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The technologies needed to beat 450 ppm, Part 1

By Joe Romm on April 8, 2008 at 7:26 pm

"The technologies needed to beat 450 ppm, Part 1"

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The IPCC wrote in 2007 in its Working Group III summary (p. 16):

The range of stabilization levels assessed can be achieved by deployment of a portfolio of technologies that are currently available and those that are expected to be commercialised in coming decades. This assumes that appropriate and effective incentives are in place for development, acquisition, deployment and diffusion of technologies and for addressing related barriers (high agreement, much evidence).

This range of levels includes reaching atmospheric concentrations of 445 to 490 ppm CO2-equivalent, or 400 to 450 ppm of CO2. The first sentence does beg the question, what exactly does “expected to be commercialized” mean — I’ll return to that in Part 2

So what exactly are these climate-saving technologies? You can read about every conceivable one in the full WGIII report, “Mitigation of Climate Change.” But the Summary lists the “Key mitigation technologies and practices” (pg 10) in several sectors divided into two groups — those that are “currently commercially available” and those “projected to be commercialized before 2030.” I will simply list them all here. In a later post, I’ll discuss which ones I believe could deliver the biggest reductions at lowest cost — my 14+ “wedges,” as it were — and the political process for achieving them.

It is worth seeing them all, I think, to understand exactly how we might stabilize below 450 ppm CO2 (and to understand why the recent Nature article and the “technological breakthrough” crowd is wrong). Also, one of the technologies is the closest thing we have to the “silver bullet” needed to save the climate, as I will blog on in a few days.

Energy supply now commercial: Improved supply and distribution efficiency; fuel switching from coal to gas; nuclear power; renewable heat and power (hydropower, solar, wind, geothermal and bioenergy); combined heat and power; early applications of Carbon
Capture and Storage (CCS, e.g. storage of removed CO2 from natural gas).

Energy supply projected to be commercial by 2030: CCS for gas, biomass and coal-fired electricity generating facilities; advanced nuclear power; advanced renewable energy, including tidal and waves energy, concentrating solar, and solar PV.

[Note to IPCC: Concentrating solar is commercial now -- it better be with nearly 6000 MW running or under contract now.]

Transport now: More fuel efficient vehicles; hybrid vehicles; cleaner diesel vehicles; biofuels; modal shifts from road transport to rail and public transport systems; non-motorised transport (cycling, walking); land-use and transport planning.

Transport by 2030: Second generation biofuels; higher efficiency aircraft; advanced electric and hybrid vehicles with more powerful
and reliable batteries.

[Hmm, hydrogen fuel cell cars didn't make the 2030 cut, but plug-in hybrids did.]

Buildings now: Efficient lighting and daylighting; more efficient electrical appliances and heating and cooling devices; improved cook
stoves, improved insulation; passive and active solar design for heating and cooling; alternative refrigeration fluids, recovery and recycle of fluorinated gases.

Buildings by 2030: Integrated design of commercial buildings including technologies, such as intelligent meters that provide feedback and control; solar PV integrated in buildings.

[Note to IPCC: Those are all already commercial. Heck, some companies are doing real-time over-the-internet monitoring of their buildings, continuous commissioning, now!]

Industry now: More efficient end-use electrical equipment; heat and power recovery; material recycling and substitution; control of non-CO2 gas emissions; and a wide array of process-specific technologies.

[I would have singled out efficiency motors and variable speed drives here. Sad footnote: President Bush gutted the Energy Department program that had devloped technology roadmaps with the energy intensive industries and was funding accelerated development and deployment of the key technologies.]

Industry by 2030: Advanced energy efficiency; CCS for cement, ammonia, and iron manufacture; inert electrodes for aluminium manufacture.

[A short, boring list. I might have thrown in solid oxide fuel cells just to spice things up. The DOE program that Bush gutted was working on a lot of sexy stuff, including the inert electrodes.]

Agriculture now: Improved crop and grazing land management to increase soil carbon storage; restoration of cultivated peaty soils and degraded lands; improved rice cultivation techniques and livestock and manure management to reduce CH4 emissions;
improved nitrogen fertilizer application techniques to reduce N2O emissions; dedicated energy crops to replace fossil fuel use; improved energy efficiency.

Agriculture by 2030: Improvements of crops yields.

[I guess they didn't have many Agriculture R&D experts. Well, I'm not one. Those who are, feel free to chime in. Biochar, anyone?]

Forestry/forests now: Afforestation; reforestation; forest management; reduced deforestation; harvested wood product management; use of forestry products for bioenergy to replace fossil fuel use.

Forestry/forests by 2030: Tree species improvement to increase biomass productivity and carbon sequestration. Improved remote sensing technologies for analysis of vegetation/soil carbon sequestration potential and mapping land use change.

Waste management now: Landfill methane recovery; waste incineration with energy recovery; composting of organic waste; controlled waste water treatment; recycling and waste minimization.

Waste management by 2030: Biocovers and biofilters to optimize CH4 oxidation

[Hmm. Maybe some advanced waste-to-fuel/energy processes, too.]

So, is the IPCC right? Can we stabilize below 450 ppm with these technologies (and the ones in the full report)? Are their 14+ wedges here? I think so. Stay tuned.

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19 Responses to The technologies needed to beat 450 ppm, Part 1

  1. David B. Benson says:

    Agriculture: Well, those guys are all the way across campus, but I do pick up some things.

    (1) Plant breeders: (a) better varieties to meet expected changed conditions in 20+ years. (They really, really want better regional climate predictions.) (b) Perennials rather than annuals for major grains. Here we do wheat for which wheatgrass will be bred into varieties suited to high yields in local dry-farming conditions. [This will be a major energy saver. Only necessary to replant the fields every 7 years or so.] Maybe ready by 2030.

    (2) Biodiesel from agricultural wastes. The processes are well-known and probably detailed elsewhere. The local wheat rancher have to cut the stubble off the fields after harvest each year. The resulting straw makes a (poor) animal feed, which has to be trucked about 150–200 km, but the farmers would probably prefer to see it converted into biodiesel for their monster tractors.

    (3) Biomethane from agricultural wastes. This needs to be of high enough grade to feed directly into the natural gas pipelines. The biomass is likely to be the materials left over from the harvests of fruits and vegetables and also animal manure. Will be ready for deployment before 2015.

    I am quite sure that every College of Agriculture in the world is doing similar research, but I don’t have any details.

    And I certainly hope that biochar takes off in a big way ASAP.

  2. elbarto says:

    I think CCS wont feature by 2030 (and therefore not at all). With not a single CCS power station in existence now and a only handful of relatively tiny plants using it for enhanced oil extraction there’s really no hope that it can be developed and then deployed in time.

    I think if you look at CCS closely, the infrastructure investment required would rival that required for total conversion to renewables. What’s worse is that powering CCS requires 15-40% more fossil fuel to burn at a time when it (even coal) is running out and becoming more expensive.

    A diversion of investment from renewables to CCS will be a great folly, we should use the remaining relatively cheap fossil supply to build renewables and nuclear. Building enough nukes is going to require a lot of fossil fuel for the steel, special alloys, mines and concrete.

    Lastly, massive deployment of current renewable technology is only half the solution. The rest of the solution is a reduction in profligacy and a contraction in settlements. We need to stop turning precious energy into single use junk and stop wasting so much energy travelling great distances for everyday living.

  3. Jim Bullis says:

    Is the DOE information page on “concentrating solar” about right? See http://www.eere.energy.gov/solar/cfm/faqs/third_level.cfm/name=Concentrating%20Solar%20Power/cat=The%20Basics

    From this I see that a 10kW residential system is possible. Judging from the space required for the larger systems, this would require .05 acres of space, which is something like the area of a typical house. It is conceivable that a .25 acre lot could handle this. This 10kW system would work in direct sun so one could expect an average of about 6 hours. This about fits with the daily load. So there would be a battery system, or the utility company would handle the time of availability issues.

    This would be ok as a way to reduce usage of natural gas fired peaking generators, which are used in California to handle the hot afternoon loads in the summer time. But this is not so great timing for handling the new loads of electric cars that would mostly be charged at night. I have yet to find data on hour by hour fuel usage in power plant operation.

    So what needs to be done to develop the Stirling engine for this size system? Are there cost estimates?

    As to the 6000 mW now operating or under contract, how were these projects funded? What did they cost?

  4. Robert says:

    Here are a few more for you:

    1. Dry clothes on a line not in the tumble drier. Unbelievable as it sounds this is BANNED in much of goody-goody two shoes oh so green California.

    2. Turn the C/H off and put on a woolly jumper.

    3. Turn the A/C off. If Florida in August is too hot move to somewhere sensible.

  5. Zane Selvans says:

    @Jim Bullis:

    My understanding is that the main impediment to wide deployment of concentrated solar-thermal power plants is the time-dependence of their financing requirements. A natural gas or coal fired power plant requires a relatively small up-front investment (for the plant itself) and a long, constant rate input of capital to purchase fuel. Concentrated solar thermal is just the opposite, requiring a large up-front investment to build the plant, and very little in the way of ongoing operational costs, with expected plant lifetimes in excess of 50 years (based both on the real-world experience of the concentrated solar thermal plants built in the early 1980s in the Mojave and still operating today, and on accelerated weathering experiments. Because the payback time on the large up-front investment in concentrated solar thermal power is long, most utilities will not finance the projects without regulatory prodding, or government loan guarantees. If I recall correctly, the up-front/operational capital split is something like 20/80 for gas and 80/20 for concentrated solar thermal. As future gas prices become uncertain, there is a hedging advantage (locking in a known cost) to investing in concentrated solar thermal… but you can also just use coal, if you don’t care about CO2 emissions. Amortized over the lifetime of the power plant, CST is (I believe) on par with natural gas in cost, and produces power during the same peak hours.

    All night power generation is also possible, with heat-storage facilities. There is a pilot plant currently under construction in Spain that will use molten salts to store heat for nighttime generation. Combined cycle gas turbines can also be installed for nighttime use (as with Nevada Solar One).

    There are currently cost-reduction efforts under way, trying to bring down the initial capital required per watt of solar-thermal generation capacity. See http://www.esolar.com for one example (they’ve been funded by Google.org to the tune of $10 million). So it seems likely that, at least in sunny places like the American Southwest, the Middle East, Australia, and North Africa, concentrated solar thermal will be a cost-effective alternative to peak-power requirements currently met by natural gas. What amount of base-load coal generation it can displace remains to be seen.

  6. Paul K says:

    This post is more like it. I’ll by using your 2030 scenarios in the 20 year segment of my plan.

  7. Peter Wood says:

    Agriculture now:

    Switching meat production from animals with high methane emissions (cattle) to animals with low methane emissions (chickens, pigs, kangaroos etc.).

    Industry now:

    There is an aluminium production technology available now that is underutilised and uses far less energy than conventional technologies and far less energy than future technologies such as ‘inert electrodes’. It is aluminum recycling. One policy measure that would encourage its use would be container deposit legislation (where people are paid 5-10c for returning aluminum cans). Another very important policy measure would be a carbon price from a carbon tax or emissions trading. This will work best if the aluminium industry is not given free permits.

  8. Paul K says:

    As I sit here in my woolly jumper, it strikes me that the way to make alternatives competitive is not to make fossil fuel more expensive. It is doing a pretty good job of that right now by itself. The current cost to the consumer of gasoline produced CO2 is $250. That is already more than some of the supposedly alternative inducing prices I have seen advocated here. The way to increase alternative deployment is to make alternative less expensive. Zane Selvans is correct. The main impediment to wide deployment is the time-dependence of their financing requirements. This is true macro and micro. My main objection to many of the policies mentioned on climateprogress is that they show little regard for the people. I believe the main impediment to reducing the cost of deploying alternatives is the inabililty of the consumer, the people to fulfill their normal function. I also believe I have come up with an idea that can address this problem. I call it the fossil fuel replacement association. It’s purpose is to fund the installation of alternative energy technologies.

  9. Paul K says:

    Oops. That’s $250/ton for gasoline CO2.

  10. Robert says:

    Paul K

    “As I sit here in my woolly jumper, it strikes me that the way to make alternatives competitive is not to make fossil fuel more expensive. It is doing a pretty good job of that right now by itself.”

    But the problem is that globally we are consuming more fuel and emitting more CO2 each year. Price is irrelevant to this – high prices are just an indicator of strong demand from a booming global economy. They are certainly NOT an indicator that fossil fuel use will decline.

    As I keep saying (any everyone refuses to engage in the discussion) we won’t start using less fuel until, er…, we decide to limit and progressively reduce extraction.

    Most of the debates I see on this blog are akin to letting the air out of the rear tyres to steer your car round the next corner when what you should really be doing is fixing the steering.

  11. Paul K says:

    Robert,
    You are correct that high prices are certainly NOT an indicator that fossil fuel use will decline. That is why I advocate focusing instead on lowering the cost of alternatives. I think your proposal to increasingly restrict extraction is appealing but not possible in the real world. There is no global authority extant or on the horizon which could set up and enforce such a regime without the force of arms. There is no diplomatic process that could bring it about. Even the tamest of global climate conventions have been elusive.

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  13. Robert says:

    Paul,
    The “global authority” is called the UN. There can only be one UN and if countries such as the US continue to undermine it then it will never be effective, in which case we might as well give up now. Having people going around proclaiming that the US is the defacto world government really doesn’t help.

    If alternatives could be developed which could out-compete fossil fuel on a level playing field then I believe the market would have exploited them. This has not happened to any great extent yet and the signs are not good that it ever will.

    My main point is that, even if alternatives could become competitive I don’t think it will be enough to stop us eventually consuming the majority of the available oil, coal, gas and other sources of hydrocarbon, in which case we have lost the battle against climate change. James Hansen is saying that we need to leave the rest of the coal in the ground, otherwise we are sunk.

    http://www.columbia.edu/~jeh1/mailings/20080401_DearPrimeMinisterRudd.pdf

  14. I try to shed some light on this dispute with a list of 20 technologies that can mitigate over 90% of GHGs within 3 decades time.

    http://terraverde.wordpress.com/2008/04/09/20technologies/

    or

    http://www.greenthoughts.us

  15. Hal Levin says:

    Joe:
    “Buildings now: Efficient lighting and daylighting; more efficient electrical appliances and heating and cooling devices; improved cook
    stoves, improved insulation; passive and active solar design for heating and cooling; alternative refrigeration fluids, recovery and recycle of fluorinated gases.”
    Has anyone (since the late 1970s) actually calculated the lost potential energy in passive solar? Residences use twice as much energy for heating as for cooling in the U.S., so why are houses built with windows that ignore insolation? I would really like to see a calculation that shows what a reasonable passive solar house can do compared to the typical modern house with willy-nilly window sizing and orientation. Suggestions for accessible published sources of info would be appreciated. Better would be some peer-reviewed papers. Mazria claims that there is way more than enough insolation even in cloudy, gray Seattle, not to mention the majority of the country.

    @Jim Bullis:
    “… data on hour by hour fuel usage in power plant operation.”
    You can find that in a large number of huge files with hour-by-hour data for every power plant in America. Go to this URL and pick your data — the files are limited by the size of an excel spreadsheet, so there are lots of files to cover every hour of the day, every day of the year for all ~4700 power plants in the U.S. — 24*365*4700=41,000,000 hours of data (read, rows in spread sheets which are limited to 65,000 rows each). But it’s worth it. You will find the operational patterns, fuel, fuel consumption, and all the federally-regulated emissions that friendly power plant near you. Lots of options on how to download the detailed files. Be careful, you WILL get what you ask for.

    Joe
    “Landfill methane recovery; waste incineration with energy recovery; composting of organic waste; controlled waste water treatment; recycling and waste minimization.”
    and
    @Peter Woods:
    Low methane meat production, yes! AND less consumption of meat too! Does anybody really need to eat as much meat as Americans and Europeans do?

    Methane is given a 25 GWP by UNFCCC and IPCC, but that is based on a 100 year time frame. On a 20 to 25 year time frame, it should be more like 50. It’s important to address methane soon because 1) you can make money doing it — burn the stuff to power the equipment at your land fill, dairy, or barn, 2) its CC impacts are so immediate, and 3) it’s actually very easy to eat less meat or even no meat at all. I gave up meat 36 years ago simply because I didn’t want it any more, and I have not been tempted to revert. It’s obviously better overall for your health and that of the planet not to eat it. At 66, my health indicators as reported by modern medical science, such as it is, are outstanding.

  16. My own view is that combined heat & power — mentioned briefly above — is the real key. I’m associated with Recycled Energy Development, a company that turns waste heat into electricity and steam, thus saving money and cutting greenhouse pollution at the same time. The big picture: more energy recycling would cut greenhouse emissions by 20% nationally while saving money. You don’t hear that on the evening news, but it’s the convenient truth.

  17. Douglas Hvistendahl says:

    On agriculture, read “How to grow more vegetables … .” by John Jeavons
    “Square Foot Gardening” by Mel Bartholomew
    “Solar Gardening” by LeAndre & Gretchen Poisson

    On house heating, look at Conserval Engineering’s Solarwall ™ (especially their PV variation) combined with a heat pump and annualized geo solar.

    I’ve been using the first, with a large reduction in my expenses, and am working on the second. At this time investing in personal and household energy techniques can pay off very well. PS we’ve been using a clothesline since way back, and drying racks inside the house in the winter help with the low humidity!

  18. Pavol says:

    What would help really, especially in the US, if you set your AC’s to higher temperature. When I go into a shop, cinema, office or restaurant, everywhere is freezing cold. You could save a lot of energy just to set thermostats from let’s say 16C to 20-22C.

    I am not sure if biofuels would work, last time it cause increase of food prices with highest impact on poorest people.
    Concerning solar panels, I would like to see calculation how much CO2 is emitted during their manufacturing.
    Re wind turbines the same, do not forget they need maintenance (car driving), spare parts…
    But my biggest concern is for electric cars – batteries manufacturing, do we have enough precious metals? what about recycling? would it be possible? And also how we will produce so much electricity?
    I see so many claims that electric cars are CO2 free, but when we take the whole cycle…? Do we have precise calculations how it looks?

  19. Cecile Lawrence says:

    It would be really great if those writing on energy alternatives who insist on referring to natural gas favorably would seriously take into account the devastation wrought by the process of extraction, especially the current technique of horizontal hydraulic fracturing into tight formations like the Barnett and now the Marcellus. Diesel fuel and compression station exhaust, rendering a formerly rural area into an industrial zone with extensive air pollution, millions of gallons of water sucked from rivers, streams, lakes and aquifers, mixed with cancer causing chemicals then forced deeply into the ground down a well. Toxic flow back waste fluid with up to 70% left deep in the ground to wander at will around formations. This is not even close to an exact science. We have no idea of the full impact of these drilling procedures now or generations down the road.