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Weekend reflections

April 27th, 2007

Weekend Reflections is on again. Please comment on any topic of interest (civilised discussion and no coarse language, please). Feel free to put in contributions more lengthy than for the Monday Message Board or standard comments.

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  1. Hermit
    April 27th, 2007 at 20:54 | #1

    I’ve been playing around with an alternative calculation to the PM’s ‘on track to meet Kyoto targets’ claim. I’ve use rounded figures some of which were inferred. I took Australia’s 1990 emissions to be about 553 megatonnes of CO2 equivalent. Suppose instead of an 8% increase Australia had to cut 5% like most other countries. That gives a baseline of 525 Mt. The 2008 figure is supposed to be 603 Mt but I’ve added 30 Mt about the amount that was magically deducted post-Kyoto due to revised land clearing estimates. This gives 633 Mt ‘corrected’. I make the jump from 525 to 633 about 21%. If those calcs hold up the PM is telling us a whopper.

    I should point out that I am no Greens supporter; I completely agree with the PM about the need to fast track nuclear.

  2. BilB
    April 28th, 2007 at 08:26 | #2

    Hermit, It distresses me that anyone could have that nuclear view. Another day for that one. I would like to examine what carbon sequestration looks like. For starters Carbon dioxide stays liquid at around 600 psi pressure (that is the pressure in your soda stream bottle). In the carbon sequestration “idea” CO2 is collected (this involves massive compressor units powered by a next door power station whose sole purpose is to provide the energy for the compressors for the primary exhaust stream as well as the secondary) and liquified. Now the “idea” is that the liquid is then pumped underground, one imagines at the very power station site. Highly unlikely. Any research will reveal that the expert opinion suggests a national network of pipelines to carry the liquid CO2 from various power stations to sink sites. So this means thousands of kilometres of extremely high pressure piplines (600 to 1000 pounds per square inch pressure) carrying the liquid CO2. That might sound fairly benign until you think about the consequences of a ruptured pipline. CO2 is a deadly gas in high concentrations. Further more as it boils from a liquid state to a gas it becomes very cold, and heavier than air. So an evening pipeline rupture in the Hunter Valley, for instance, would have killed every Oxygen breathing thing in the valley by morning (this happens fairly regularly in nature). Then we come to the sink sites. Where sequestration has worked, it is at high pressure oil deposit sites where they have liquified (plenty of energy on hand) CO2 that has come to the surface with gas being extracted, and reinjecting the liquid CO2 into the same deposit to help extract the oil. So let’s think about this oil deposit site. It is a survivor site. It is one of the oil deposit sites that did not leak. There are plenty of sites that did leak. The oil sands of Canada and much of the American mainland oil (which had to be pumped out of the ground) for instance. In fact leak proof oil deposits are most likely only a tiny percentage of the total oil accumulations over geological time. So these survivor sites were created by luck. The carbon sequestration enthusiasts would like you to believe that it is possible to determine through thousands of feet of rock if a layer of potentially sealing rock will have no cracks in it and therefore be suitable for storing massive pools of CO2 for ever. What is most likely is that a CO2 pool will form and stay stable for a time until a weakness forms in the rock layers, then the CO2 will percolate to the surface. At this point it is important to note that unlike Plutonium, CO2 has no half life. It is CO2 for all time unless energy is expended to convert it into something else (by plants for instance). Much of the carbon sequestration research underway is about being able to leak test underground strata. I am waiting for the punch line which will sound something like “we know that all of the sequestration sites will leak but that doesn’t matter as long as we are pumping the liquid in faster than it leaks out, it is about the nett gain”.

    Surely it should be obvious that the effort required to drill sequestration sites equals or exceeds the effort required to drill geothermal power sites, with out any of the risks and only a fraction of the investment. Apparently it is not about the logic, it is about who is telling the story.

  3. Hermit
    April 28th, 2007 at 08:56 | #3

    BillB that’s a good demolition job on geosequestration. Strike out clean coal as a potential source of baseload power. Then there’s solar thermal the Green’s favourite; that’s nowhere near demonstrating it can work on a gigawatt level. Ditto hot granite geothermal. Then there’s gas which is too precious as a portable fuel to waste on baseload, maybe peakload since hydro is drying up. So what are we left with for low carbon baseload generation?

  4. BilB
    April 28th, 2007 at 10:01 | #4

    Hermit. Ditto on the Howard destruction, a nicely put argument. I must admit that the long term potential for geothermal troubles me a bit that is why I do not speak the case often. I have not done much reading in that area. Others have, though, and they seem confident that the rocks take a very long time to cool before new holes must be drilled. On the concentrating solar thermal, though, there is no doubt about the gigawat potential. I suggest that you get on the phone early one morning and have a chat with Dr Franz Trieb in Germany about the state of the play. I think that your doubts will be put to rest.
    The future as it stacking is that Australia will instal 600 sq klms of concentrating thermal power generation (600 sq klms is the same area as the Hunter Valley coal mines) which will cost around 60 billion dollars for 30 gigawatts of peak load capacity. Another 15 gigawatts of geothermal power will complement the non solar periods. There will still be some coal and gas generation capacity for backup and special situation power requirements. Wind will continue to grow in suitable situations. Somewhere along the line concentrationg solar photovoltaic will start to overtake the yields of concentrating solar thermal and take over for new installations. Paralleling this there will be a rapid uptake of E85 fuel as ethanol volumes increase. Electrically powered vehicles will slowly become more popular and their numbers will increase as people discover that it is cheaper to run medium range from the power point. There will be a slow move towards solar airconditioning (google: broad solar airconditioning ; on the same page is their Australian agent, give them a call) and domestic concentrating solar photovoltaic power generation. This last move will be slow because it requires houses to be designed appropriately to allow the unobtrusive application of the hardware.

    Australia’s largest future fund by far are its coal deposits. John Howard has no qualms about squandering this advantage. Australia’s greatest advantage is its area and the 1300 watts of energy that falls on every square metre every sunny day.

  5. gordon
    April 28th, 2007 at 13:38 | #5

    People interested in economic development and globalisation will be glad to learn that the Harvard economist Dani Rodrik has started a blog

  6. melanie
    April 28th, 2007 at 20:10 | #6

    Riverbend of Baghdad Burning is joining the stream of refugees.

  7. April 30th, 2007 at 09:27 | #7

    BilB – CO2 is a deadly gas just like oxygen is a deadly gas, water a deadly liquid and timber a deadly solid.

    Hermit – does fast track mean reckless indifference to cost, safety or the environment?And what does slow track mean? It does seem to me that we have a political culture that when it is not trying to ban a thing it is trying to mandate it. We have seen that with rain water tanks and now maybe we will see it with nuclear power plants. Will the maddness ever end?

  8. Ken Miles
    April 30th, 2007 at 17:20 | #8

    Terje, high concentrations of CO2 are more dangerous than oxygen. Mitigating against this, it doesn’t present a combustion risk.

  9. Ken Miles
    April 30th, 2007 at 17:30 | #9

    BilB, CO2 is already piped long distances with no real problems (as a supercritical fluid, not as a liquid). Far from killing everyone in the Hunter valley, a leak would be pain in the neck, but far from deadly on a mass scale.

  10. BilB
    May 1st, 2007 at 08:20 | #10

    Ken, it is about volume. A CO2 supercritical fluid (same thing in effect) pipeline coming from a power facility is carrying a huge volume (pipe diameter) relative to anything currently practised. A rupture in such a pipe would release the flow from the power station as well as the back flow from the sink site until the failure was discovered. This is potentially a massive amount of very cold CO2 which clings to the ground like a blanket. Read up on CO2 releases from mountain lakes to understand how devastating this can be. Read up on the CO2 damage from volcanic eruptions (granted much larger volumes). The engineers who dream these things up (and I am one of them) concentrate on the technology. It is other people who are supposed to determine if mechanical failures, geological disturbances, terrorist activity, etc pose too great a risk to proceed. What we have here is a case where the government is (I believe) intentionally mistating the risks posed to the public on many levels.

  11. Ken Miles
    May 1st, 2007 at 17:07 | #11

    BilB, since your the expert, perhaps you could start supplying some evidence (such as calculations or scientific papers) for your assertions. I’ve just finished reading the IPCC’s chapter on transporting CO2, and it doesn’t support your claims. Are they part of the conspiracy too?

  12. BilB
    May 1st, 2007 at 18:12 | #12

    Ken,…. that is the government’s job, where is the information from them. Have you seen a detailed explanation from the government outlining the science as it is understood? That is exactly the point. Howard is throwing around a few pretty words (clean coal, gen IV, sequestration, etc) smoozing the public to believe that his administration has the solutions when the fact is that they haven’t got a clue about what they are talking about. Far, far, far worse, Howard has the coalition members prepared to commit Australia and all Australians to these ill conceived plans on his say so. He even has the audacity to say that the entire scientific community is being over-reactionary. Who the hell does he think that he is. At my age I know instinctively that when some one says “trust me”, don’t.
    Howard is asking Australia to vote for him on a “trust me” platform. I saw this same phenomenon in New Zealand when the Lange government swept away the good environmental programmes that Muldoon had put in place. I was able to bail up Richard Prebble who was responsible for most of the damage and challenged him to explain the carbon cycle on National Radio. He did not have any idea that plants scrubbed carbon from the air, and yet he was making decisions that impacted heavily on the very issues that we are so concerned about now.

  13. BilB
    May 2nd, 2007 at 08:12 | #13

    Ken, some google extractions, more to follow.
    Two events in the relative recent history of CO2 emissions from natural sources underscore the community health hazard created if CO2 were to escape from sequestration:
    The largest recent disaster caused by a large CO2 release from a lake occurred in 1986, in Cameroon, central Africa. A volcanic crater-lake known as Nyos belched bubbles of CO2 into the still night air and the gas settled around the lake’s shore, where it killed 1800 people and countless thousands of animals.
    The 15 August 1984 gas release at Lake Monoun that killed 37 people (Sigurdsson and others, 1987) was attributed to a rapid overturn of lake water with CO2 that had been at the bottom coming to the surface, triggered by an earthquake and landslide. The emission of around 1 cubic kilometer of CO2 devastated a local village and killed animals for miles. The people who died also had chemical burns on their skins, researchers do not know if that was from the CO2 emitted or from other contaminants that were released from the lake when the landslide occurred.
    The fossil fuel industry has shown no sign that they are willing to bear the liability of CO2 leaks from underground storage. Presumably that cost, which would be akin to a huge natural disaster for a community should a leak occur, would be borne by taxpayers.
    The nuclear industry asked for, and got, immunity from liability for the release of its waste into the environment or a meltdown of one of its many reactors. In both the Price-Andersen Act in the 1950s and in the Energy Bill passed by Congress recently liability for nuclear accidents is the responsibility of the US taxpayer. Those same taxpayers are on the hook to accept all its nuclear waste as well.
    Carbon sequestration is going down the same path. It’s been said that Texas recently voted to accept title to carbon sequestered beneath the huge Edwards Aquifer and to accept liability should the waste leak. This question of who will bear the costs should the unthinkable occur and a huge burp of CO2 extrudes in a California community has not even been asked and answered here in California.
    Despite this, legislation is proceeding forward that will grant the folks in charge of oil and gas extraction in the state the sole authority to regulate the practice of carbon sequestration.
    The nuclear industry asked for, and got, immunity from liability for the release of its waste into the environment or a meltdown of one of its many reactors. In both the Price-Andersen Act in the 1950s and in the Energy Bill passed by Congress recently liability for nuclear accidents is the responsibility of the US taxpayer. Those same taxpayers are on the hook to accept all its nuclear waste as well.
    Carbon sequestration is going down the same path. It’s been said that Texas recently voted to accept title to carbon sequestered beneath the huge Edwards Aquifer and to accept liability should the waste leak. This question of who will bear the costs should the unthinkable occur and a huge burp of CO2 extrudes in a California community has not even been asked and answered here in California.
    Despite this, legislation is proceeding forward that will grant the folks in charge of oil and gas extraction in the state the sole authority to regulate the practice of carbon sequestration.
    When CO2 is injected into the ground it becomes corrosive to the rock and liberates the metals that are in the ground. Concerns have been raised about these toxic chemicals affecting ground water. California relies upon its groundwater for more than 40% of its water supply. As well, CO2’s acidic nature is corrosive to the underground environment and the gases can actually eat through rock. There is clearly the potential for this captured gas to escape at some point in the future. A recent pilot project that injected CO2 into the subsurface in a brine filled oil reservoir liberated metals and organic chemicals as well as dissolved the rock, creating pathways through which the gas could escape.
    Those who skied Mammoth Mountain before the new owners arrived will recall that Bill McCoy’s ski patrol marked off areas on the backside in which CO2 accumulated from natural leakage from the volcanic area. As I recall, there was at least one death during the 35 years that I skied there. Sequestration is not a totally benign undertaking
    Jane Williams April 24, 2007 at 09:04 PM
    Mr. Weise is absolutely correct in pointing out that CO2 is heavier than air; he is correcting a typo in this article. If only CO2 were lighter than air, it would disperse when released and not become a dangerous problem for communities who will host these potential geosequestration facilities.
    Jane Williams April 24, 2007 at 09:04 PM
    Mr. Weise is absolutely correct in pointing out that CO2 is heavier than air; he is correcting a typo in this article. If only CO2 were lighter than air, it would disperse when released and not become a dangerous problem for communities who will host these potential geosequestration facilities

  14. Ken Miles
    May 2nd, 2007 at 14:41 | #14

    Hi Bilb,

    No sequestration isn’t a totally benign undertaking. No industrial scale project is. However, it is massively safer than how you have been presenting it.

    The lake releases of carbon dioxide are massive compared to the potential volumes of CO2 released in a piping accident.

    Yes, carbon dioxide can attack rocks. However, the minerals released can also react with carbonic acid to give inert solids.

    Howard may not have a clue about the science behind CCS, but the same doesn’t apply to the scientists and engineers who work on it. Has Howard disagreed with the whole scientific community on CCS? Not that I’m aware of.

  15. BilB
    May 3rd, 2007 at 00:26 | #15

    I’m just collecting the information here Ken because we are not getting from any other source. Of course there are all sorts of systems that can be put into place to limit piping accident losses. Systems that can all fail under some circumstances. The real danger is from ground leakage. Once a leak has started it can render large areas uninhabitable for decades. That Jane Williams there is worth following. She is very active. The reality is Ken that for Australia, sequestration is totally unnecessary. We can still use substantial quantities of coal. 30% of coal energy is still a lot of coal useage, but the earth can cope with that amount, as long as every one else is working together. Coal will be in use for some time yet. It will take 10 to 15 years to install 30 gig of peak load solar thermal, which will come on line progressively as each installation is completed and another is started. Concentrating Solar Thermal employs 1 person per megawatt, that is 30,000 jobs in inland Australia so there will be a smooth transfer of labour from mining to maintenance. No job losses at all as Howard is insisting. Australia’s coal reserves are its biggest future fund. A fund that Howard is determined to squander at the maximum rate. That is not good management.

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