Climate

Gore on Waxman-Markey: “One of the most important pieces of legislation ever introduced in the Congress … has the moral significance” of 1960s civil rights legislation and Marshall Plan

UPDATE:  Video of Gore testimony here.

Al Gore has delivered an excellent piece of testimony before The House Energy and Commerce Committee, which I reprint below.  The entire hearing is quite fascinating, and I’ll blog on other pieces.

The Nobelist and former VP gives the bill an even stronger recommendation than I did!  And he is on record in support of a 350 ppm target!  But he is certainly right that whatever final version of the climate bill gets voted on by the House and Senate will be the most consequential legislation that the vast majority of members will ever vote on, the one that history will ultimately judge them on, given that a failure to solve this problem inexorably leads to Hell and High Water.

Gore has a very nice review of the recent (grim) science and the clean energy opportunity, which I highly recommend reading in its entirety:

Statement to the Subcommittee on Energy and Environment
Committee on Energy and Commerce
As Prepared for Delivery
Hon. Al Gore
Friday, April 24, 2009

Mr. Chairman, Members of the Committee, distinguished guests; it is my great honor today to testify with my friend and former colleague, John Warner, whose long record of service to the Senate and to our country is remarkable.

Senator Warner has consistently looked with a steady gaze past the politics of the day to thoughtfully and intensely focus on the national interest.

His approach reminds me of another great Republican from another era, the great Senator Arthur Vandenberg, from Michigan, who helped to create the United Nations, NATO, and the Marshall plan. He understood that our nation, when faced with great peril, must rise above partisanship to meet the challenge.

I believe we have arrived at such a moment. Our country is at risk on three fronts.  The economic crisis is clear. Our national security remains at risk so long as we remain dangerously dependent on flows of foreign oil from reserves owned by sovereign states that are vulnerable to disruption.  The rate of new discoveries, as you know, is falling even as demand elsewhere in the world is rising.  Most importantly, of course, we are””along with the rest of humanity””facing the dire and growing threat of the climate crisis.

It is at the very heart of those threats that this Committee and this Congress must direct its focus.  I am here today to lend my support to one of the most important pieces of legislation ever introduced in the Congress.  I believe this legislation has the moral significance equivalent to that of the civil rights legislation of the 1960’s and the Marshall Plan of the late 1940’s.

By Repowering America with a transition to a clean energy economy and ending our dangerous over-reliance on carbon-based fuels, which is the common thread running through all three of these crises, this bill will simultaneously address the climate crisis, the economic crisis, and the national security threats that stem from our dependence on foreign oil.

We cannot afford to wait any longer for this transition. Each day that we continue with the status quo sees more of our fellow Americans struggling to provide for their families.

Each day we continue on our current path, America loses more of its competitive edge.   And each day we wait, we increase the risk that we will leave our children and grandchildren an irreparably damaged planet.

Passage of this legislation will restore America’s leadership of the world and begin, at long last, to solve the climate crisis.  It is truly a moral imperative.  Moreover, the scientific evidence of how serious this climate crisis is becoming continues to amass week after week after week.

Let me share with you just a few recent examples:

-The Arctic is warming at an unprecedented rate.  New research, which draws upon recently declassified data collected by U.S. nuclear submarines traveling under the Arctic ice cap for the last 50 years, has given us, for the first time, a three-dimensional view of the ice cap, and researchers at the Naval Postgraduate School have told us that the entire Arctic ice cap may totally disappear in summer in as little as five years if nothing is done to curb emissions of greenhouse gas pollution.  For most of the last 3 million years, it has covered an area the size of the lower 48 states.  Almost half of the ice has already melted during the last 20 years.  The dark ocean, once uncovered, absorbs 90 percent of the solar heat that used to bounce off the highly reflective ice.  As a direct consequence, some of the vast amounts of frozen carbon in the permafrost surrounding the Arctic Ocean are beginning to be released as methane as the frozen tundra thaws, threatening a doubling of global warming pollution in the atmosphere.

-Melting of the Greenland ice sheet has reached a new record, which was a staggering 60 percent above the previous high in 1998.  The most recent 11 summers have all experienced melting greater than the average of the past thirty-five year time series (1973-2007).  Glacial earthquakes have been increasing as the meltwater tunnels down through the ice to the bedrock below.  Were the Greenland ice sheet to melt, crack up and slip into the North Atlantic, sea level would rise almost 20 feet.

-We already know that the Antarctic Peninsula is warming at three to five times the global average rate.  That is why the Larsen B ice shelf, which was the size of Rhode Island, already has collapsed.  Several other ice shelves have also collapsed in the last 20 years.  Another large shelf, the Wilkins ice shelf””which is roughly the size of Northern Ireland”” is now beginning to disintegrate right before our very eyes.  A recent study in the journal Science has now confirmed that the entire West Antarctic Ice Sheet is warming.  Scientists have told us that if it were to collapse and slide into the sea, we would experience global sea level rise of another 20 feet worldwide.  Each meter of sea level increase leads to 100 million climate refugees.  Recent studies have shown that many coastal areas in the U.S. are at risk””particularly Southern Florida and Southern Louisiana.

-Carbon dioxide pollution is changing the very chemistry of our oceans.  Ocean acidification is already underway and is accelerating.  A recent paper published in the journal Science described how the seawater off the coast of Northern California has become so acidic from CO2 that it is now corrosive.  To give some sense of perspective, for the last 44 million years, the average pH of the water has been 8.2.  The scientists at Scripps measured levels off the north coast of California and Oregon at a pH of 7.75.

Coral polyps that make reefs and everything that makes a shell are now beginning to suffer from a kind of osteoporosis because of the 25 million tons of CO2 absorbed the oceans every 24 hours.

-Salmon have now disappeared off the coast of California.  Researchers are now working to determine the cause and whether or not this is due to acidity and the relationship between acidity and “dead zones” of extreme oxygen depletion that now stretch from the west coast of North, Central, and South America almost all the way across the Pacific.  The health and productivity of all the world’s oceans are at risk.

-The Union of Forest Research Organizations, with 14 international collaborating partners, reported that forests may lose their carbon-regulating service and that it “could be lost entirely if the earth heats up 2.5 degrees Centigrade.”  Throughout the American west, tree deaths are now at record levels, year after year.  For the same reason, Canada’s vast forest is now contributing CO2 to the atmosphere rather than absorbing it.  The Amazon, the forests of Central Africa, Siberia, and Indonesia are all now at risk.

-This year, a number of groups ranging from the National Audubon Society to the Department of Interior, released the U.S. State of the Birds report showing that nearly a third of the nation’s 800 bird species are endangered, threatened or in significant decline due to habitat loss, invasive species and other threats including climate change.  The major shift attributed to the climate crisis related to the migratory patterns and a large shift northward among a vast range of bird species in the U.S.

-Some of the most intriguing new research is in the area of extreme weather events and rainfall.  A recent study by German scientists published in Climatic Change projects that extreme precipitation will increase significantly in regions that are already experiencing extreme rainfall. Man-made global warming has already increased the moisture content of the air worldwide, causing bigger downpours.  Each additional degree of temperature increase causes another seven percent increase in moisture in the air, and even larger downpours when storm conditions trigger heavy rains and snows.

-To bring an example of this home, 2009 saw the eighth “ten year flood” of Fargo, North Dakota, since 1989.  In Iowa, Cedar Rapids was hit last year by a flood that exceeded the 500-year flood plain.  All-time flood records are being broken in areas throughout the world.

-Conversely those regions that are presently dry are projected to become much dryer, because higher average temperatures evaporate soil moisture.

-The American West and the Southeast have been experiencing prolonged severe drought and historic water shortages. In a study published in January 2008 in the journal Science, scientists from the Scripps Institute estimated that 60 percent of the changes in the West’s water cycle are due to increased atmospheric man-made greenhouse gases.  It predicts that although Western states are already struggling to supply water for their farms and cities, more severe climatic changes will strain the system even more.  Agriculture in California is at high risk.  Australia has been experiencing what many there call a thousand-year drought, along with record high temperatures.  Some cities had 110 degrees for four straight days two months ago.  And then they had the mega-fires that caused so much death and destruction.

-Federal officials from our own National Interagency Fire Center report that we have seen twice as many wildfires during the first three months of 2009 as compared to the same period last year.  Due to the worsening drought, the outlook for more record fires in Texas, Florida, and California is not good.

-A number of new studies continue to show that climate change is increasing the intensity of hurricanes.  Although we cannot attribute any particular storm to global warming, we can certainly look at the trend. Dr. Greg Holland from the National Center for Atmospheric Research says that we have already experienced a 300-400 percent increase in category 5 storms in the past 10 years in the United States.  Last August, hundreds of thousands of people had to evacuate as Hurricane Gustav hit the Gulf Coast. And then, of course, there is the destruction of Galveston and areas of New Orleans, where the residents are still recovering.  The same is happening in the rest of the world.  Last year, Cyclone Nargis inflicted catastrophic death tolls in Burma (Myanmar) killing twenty thousand people and leading to the suffering of many more.

For these and many other reasons, now is the time to act.  And luckily, positive change is on the way.

In February, when the Congress voted to pass the stimulus bill, it laid the groundwork for critical investments in energy efficiency, renewables, a unified national smart grid and the move to clean cars.  This was a crucial down payment that will create millions of new jobs, hasten our economic recovery, strengthen our national security, and begin to solve the climate crisis.

Now, we must take another step together, and pass the American Clean Energy and Security Act.  Chairman Waxman and Chairman Markey have pulled together the best ideas in the Congress to begin solving the climate crisis while increasing our energy independence.

Let me highlight a few items in the bill that I believe to be of particular importance:

It promotes the rapid introduction of the clean and renewable technologies that will create new jobs and reduce our reliance on carbon-based fuels.

It is time to close the carbon loophole and begin the steep reductions we need to make in the pollution that causes global warming.

It helps us use energy more efficiently and transmit it over a secure, modernized, digital smart grid system.

Of course this move to Repower America must also include adequate provisions to assist those Americans who would unfairly face hardship. For example, we must recognize and protect those who have toiled in dangerous conditions to bring us our present energy supply. We ought to guarantee good jobs for any coal miner displaced by impacts on the coal industry.

And this bill also focuses on intensive R & D to explore carbon capture and sequestration to determine whether and where it can be a key part of the solution.

Our country cannot afford more of the status quo, more gas price instability, more job losses, more outsourcing of factories, and more years of sending $2 billion every 24 hours to foreign countries for oil. And our soldiers and their families cannot take another 10 years of repeated troop deployments to regions that just happen to have large oil supplies.

Moreover, the best way to secure a global agreement that guarantees that other nations will also reduce their global warming pollution is for the U.S. to lead the world in meeting this historic challenge.  The United States is the world’s leader.  We are the only nation in the world that can.  Once we find the moral courage to take on this issue, the rest of the world will come along.  Now is the time to act before the world gathers in Copenhagen this December to solve the crisis.  Not next year, this year.

I urge bipartisan support of this crucial legislation.

25 Responses to Gore on Waxman-Markey: “One of the most important pieces of legislation ever introduced in the Congress … has the moral significance” of 1960s civil rights legislation and Marshall Plan

  1. Leland Palmer says:

    Well, he’s mostly right of course.

    I do so hope that releasing the power of innovation will solve this problem, and that market based solutions will work.

    But I fear that this bill is quantitatively insufficient to solve the climate crisis.

    I believe myself that we need everything in this bill, but we also need direct emergency action by the government itself to solve this problem. I think we need to seize the coal fired power plants and convert them into carbon negative power plants.

    Without carbon negative energy schemes, and actively putting carbon back underground, I believe the climate will continue to spiral out of control.

    Bio-Energy with Carbon Storage (BECS):
    a Sequential Decision Approach to the threat of Abrupt Climate Change

    http://www.etsap.org/worksh_6_2003/2003P_read.pdf

    Abrupt Climate Change (ACC – NAS, 2001) is an issue that ‘haunts the climate change problem’
    (IPCC, 2001) but has been neglected by policy makers up to now, maybe for want of practicable
    measures for effective response, save for risky geo-engineering. A portfolio of Bio-Energy with
    Carbon Storage (BECS) technologies, yielding negative emissions energy, may be seen as benign, low
    risk, geo-engineering that is the key to being prepared for ACC.

    I believe that the scenario of Read and his co-authors can be updated somewhat by two new technologies: biocarbon and oxyfuel combustion.

    Biocarbon works by carbonizing biomass into charcoal, and compressing the charcoal to make pellets. These pellets are virtually identical to coal in density and heating value, but much cleaner, not containing the sort of sulfur and heavy metals that coal is infamous for. So, biocarbon makes biomass transportable. Biocarbon can be burnt in existing coal fired power plants, and should be able to completely replace coal in most or all coal fired power plants.

    Oxyfuel combustion is a precombustion form of carbon capture and sequestration (CCS), in which air is cryogenically separated to separate the oxygen from the nitrogen and other gases air contains. The fuel is then burnt in this pure stream of oxygen, resulting in higher combustion temperatures than combustion in air. This higher Carnot efficiency can be utilized to compensate for most or all of the energy required to separate oxygen from air and compress the subsequent nearly pure stream of CO2 for deep injection into the earth. Oxyfuel combustion is a “bolt on” technology that can be used to retrofit existing coal fired power plants to efficient carbon capture and sequestration.

    Combining Read’s and other authors’ ideas about biomass plus carbon storage with biocarbon fuel, oxyfuel combustion, and CCS, means that it is technologically feasible to convert many, or even all existing coal fired power plants to carbon negative power plants.

    This is what we should do, IMO, in addition to all of the market based approaches. Seize the coal fired power plants, and massively convert them to carbon negative power plants. If we do this, chances are we can persuade or coerce other countries to do the same, especially if the conversion to oxyfuel combustion can result in higher efficiency, which could result in CCS at essentially no energy cost.

  2. MarkB says:

    John Warner appears to be in favor of the bill as well, but of course, he’s no longer in the Senate. What concerns me is so-called “moderates” like McCain. He’s now calling similar legislation to what he proposed with Lieberman a few years ago “cap and tax”. One has to wonder if he’s caving in to the rabid right-wing alarmists that make up his constituents, but from what we saw in last year’s campaign, he’s certainly prone to flip-flopping. With Republicans officially the obstructionist do-nothing party, it seems that Democrats are going to have to be totally united on this legislation, bringing along every blue dog in the Senate and getting support from one of the few remaining moderate Republicans (Snowe or Collins for instance). What do you folks think? How flexible are the blue dogs on this issue? Will former moderates like McCain ever be swayed?

  3. Sasparilla says:

    Wonderful speech by Mr. Gore.

    Leland, I think your right about this not being nearly enough – but really enough isn’t politically possible (at the moment). I view this as terribly important from the perspective of getting the US energy policy moving in the right direction (turning the tanker). We have to count on things moving forward thereafter.

  4. Leland Palmer says:

    Hi Sasparilla-

    You’re right, it’s a start, the innovation hopes and dreams of the politicians could be more effective than expected, and hopefully it will make some of the more effective schemes like carbon negative energy more possible in the future. Certainly carbon negative energy can be done under a cap and trade framework, I think, if their definitions are scientific and if a fair price is put on carbon, and if carbon negative schemes are not lumped into those that are merely carbon neutral.

    But this climate crisis is scary almost beyond belief, as most of us not currently engaging in denial realize. Most of the authors of carbon negative energy papers point out that if the climate crisis gains sufficient momentum, carbon coming out of the various natural carbon reservoirs will overwhelm our ability to actively put carbon back underground, by any practical scheme yet proposed.

    What’s politically possible, in an adaptive, truly intelligent species, would be secondary to what reality demands.

    Great speech and testimony from Gore, great speeches from Obama, and I’m more or less proud of Congress for the first time in I don’t know how long.

    But the planet is on its own schedule. It’s all about billions of tons of carbon, and the planetary climate system is probably less impressed by speeches than by billions of tons of carbon transferred into or out of the atmosphere.

  5. [JR: You are jumping the shark here and trying my patience. If you have facts, present them. But I can’t print this rubbish.]

    By far the most dangerous form of pollution is ignorance. There is never a shortage of those who would deceive the ignorant. The two ranking examples are securitized sub-prime mortgages and plug-in hybrid cars.

    [JR: Snip.]

  6. Stuart says:

    Great speech by Gore, but mention his name and you get a frothing-mouthed conniption from the deniers.

    Maybe we can turn the arguments around on them. After all, they are the ones being “alarmist” about economic doom from cap and trade, while we are the calm realists with science on our side. We can even question their patriotism – “are you trying to tell me that a great country like America can’t convert to a green energy future? Are you saying that we Americans don’t have the moxie to convert our economy to new and efficient sources of energy?” kind of like the suspension hearing in Animal House. “I am not going to stand here while you bad mouth the United States Of America!”

  7. Too bad. I thought it was an important explanation. Whatever.

    But everyone will wonder about the process. Remember, “the play’s the thing by which we catch the king. ” (or something like that)

  8. Ok, and by the way, I am not opposing action; just wrongly directed action.

    Fact one: The Fisker claims 100 MPG. This is on their site which goes on to say it is a high performance luxury car.

    Fact two: A plug-in hybrid Hummer has just been unveiled and it uses the same engine as the Fisker. It also claims 100 MPG.

    Fact three: Al Gore and John Doerr are partners of the KPCB venture capital firm.

    Fact four: The KPCB lists the Fisker as one of their funded companies.

    Fact five: The subprime crisis was brought on by a deceitful sequence of actions, which was successful in getting the financial world to buy securities that should have been rejected.

    Fact six: A claim of 100 MPG for a Fisker or a Hummer is deceitful. This is demonstrated by the fine print provided by each. (Read about these at the Autopia pages on the Wired Magazine web site.)

    Fact seven: Our California governor demonstrated great enthusiasm over the plug-in Hummer. (See same Autopia pages.)

    Fact seven: A sucker is born every minute. (Fundamental truth stated by P.T. Barnum)

    Fact eight: It would be better to not be suckers. (Great truth by James K. Bullis)

    [JR: Fact: The Fisker is unaffordable by 99.9% of people as would be a plug-in Hummer in the unlikely even anyone ever builds one.

    Fact: Arnold praised a hydrogen Hummer. Never got built. Some millions of dollars were wasted on hydrogen — and still CA is the climate leader.

    Fact: Plug in hybrids are a core climate solution. And if you don’t know that, you don’t know bloody much.]

  9. Stuart says:

    There is a beautiful smackdown of a Congresswoman by Gore on video at TPM:

    link to TPM

  10. Coal truth (which is why some form of cap or tax is needed unless we can find a way to actually use a lot less energy):

    Each technology has a bid
    price for energy that it offers to the market based on its variable cost of production. The market
    selects the lowest possible bids. The price for all operating generators is set by the technology
    with the highest bid price that is operating at the time.

    See page 2-3 of:

    http://miastrada.com/yahoo_site_admin/assets/docs/epriVolume1R2.36180810.pdf

  11. Ravi Garla says:

    The full video of Al Gore’s opening remarks are up on Youtube here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0SJ10zTm6_A

  12. Robert says:

    I was right there with him until I got to this bit:

    “The United States is the world’s leader. We are the only nation in the world that can. ”

    Big headed or what!!!! The US is 5% of the global population and is the world’s biggest debtor nation, or it was until its home-grown CDS-based Ponzi bankrupted the rest of us… Not much of a basis for global leadership.

    [JR: You’re being silly, now. We are the biggest polluter cumulatively by far, and the richest. No serious action is possible without us.]

  13. David B. Benson says:

    “In the absence of any need to reduce CO2 emissions, oxy-fuel is not competitive.” from
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oxy-fuel_combustion_process

  14. Phil Eisner says:

    I agree that “no serious action will take place without us.” But our politics is so poisonous now that no serious action can be taken quickly enough in the U.S. to drastically limit CO2 emissions in the next 10 to 20 years given the immense scale of energy, the enormous cost of replacing coal plants with clean-energy plants, and the glacial pace of construction on such a scale.

  15. Leland Palmer says:

    Hi David B. Benson-

    “In the absence of any need to reduce CO2 emissions, oxy-fuel is not competitive.”

    The wikipedia article was about tempered oxy-fuel combustion, with recycled flue gas. Tempered operation brings the combustion temperature of oxy-fuel down to that of air combustion, erasing any potential efficiency gain from the higher temperature of oxy-fuel combustion.

    In this recent update of progress by Jupiter Oxygen Corporation and NETL, though, it turns out that the process can also be run in untempered mode with no exhaust gas recycle – without damaging the boiler.

    Tests of Jupiter Oxygen’s instrumented 15 MWth oxyfuel boiler have been run from October 2007 to December 2008. Testing has included 100% oxyfuel firing with and without recycle of flue gases, to test both untempered high flame temperature oxy-fuel firing and lowered temperature oxy-fuel firing. Tests were run with air firing as well for comparison.

    Testing has been conducted with both natural gas and coal (Illinois No. 6) as the fossil fuel source for high flame temperature (~5000ºF) oxyfuel combustion with no flue gas recycling (termed ‘untempered’ operation). Tests were also run with recycling of flue gas (tempered operation) aimed at achieving flame temperatures in the 3000°F range, roughly equivalent to the temperature of air firing. This is useful for the study of both retrofit and new boiler designs. Comparisons have been made between the heat transfer distribution of the predominately non-luminous (infrared emitting) natural gas flame with the heat transfer distribution of the more luminous (significant visible component) coal flame. The luminous component of the coal flame allows radiant heat transfer over a broader range of the electromagnetic spectrum and results in more radiant heat transfer at a given flame temperature.

    Measurements in the test boiler with untempered, high flame temperature oxy-fuel combustion have shown that the efficiency of heat transfer from fuel to steam increased by 6.4% compared to air firing. This resulted in a 6.7% reduction in fuel usage, consistent with the expected range of gains based on past testing and modeling. Although this fuel savings does not include the fuel required to meet the parasitic power loads for oxygen production and carbon capture, research to date suggests that heat recovery from the oxygen plant and Integrated Pollutant Removal compressors will allow Jupiter’s approach to attain significant fuel savings compared to other oxyfuel approaches….

    …Retrofits of power plants using the high-temperature oxyfuel approach have the potential for reduced capital and operating costs when compared with other oxyfuel approaches. Control of heat transfer at the tube surfaces is needed to ensure trouble free operation at the high radiant heat flux rates. However, this can be controlled through engineering of furnace heat release rate and the furnace liberation rate.

    This appears to me to be very significant. I believe that energy costs to separate the oxygen from the air and compress the CO2 are roughly 11 percent. So on a first effort, without heat recovery from the oxygen plant and the compressors, they got almost 7 percent efficiency gains. So, they are within about 4 percent or so of being as efficient as air combustion, as a first effort. If they can get another 4 percent of efficiency from heat recovery from the compressors and the oxygen plant, they will be as efficient as air combustion with no carbon capture.

    The boiler was not damaged by the higher temperatures, apparently because of the higher luminosity of the oxy-fuel flame.

    Higher temperature potentially means higher efficiency, and on this first effort at untempered operation in a retrofitted air combustion power plant, they were within about 4 percent of being as efficient as air combustion with no carbon capture.

    So, your Wikipedia article was accurate, but just a little bit dated. Things are looking pretty good for oxy-fuel, with these new updates (January 2009).

    Add in a few dollars per ton for carbon credits, and these oxy-fuel retrofits could be real economic winners.

  16. russ says:

    I have never tired to switch fuels in a boiler – never had to but comparable experience in one sense comes from trying to reuse equipment.

    The boss hated to throw away perfectly good pumps when we made process changes. At first we tried reusing them in some manner only to find that in almost every case it was more efficient to go for new. Equipment costs are capital costs (one time) while electricity is an operating cost (goes on forever).

    Trying to convert equipment from one use to another is almost always a loser. You need the right size with the right head, pressure, temperature etc. That was the original problem with the oxyfuel burner trials I expect.

  17. Leland Palmer says:

    Hi Russ-

    Actually, they didn’t seem to have much trouble, at all. They got the results they expected to get, they just ran the test in two different modes, tempered (with CO2 recycle) and untempered (no CO2 recycle). As expected, with no CO2 recycle, and higher temperatures, they got higher efficiencies.

    It’s true that new oxy-fuel boilers can be much smaller than existing air boilers, with some savings in materials costs from the new boilers. But retrofitted ones seem to work just fine, and can apparently handle the higher temperatures of untempered operation.

    Really, it’s good news. It’s really a surprise to me that the old boilers (this one from 1984) can be operated in untempered mode. But it appears to be true.

    In another situation, I’d say that this needs more testing. In our current climate crisis, we need to just seize all of the coal plants and convert them, and start deep injecting as much CO2 as quickly as possible. If untempered operation starts to show corrosion problems, back off on it a little, and temper it with some exhaust gas to bring the temperature down a little.

    We also need to start generating massive amounts of biocarbon, and replace coal with biocarbon on an emergency basis. If we did this, carbon negative energy production would be the result, and we could start putting significant amounts of carbon back underground.

  18. Leland Palmer says:

    Oh, one more thing. Biocarbon (compacted biochar or charcoal pellets) is cleaner than coal – it is mostly activated carbon. So, these old coal plants could potentially be run on biocarbon with reduced corrosion problems, particularly from sulfur. Some coals are several percent sulfur, I think, while biocarbon is much, much lower.

    Alterna Energy is producing biocarbon pellets from “beetle killed” trees in Canada, apparently:

    http://alternaenergy.ca/applications/energy-pellets

    The limitation of biomass as a source of bioenergy is its low energy density which restricts its economic distribution. The thermochemical biorefining technology of Alterna Energy converts renewable biomass into an energy density similar to that of coal. Wood-based bioenergy had been revolutionized through the development of wood pellets. Biocarbon, produced from the same type of biomass as wood pellets, is the next generation energy pellet, having an energy density ~70% higher than a wood pellet.

  19. Craig says:

    Later in his testimony, Gore bludgeoned Rep. Barton from Texas with Revkin’s article.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/24/science/earth/24deny.html?_r=1&ref=energy-environment

    Barton cited evidence disputing the negative impact of ocean acidification from a book that looked like a glossy travel guide and then asked a loaded question about the costs of carbon per ton.

    In reply, Gore masterfully linked the “massive fraud” of the Global Climate Coalition to Bernie Madoff and left the strong impression that deniers like Barton have played the same dangerous game.

    It’s too bad that politics isn’t a boxing match because Gore prettty much KO’d Barton and other deniers in that round.

    The exchange though left me even more deeply disturbed about the modern day political divide. From this starting point, how is the political will going to be summoned to do what needs to be done? In WWII, nearly the entire country recognized the danger and responded. That collective unity is what allowed for the massive reorganization of the US into a wartime economy. But as the climate change threat looms, all a denier like Barton is willing to do is cede the point that CO2 concentrations are increasing.

    In my opinion, the Dems are going to have to be highly partisan in pushing through this legislation. Politically though that might be a good thing in the long run. When the benefits of a cleaner economy become readily apparent, many voters will recall who fought so hard to win passage of these measures.

  20. Hi David B. Benson and Leland Palmer,

    Surely there are improvements in power plant heat engine efficiency that could come from cutting out the nitrogen, thus enabling significantly higher temperatures that would otherwise gag the system with NOx compounds. But the up front cost of separating the air components has to be significant.

    But why diddle around with improvements like 6% when improvements in the 100% to 200% can be had with distributed cogeneration? And it would be possible to base this on the existing grid infrastructure. Then, gradually and without public burden, the use of coal can be greatly reduced.

  21. Leland Palmer says:

    Hi Jim Bullis-

    Thanks for the input.

    Yes, cogeneration and higher efficiency are great things, and should be encouraged. But, so far as I know there are limited opportunities for distributed power to be carbon negative. So any amount of efficiency gain of power sources is good, but distributed power systems remain carbon positive, or carbon neutral. Distributed cogeneration run off of wood chips or biocarbon can certainly be both very efficient and carbon neutral, though. Perhaps in the future, if easy carbon sequestration by mineral carbonation is available, distributed power systems can be made carbon negative.

    In this case, though, the overall objectives are several:

    Firstly, put billions of tons of carbon back underground by carbon negative generation of electricity and carbon storage, starting with converting the massive coal fired power plants to carbon negative power plants.

    Secondly, use retrofitting of existing coal fired power plants to lower the costs of doing this.

    Thirdly, displace the burning of coal, substituting carbonized biomass or biocarbon.

    Fourthly, put all of the carbon contained in as much of our municipal and agricultural waste as possible safely underground, and prevent it from generating methane, while generating useful electricity.

    Fifthly, generate electricity to run our society and electrical and plug in hybrid vehicles.

    Sixthly, fire protect the forests, by cutting firebreaks through them, clearing them of combustible undergrowth, and protecting them from the huge wildfires we have been seeing, while transferring carbon from the forests safely underground.

    Seventhly, and long term, develop cheap carbon sequestration by mineral carbonation, for permanent long term sequestration of carbon as a carbonate.

    The fooling around with a few percent efficiency is an attempt to make oxy-fuel combustion practical and acceptable to industry, investors, and economists. If oxy-fuel combustion with carbon capture can be made as energy efficient as air combustion with no carbon capture, then carbon capture becomes “free”. If carbon capture was not very costly, perhaps Industry could be persuaded to convert their coal fired power plants quickly enough to avoid a climate catastrophe, especially if carbon credits make this profitable.

    Personally, I’m tired of waiting on Industry to act, and favor just seizing the power plants and making the conversion.

  22. David B. Benson says:

    Leland Palmer — A link to the article you quoted extensively from will be appreciated.

    There are many aspects of your forest plan which won’t work but the fundamental flaw is that there aren’t enough forests to begin with. Instead, grow algae (or Miscanthus).

    Jim Bullis, Miastrada Co. — Leland is mostly right in that the existing equipment is going to be used until worn out, no matter what. So pushing for at least carbon neutrality and then carbon negative makes sense to me.

  23. Hi Leland,

    The “carbon negative” concept is appealing, but it is hard for me to see how there could be any full scale system burning wood chips.

    The longest train I ever saw was a six locomotive BNSF coal train. I could not get a full count, but they are said to be 120 cars long. And the cars are about twice the size that coal cars used to be. And I understand there is a steady flow of these out of the Powder River Basin coal region. A single coal fired power plant stores the entire train load in one gulp.

    If I remember right, half of the revenue of BNSF and SP railroad companies is from hauling coal.

    Anyway, I go on the rule that the best (carbon negative or CCS) is the enemy of the good (distributed cogeneration).

  24. Adam Hardy says:

    I keep hearing of more and more cataclysmic events forecast for the near future, for instance, the 20 foot sea level rise if the Greenland ice sheet were to slip into the Atlantic.

    This takes away from the power of the message. Everyone knows that most critics and disbelievers will just snort dismissively in response.

    What is needed is a statement of the probability to put it into context.

    e.g. the Greenland ice sheet might slide into the Atlantic and cause 20 foot sea level rises – current research put the chances of this scenario at 5% / 20% whatever.

    I think that would serve to make climate science far more accessible, credible and respectable.

    It would probably give me nightmare as well, but it would be very interesting. Don’t policy groups, insurers, actuaries, climate scientists etc already have this info? Why do we never hear it?

  25. David B. Benson says:

    Jim Bullis — Use 100,000 km^2 = 100,000,000 ha to grow Miscanthus at 12 t C/ha/yr. Biochar will be about 40% yield (pyrolysis oil about the same), that’s 480,000,000 t biochar, enough for almost half of US coal consumption. Could (if there were water) do this close to here and then UP & BNSF would be happy to move the stuff to the power plants.

    Adam Hardy — Greenland Ice Sheet won’t “slip into the Atlantic”. It will continue to melt, the rate being quite uncertain. Two estimates suggest that all the melting going on will cause a one meter (likely) rise in the next one hundred years, two meters rather unlikely. However, estimates of this sort are quite uncertain, there being no data of prior melts on such short time scales; millenial resolution is as good as it gets.