.  Party on, 1%!

Thanks, Gail, for your lucid dissent.  Recent news might explain weak oil prices: the Rossi reactor.  http://www.extremetech.com/extreme/191754-cold-fusion-reactor-verified-by-third-party-researchers-seems-to-have-1-million-times-the-energy-density-of-gasoline

October 12, 2014    View Comment    

On Are Carbon Capture and Storage and Biomass Indispensable in the Fight Against Climate Change?

Neither CCS nor biofuels offer a path to CO2 management because they can't possibly scale to the size of the problem. By 2035 the EIA forecasts annual US CO2 emissions of 6.32 billion metric tons, 38% of which (2.40 billion) will be from US coal plants alone. There's no space underground to store that much CO2 every year, and trying to do so will endanger the water supply.

CCS (conventionally understood to mean amine scrubbing for CO2 capture and underground storage for sequestration) is fundamentally impractical because of water issues. Energy pundits tend to neglect water issues as beyond their narrowly siloed expertise, but water is a deal-breaker.  Amine scrubbing will double the already huge water consumption of coal plants. Sequestration at the scale required, even if practical, will displace salty formation fluids, which might eventually contaminate the groundwater.

Extrapolating EOR experience to justify CCS is an elementary error. The huge Permian Basin oil field’s current annual enhanced oil recovery (EOR) demand is only 7 million tons of CO2, about the annual output of a single 1 GW coal-fired power plant. See this article from POWER magazine at http://www.powermag.com/carbon-control-the-long-road-ahead/. Clearly, EOR in depleted oil and gas reservoirs can't handle the expected 2 BILLION tonne volume of CO2 that must be stored each year just from coal power generation in the US alone. CO2 for EOR is of benefit to the oil companies, but no help for global warming.

Deep saline formations have lots of pore space, i.e. spaces between grains in the rock, but -- unlike depleted reservoirs where EOR has worked -- the pores in the rock are full of very salty brine at high pressure. For example, the FutureGen sequestation will displace 47,500 ppm brine (saltier than seawater) from the Mt. Simon formation under Illinois. No one knows or evidently cares where this brine ends up.  There is no plan to handle it.

Moving the brine out and the CO2 in will be impossible at the scale of billions of tonnes each year. No one will insure the risk.  We hear a lot about the 25 years of successful experience with EOR, but EOR in depleted reservoirs (empty tanks) is immaterial to the viability of utility-scale CO2 sequestration, which must be in deep saline formations (full tanks).

Once injected into the formation, the CO2 would have to be securely contained.  Closure is of the essence.  Experience with an open system, like EOR, is inapposite. An open system for secure storage is nonsense. This fundamental point seems to have been overlooked. In 2010, a sobering article appeared in the refereed Journal of Petroleum Science and Engineering (70:123-130), authored by two distinguished full professors of petroleum engineering, Christine Ehlig-Economides and Michael J. Economides. Here's a quote from the abstract:

“Published reports on the potential for sequestration fail to address the necessity of storing CO2 in a closed system. Our calculations suggest that the volume of liquid or supercritical CO2 to be disposed cannot exceed more than about 1% of pore space. This will require from 5 to 20 times more underground reservoir volume than has been envisioned by many, and it renders geologic sequestration of CO2 a profoundly non-feasible option for the management of CO2 emissions.”

Cramming 2 billion tonnes each year into deep saline formations is a vain hope to begin with. The danger of saline intrusion into the groundwater and CO2 plumes erupting and killing people must be weighed against the trivial benefit to global warming, which is the ostensible motivation for FutureGen. If it's expected to be an open system, like EOR, where there is mass flow through system boundaries, then secure containment of the brine and the CO2 will not be possible. Better to save the billion dollars to be wasted on this futile and dangerous experiment.

 Solid biofuels require water to grow, and they need to be dried so they can be transported and burned. The energy and water needed to deliver this low-grade fuel need to be taken into account. Liquid biofuels, like corn ethanol, have disappointed, despite confident predictions. Gaseous biofuels from waste-to-energy schemes involving anaerobic digestion (AD) create a water pollution problem in order to solve an air pollution problem, which they might even aggravate. AD sludge (digestate) is heavy to transport and leaches nitrates into the groundwater. The AD product, methane, is a potent greenhouse gas that has so little commercial value (due to the abundance of methane from shale oil production) that it just gets flared so it won't get in the atmosphere. Biofuels might have a small role in niche applications (e.g. sugar ethanol in Brazil).

September 11, 2014    View Comment    

On Living in a Renewables Distortion Field

Scalabiity of non-hydro renewables is the missing link.  Small bore solutions to the world's expanding prosperity power demand have no chance of making a real difference in climate control.  People used to think a human could fly by flapping artificial wings.  The consensus view that renewables can rapidly scale from their present 6% to supplant coal is wrong too. 

March 22, 2014    View Comment