The United States of Waste

The U.S. economy is incredibly energy inefficient, a key reason even strong climate action has such a low total cost — one tenth of a penny on the dollar.

This inefficiency is summed up best in one remarkable statistic that I first learned at the U.S. Department of Energy and then reprinted in my 1999 book, Cool CompaniesHow the best businesses boost profits and productivity by reducing greenhouse gas emissions:

The average fossil-fuel electric power plant converts only one-third of the primary energy it burns–coal, oil, or gas–into electricity.  More energy is lost distributing it from the power plant to the end user.  The energy lost by U.S. electric power generators equals all of the energy that the entire country of Japan uses for all purposes:  buildings, industry, and transportation.  Most of this lost energy is in the form of waste heat that is literally thrown away by electric utilities:  Thus, more fossil fuels must be burned in your company’s furnaces and boilers to generate the heat and steam needed to run your business.

The key to reducing most of that waste is the simultaneous generation of electricity and heat, called cogeneration, combined heat and power (CHP) or recyled energy. You can read the basics here.


I have included CHP as one of the 12-14 “stabilization wedges” we need to stabilize at 350 to 450 ppm (here). Some people, like my friend Tom Casten, Chairman, Recycled Energy Development, think it could be multiple wedges.  In an interview I recommend all readers watch (here) or read (here), Casten asserts that in this country alone:

We could take the 42 percent of carbon dioxide that comes from electricity and cut it in half and save $70 billion.

For more details on the U.S. commercial and industrial CHP potential — estimated to be some 160,000 MW (!) — and the policies needed to achieve it, see “Recycled Energy “” A core climate solution.”  For a September profile on Casten with a fascinating case study of recycling energy, see this Forbes article.

The rest of this post excerpts the second half of the introduction to Cool Companies, which presents numerous case studies of manufacturing companies that have cost-effectively employed CHP and other low-carbon strategies to boost profits and productivity — strategies that are still available to the overwhelming majority of US companies, strategies that will become the norm once the nation is committed to strong climate action.

CHAPTER SIX looks at “cool” power.  Just as every business from the service sector to manufacturing can improve the energy efficiency of its workplaces, so too can everyone chose energy sources that have lower emissions of greenhouse gases….

Today, off-the-shelf natural gas technologies can simultaneously generate electricity and steam with 80 percent to 90 percent efficiency right at a factory or building.  This power deserves the label “cool” not merely because it has lower emissions of greenhouse gases but also because it is not wasteful of heat.  Chapter Six examines companies big and small that have reduced emissions of carbon dioxide by one-quarter to one-half while lowering their energy bill simply through the use of cogeneration, also known as combined heat and power:

  • One small fiber processor in New York City installed a cogeneration system that cuts its energy costs by more than half and its carbon dioxide emissions by one-third, all with a two-year payback.
  • A 90 percent efficient cogeneration system at the Chicago Convention Center saves $1 million a year in energy costs and cuts carbon dioxide emissions in half.

We’ll also examine the remarkable advances in renewable energy, including solar, wind, and geothermal, that will allow a company to get some of its power from these coolest of energy sources.

  • Some Phillips 66 gas stations are using geothermal energy to cut energy costs and carbon dioxide emissions from heating, cooling, and refrigeration by 40 percent.
  • Toyota has chosen to purchase electricity from purely renewable sources for virtually all its California facilities.  This choice, made possibly by California’s utility deregulation, instantly cut Toyota’s carbon dioxide emissions by more than half.

[In March 2009, Toyota announced “the completion of a 2.3-megawatt rooftop photovoltaic (PV) system that began operation in early October at Toyota’s North America Parts Center California (NAPCC) in Ontario, California, making it the largest single-roof PV installation in North America. The Sunpower system is expected to generate approximately 3.7 million kilowatt-hours of electricity annually, or nearly 60 percent of the total electricity needs of the facility.  GE Energy Financial Services will finance, own and operate the solar power system, providing Toyota with immediate savings and a long-term hedge against rising peak power prices.]

A few companies have combined energy efficiency in their buildings with cool power, to achieve large reductions in greenhouse gas emissions:

  • McDonald’s is using both geothermal energy and energy-efficiency in a new restaurant near Detroit to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 40 percent to 50 percent while cutting energy costs by 20 percent.
  • The first cool U.S. skyscraper-the 48-story office tower, Four Times Square, in Manhattan-has cut greenhouse gases emissions 40 percent.  The design combined energy efficiency with two fuel cells for cogeneration as well as photovoltaics for clean electricity from the sun.

“Only a third of U.S. manufacturers are seriously scrutinizing energy usage, where savings in five areas can move billions to the bottom line” — Fortune magazine

CHAPTERS SEVEN AND EIGHT focus on energy efficiency in manufacturing.  The five areas on Fortune’s list are energy-efficient lighting and efficient HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning), covered earlier, and motors, compressed air, and steam.  (These are the five easiest gold mines.  Two others that I discuss on these pages-cogeneration and process improvement-add billions more to the bottom line.)  Large savings are available.  General Motors audited ten of their manufacturing plants and found opportunities for cutting energy used in compressed air and steam systems by 30 percent to 60 percent.

CHAPTER SEVEN examines motors and motor systems (including compressed air).  These are probably the juiciest opportunities for most companies since electricity production generates so much carbon dioxide, and since motors consume nearly three-fourths of industrial electricity.  At one research, development and manufacturing facility, Lucent Technologies examined 54 motors and found that 87 percent were oversized:  some were operating at only 16 percent of full load.  The Department of Energy audited a dozen industrial motor retrofits around the country and found an average energy savings of one third with a payback of a year and a half.  What was rare even five years ago is off-the-shelf today:  You can reduce the energy use of motor systems by one-quarter to one-half with increases in productivity and decreases in maintenance and scrap:

  • An Arkansas steel tube manufacturer replaced a key motor and drive.  The 34 percent energy savings would have paid for the new system in five years, but the improvement in productivity and reduction in scrap paid for it in five months–a 200 percent return on investment.
  • A California textile plant cut the energy consumption of its ventilation system 59 percent by installing motor controls, saving $101,000 a year.  An energy services firm paid for the system, turning a 1.3-year payback into an instantaneous one.  By reducing the plant’s airborne lint, the new system increased product quality.

What happens to that sharp manufacturer who pursues the comprehensive approach I describe-making its motors, compressed air systems, and buildings all more energy efficient?  You become a cool company like Perkin-Elmer, maker of analytical instruments.

  • Perkin-Elmer cut energy consumption per dollar of sales by 60 percent from 1991 to 1997.  Its Norwalk, Connecticut plant cut the electric-power bill 26 percent, despite an increase in rates and expansion in square footage.

CHAPTER EIGHT examines the large opportunities for saving steam and process energy.  These strategies are of most value to heavy manufacturing and the process industries, such as chemicals, pulp and paper, and steelmaking, which are the industries responsible for most manufacturing energy usage.  Steam accounts for $20 billion a year of U.S manufacturing energy costs and over a third of U.S. industrial carbon dioxide emissions.  To be cool, your industrial company needs to improve the efficiency with which you generate and use steam, as these companies have:

  • At a multi-factory complex in Flint, Michigan, General Motors combined efficiency with cool power to cut carbon dioxide emissions from steam use by more than 60 percent.  Annual savings came to $4 million with a two-year payback.
  • Simply by insulating its steam lines, Georgia-Pacific reduced fuel costs by one-third with a six-month payback at its Madison, Georgia, plywood plant.  The project saved 18 tons of fuel per day, lowered emissions, made the workplace safer, and improved process efficiency.

Even the most energy-intensive industries, such as chemical manufacturing, can achieve remarkable results when they take a systematic approach that combines all seven cool strategies:  energy efficiency in lighting, HVAC, motors, compressed air, and steam systems with improved cogeneration and process redesign.

  • From 1993 to 1997, DuPont’s 1,450-acre Chambers Works in New Jersey reduced energy use per pound of product by one-third and carbon dioxide emissions per pound of product by nearly one half.  Even as production rose 9 percent, the total energy bill fell by more than $17 million a year.  By 2000, the company as a whole has committed to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent compared to 1990 levels.

CHAPTER NINE examines how you can help your employees and your community lower their energy bill while reducing their carbon dioxide emissions.

  • Chicago-based A. Finkl & Sons has cut energy consumed per ton of forged steel shipped by 36 percent and has planted more than 1,600,000 trees, which capture carbon dioxide.  As a result, the company’s net manufacturing emissions of greenhouse gases are zero.
[The company’s goal today is to plant 6,000,000 trees.]
  • A shade tree planted near a city building saves ten times as much carbon dioxide as a tree planted in the forest because it reduces the energy used for air conditioning and helps to cool the entire city.  Such tree-planting, coupled with use of lighter colored roofs and road material, could cool a city like Los Angeles by five degrees, cutting annual air-conditioning bills by $150 million, while reducing smog by 10 percent, which is comparable to removing three-quarters of the cars on L.A.’s roads.

Perhaps you are a manufacturer whose raw materials require more energy to create than the energy you buy to run the company.  Reducing the so-called embodied energy in your products could become part of your new cool strategy.  Consider the case of Interface, Inc., a leading manufacturer of carpet and carpet fiber:

  • The embodied energy in the material that Interface uses to make 25 million square meters of carpet tile a year exceeds the process energy needed to manufacture that carpet tile by a factor of 12.  Interface Flooring Systems made process improvements that saved 2.5 million pounds of nylon from being purchased.  The embodied energy of the unneeded nylon equaled the energy used by their manufacturing and administrative facilities.

[In short, wasted material means wasted energy.]

CHAPTER TEN explores a key issue for your company’s planning:  What is the future price of carbon dioxide likely to be as the world’s nations move to restrict greenhouse gas emissions?

SYCOM is an energy services company based in New Jersey that helps companies adopt the cool strategies described in this book to reduce their emissions of sulfur dioxide and oxides of nitrogen (NOx), which at the same time reduces their carbon dioxide emissions.  Some economic models suggest that the price of carbon dioxide needed to meet the Kyoto target may be as high as $30 to $60 a ton (which would raise energy prices substantially).  SYCOM’s experience suggests the price for carbon dioxide will ultimately be far less, well below $15 a ton.

[This, of course, has been a central point of this entire post — the cost of climate action can be far lower than most models suggests, if the government breaks down the barriers to energy efficiency and CHP and clean energy solutions.  Waxman-Markey, the stimulus bill, and numerous Obama administration initiatives are aimed at doing just that.]

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34 Responses to The United States of Waste

  1. Jim Beacon says:

    Absolutely. Just by working smarter and more efficiently, we could reduce CO2 emissions by 20% in 10 years without even passing Waxman-Markey into law. It’s just that we are going to have to pass the law to make us do it because we can’t seem to do the right thing without that kind of prodding. There is a recent study of sustainable transportation as they have been developing it in Germany and surely no one can claim that living in Germany is uncomfortable and filled with consumer deprivation and bad for business. But the comparison with the U.S. is shocking:

    Car CO2 emissions per capita, in pounds, 2005:
    US = 8,600 Germany = 2,900

    Energy use per passenger per year, 2004-2005:
    US = 55 BTU Germany = 17 BTU

    Percent of household budget for transportation, 2003
    (and this was before gasoline prices shot up in 2008):
    US = 19% Germany = 14%

    Government transit subsidy of public transportation for all levels of government, 2006:
    US = 62% Germany = 26%

    So this is not just theory. Here is real world proof positive that energy efficient living can provide the same level of comfort, utility and economic vitality that we have in the U.S. but can COST FAR LESS in terms of cost to the consumer, cost to business and cost to the environment.

    “We can’t afford it” is the biggest lie of all.

    Full report in PDF format at:

  2. Looking at Fig. 81 of

    and noting that natural gas indicates mostly heat use it is clear where the opportunities for cogenertion lie. This is somewhat less certain for industrial operations which often require high temperatures, which are not available with after products of heat engines that drive electric power genertors.

    Commercial opportunities are important and companies like Solar Turbines Division of Caterpillar sell cogeneration systems to that market.

    Honda makes a nice home appliance that also works well, especially in cold climates. But it is not cheap.

    Hm, what if you had hybrid cars with engines and generators already in place, and if most of these went home to houses most nights? Maybe some pipes could hook up to house appliances that use heat. And lower temperatures would be just fine. Hm, maybe cost would be not so much. It would work especially well if the hybrid car engines were not too big, so as not to quickly overwhelm the capacity of the house to use heat. Hm, wonder how we might do that. (wink wink)

    [JR: Can’t follow this, sorry. Home cogen is not something that makes a great deal of sense, especially for retrofit.]

  3. Bob Murphy says:

    I understand arguments about market failure and negative externalities. But in this post, you are apparently claiming that large businesses are throwing away hundreds of thousands of dollars per year. If that is the case, this shouldn’t take government mandates to change, right? You should just email this information to the relevant departments at various businesses, and they will implement the changes on their own?

  4. Leland Palmer says:

    Yes, existing power plants are very wasteful. Existing coal plants which do not gassify their coal can be in the range of 30-35% efficient.

    One Clinton Era proposal to retrofit existing coal plants to get higher efficiency was HiPPS:

    Depending on which technology level is chosen, the
    HIPPS cycle efficiency can be increased from 45% to nearly 53% (higher heating value basis)
    and the coal fraction (fraction of heat input by coal to the system) can change by up to 28
    percentage points. Also, the costs fluctuate between 35 and 43 mills/kWh, depending on what
    assumptions are used. This paper primarily compares cycle efficiency and coal fraction and
    presents preliminary estimates for capital cost and cost of electricity. The results of this analysis
    show the potential of HIPPS as a highly-efficient, advanced coal-based option for power
    generation in the 21st century.

    What I propose is to seize such existing coal plants, and forcibly convert them to biocarbon fuel, oxyfuel combustion, a HiPPS topping cycle, and deep injection of the resulting nearly pure stream of CO2. This could result in retrofitted power plants that are carbon negative, and that actually remove CO2 from the air while they generate useful electricity. Carbon negative power plants can have a huge synergistic effect on the climate crisis, as various authors including Read and Lermit, the website Biopact, and the Norwegian/Russian Bellona Foundation have calculated.

    This new technology package could be retrofitted to existing coal fired power plants. The higher combustion temperatures of oxyfuel combustion should make a natural gas boost for the gas turbines unnecessary, and allow the use of 100% biocarbon in an efficient HiPPS power plant.

    So, the CCS costs that the power industry have quoted to Congress are bogus, IMO. It is possible to retrofit existing power plants, get the same or higher efficiency, and make them carbon negative – all at the same time, IMO.

    Certainly, existing power plants are hugely wasteful, in energy efficiency terms. Coal has simply been so cheap that power plants were profitable without technological change, and so existing power plants are technological fossils, and can be fairly easily updated for higher efficiency, carbon capture, and topping cycles.

    But not if we listen to the coal power industry, or let them set either the timetable or the agenda.

  5. Jim Beacon,

    I add that we have paid oil producers from the public treasurey to pump the stuff out of the ground as fast as possible. This was started in 1925 when the oil depletion allowance was enacted, and though modified some, it still continues. We have to have a safety net for some folks. (sarcasm drips off the page)

    Watch the fuss when that comes up. Pres. Carter cut this back a little, but his efforts mostly caused oil company reorganizations to enable circumvention of the changed rules. Look what happened to him.

    I wonder if Pres. Obama will be called “socialist” if he tries to finish what Pres. Carter started.

    Political will is the issue. Whether we can afford something or not is always a conditional question. It really means, do we want to do the proposed action badly enough to do it?

    I tend to get ahead of myself, but it seems unlikely that the public will support much if it is going to mean serious change, not to mention the reaction if it involves sacrifice. Thus, I look for ways to hand out candy to get the votes. By that I mean that I keep looking for technological ways to get CO2 reduction that might have public appeal.

  6. Eric Williams says:

    To Bob:

    This is not an unfounded remark…of course, the difference is whether or not they know this (an easy solution you have proposed) or simply the idea that many people, for some reason, are incapable of acting in their best interest.

    Case in point:

    People (especially in America) eat an incredible excess of food that is bad for them; public service announcements have yet to overcome this deficit.

    I live in a poorer neighborhood with an odd preponderance of luxury automobiles.

    Lastly, some people still resist any concept of “green” when simply installing new lightbulbs, insulating water heaters, unplugging appliances not in use, adjusting the thermostat 1 degree (!) and other behaviors could save a typical family thousands a year in energy costs.

    An email blast might be a first step, however…

  7. Re mine of 2:57


    I guess I have been defficient in explaining how it would retrofit. There are various ways, but a simple way is to cut into the plenum of a heating system and simply install a radiator in the air path. Auxilliary radiators for RVs cost about $70, just for example. Pipes and insulation is not much either.

    Another way is where exhaust gas can be ducted to water heaters, probably even existing water heaters could be retrofitted, but even waiting for replacement water heaters would not be too bad. We could even go back to absorption chiller methods for refrigeration and airconditioning.

    Next, put the clothes dryer close enough and blow the hot air for the dryier through a heat exchanger that has the car engine exhaust on the other side of the exchanger.

    I haven’t figured out cooking yet.

    Still, I reiterate, it gets a little awkward for the big American car sized engines, so when GM comes along with a hybrid Yukon, I think it might not work too well.

    Somebody like Amory Lovins could really go to town on something like this. How do I get his attention?

  8. Tapani Linnaluoto says:

    It always strikes me as odd when I hear this revolutionary stuff about cogeneration. I mean, I live in a city where all the coal and natural gas power plants (majority of the city’s power) have been cogenerating power and heat for years, and pretty much every building is connected to the district heating network. It’s just run-of-the-mill stuff for us. I always have to wonder why people aren’t doing this everywhere else in the world already, it just makes so much sense.

    Case in point, the city I live in: Helsinki.

    Population: up some 15% since 1990.
    Electricity usage: up one third since 1990.
    CO2 emissions: flat since 1990.

    All thanks to cogeneration of power and heat, done during the last 20+ years.

    Recent buzz here is about trigeneration: combined power, heat and cooling!

  9. dwight says:

    There are some regulatory hurdles that need to be removed as well. In a recent tour of green buildings in Santa Monica I was disappointed to learn that a low-income housing complex’s cogeneration turbine was effectively shut down because it didn’t meet the efficiency standards required for electrical generation in the state. Unfortunately the standards do not count the recycled heat in the numerator of your efficiency, but only consider the electrical power.
    To get CHP done here (and believe it or not we do use heat for a lot of the year here so it makes sense for some users) I think you’d need fuel cells, which so far are too expensive for most places to implement.

  10. RichardOn says:

    Interesting site, but much advertisments on him. Shall read as subscription, rss.

  11. PaulK says:

    The ten year old “Cool Companies” in no way reflects current realities. A Google search for cogeneration yields 1,760,000 results. Cogeneration is a worldwide phenomenon. Nowadays, across the economy, the company that isn’t cool is the anomaly. Perhaps your book had more effect than you dare imagine.

    [JR: It is a book aimed at U.S. companies, and I’m afraid it remains as true as ever. Most companies are very wasteful.]

  12. PaulK says:

    Jim Bullis,
    The radiator in the plenum application is available with most solar hot water systems.

  13. Ronald says:

    My take on the idea to use exhaust gases from cars, other motor vehicles for heat in a house.

    Bad idea. You don’t want exhaust gases from a car/motor vehicle to be running into a house because of the carbon monoxide problem. It’s just enough to design furnaces and other stationary units to handle it well. It can’t just work 99.999 percent of the time, it has to work 100 percent. Having a car/motor vehicle plugging into a pipe to run into the house from the garage? forget about it. You should not even run a car in a garage for any real length of time.

    What some construction crews and people living in remote areas who are living off the grid might use is a car/motor vehicle with an engine and electrical generator closely sized for one another that is used to charge the cars/motor vehicles battery during regular driving. They will snatch up those vehicles for work sites and as an extra generator, but they would always be run outside.

  14. Ronald says:

    The utility company in our state converted some large power plants from coal to natural gas, it cost many hundreds of millions of dollars. When they did that, for some engineering reasons they said, they had to remove a cogenration for heating part of the process. sometimes it not always steps forward.

  15. Neil Howes says:

    Leland Palmer,
    The US burns 1,05Million tones of coal, much of it in 40 year old power stations. The 1,200 million tones of biomass( agricultural and forestry waste) would only contain 360Million tones of carbon( only 180Million tones would be recovered as charcoal) , so it’s not going to replace more than a faction of the coal presently burnt.

    Most coal plants are not suited to co-generation because of size or location.

    Surely it’s better to replace aging coal power with nuclear or renewable energy, any biomass could be better used to generate bio-gas to use in NG peak power to assist the use of renewable energy.

  16. Re PaulK

    The plenum radiator used with solar systems is a natural piece of hardware for dual use. Sun could heat the house a little during the day and the cogenerting car system could take over for night time use. I would keep the natural gas operation of the furnace going to cover cold spells.

  17. Neil Howes says:

    The calculations of non co-generation should examine the higher efficiency of electric heat pumps used for space heat or hot water rather than fuel used for direct heating.
    Co-generation would reduce the ability of NG to be used just for peak power, in support of renewable or nuclear energy.
    One very good use of small nuclear would be to just use it to generate heat for industry or large customers. This would reduce cost and enable very small nuclear reactors with no moving parts, to be economic suppliers of heat.

  18. Leland Palmer says:

    Hi Neil Howes-

    The US burns 1,05Million tones of coal, much of it in 40 year old power stations. The 1,200 million tones of biomass( agricultural and forestry waste) would only contain 360Million tones of carbon( only 180Million tones would be recovered as charcoal) , so it’s not going to replace more than a faction of the coal presently burnt.

    Most coal plants are not suited to co-generation because of size or location.

    Surely it’s better to replace aging coal power with nuclear or renewable energy, any biomass could be better used to generate bio-gas to use in NG peak power to assist the use of renewable energy.

    Thanks for the input.

    In their flash carbonization process, the University of Hawaii gets yields of about 25% charcoal from a given amount of biomass. So, I have been figuring that 1.2 billion tons of biomass would produce about 300 million tons of biocarbon. If this is wrong, please let me know, and please let me know how you arrived at your 180 million tons figure for charcoal. A lot of the charcoal yield depends on the details of the carbonization process, and traditional charcoal manufacture by burying burning wood is very inefficient. I have been planning to use heat exchangers and waste heat from the carbonization process to help dry the biomass, along with solar drying where applicable to increase the biocarbon yield from biomass. Until I find our more about the carbonization process, I have been accepting the University of Hawaii 25% figure for charcoal yield.

    The U.S. burns about a billion tons of coal, that is true.

    The ORNL report found 1.2 billion tons of “waste” biomass, under steady state, nonemergency conditions. But the accelerating pace of both wildfires and perhaps CO2 fertilization changes those steady state assumptions, IMO. A study I read in Science a couple of years ago found a sixfold increase in wildfires with only a one degree C rise in temperature in the Western U.S. Forest service data and budgets back this up. To save these forests from firestorms, it will be necessary to intensively manage them, clear them of undergrowth, and cut firebreaks through them. ORNL did not consider these sources of biomass, nor did ORNL consider harvesting dead trees after wildfires have killed them.

    Conversion of biomass to biocarbon makes this practical, I think, because once this conversion is done, you only need to transport the carbon content of the biomass, not the hydrogen content and the water.

    Another source of biocarbon not considered by ORNL was sewage sludge, and another source of biomass not considered by ORNL was solar dried manure. I suggest gathering every scrap of available biomass and transforming it into biocarbon, including much of the garbage that now goes into landfills, urban landscaping waste and trimmings, and generally every scrap of biomass waste we can get our hands on.

    I suggest at least tripling the ORNL estimate, planting biomass plantations if necessary on marginal agricultural land, and massive replanting of trees using tree planting by aerial bombardment, as well as more traditional techniques. I suggest getting the army involved in tree planting and possibly clearing of undergrowth and building firebreaks. I suggest building biocarbon log pipelines to connect biomass sources with existing coal plants, and supplementing biocarbon with solar thermal and engineered geothermal for those coal plants in the desert or close to geothermal hot dry rock.

    Then, there are always shiploads of biocarbon from Central and South America, which will have to manage and protect their own forests from firestorms, IMO. Also, large biocarbon log pipelines could be built connecting Canadian coastal areas to their coasts for biocarbon transport by ship.

    Chris Field says that the tropical forests burning could inject as much as 100-500 billion tons of carbon into our atmosphere by 2100. We can’t really have it both ways, and maintain that there is not enough biomass to run our coal fired power plants on, and at the same time fear the release of hundreds of billions of tons of carbon from tropical and boreal forests.

    The payoff for all of this are the hugely synergistic effects of carbon negative energy schemes:

    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 [Abrupt Climate Change]. The nature of sequential decisions, taken in response to the evolution of currently unknown events, is discussed. The impact of such decisions on land use change is related to a specific bio-energy conversion technology. The effects of a precautionary strategy, possibly leading to eventual land use change on a large scale, is modeled, using FLAMES. Under strong assumptions appropriate to imminent ACC, pre-industrial CO2 levels can be restored by mid-century using BECS.

    Even the 180 million ton figure you cite would still be worth doing, IMO, because we would be displacing 180 million tons of coal, generating sufficient electricity for millions of electric cars, putting 180 million tons of carbon back underground, preventing hundreds of millions of tons of carbon emissions from forest fires, removing sources of methane from decay of organic materials, and so on. By doing this, we would also be able to offset the combustion of natural gas sufficient to displace roughly another 360 billion tons of coal, to bring net emissions up to zero.

    But I’m not aiming for 180 million tons of biocarbon. I’m aiming for a billion, and looking for any means to get there I can find.

    Realistically, we should be easily able to triple ORNL’s 1.2 billion ton annual biomass figure, using more intensive managing of forests, including lower grade sources of biomass like manure and insect killed trees (for biocarbon, high quality biomass is not necessary).

    Another way to transport biomass energy may be to transport it as carbon monoxide, by a process known as COSORB. This was a fairly well worked out scheme for transporting carbon monoxide derived from coal gasification, which claimed only 15 percent energy losses from pumping for transport of carbon monoxide 400 miles.

  19. So Joe, you say,

    [JR: Can’t follow this, sorry. Home cogen is not something that makes a great deal of sense, especially for retrofit.]

    Might I ask what you see as the impediment(s)?

    [JR: Cogen works best when sized to the year-round thermal load, which is low in the vast majority of homes. Most cogen systems don’t scale down well, so they remain disproportionately expensive for micro-cogen. Most existing homes aren’t designed to simply drop in a cogen system, so you’re going to have to pay a plumber and electrician. But the savings of cogen are small. So the systems never pay for themselves. I have a long discussion of this in Chapter 3 of “The Hype About Hydrogen.” Maybe I’ll post it some day.]

  20. What hasn’t been talked about is why US companies are so wasteful, even at the expense of their own bottom line. There are reasons for this: CEOs thinking in terms of shareholders and stock price instead of the fundamental growth of the actual company is one example.

    The trick is going to be finding and addressing the core causes for inefficiency. Legislating efficient outcomes will look and feel seriously wrong–like Joseph Heller writing a novel about Corporate Efficiency.

    Creating serious shifts in corporate culture by finding out what causes waste and using legislation/tax breaks/other incentives to nudge CEOs to make good choices, on the other hand, would probably help.

  21. Ronald says:

    A quick answer to why home generator systems for heat and power aren’t economical. Friction and economies of scale.

    A power generator that an electrical utility would build is large, 300 megawatts, would use a steam turbine after coal is burned. Steam turbines have less friction than engines because the turbine blades don’t touch each other. In a reciprocating gasoline or diesel engine, there is a lot of friction on the cylinder walls to reduce efficiency and cause wear.

    There have been attempts to make small turbines to power just a house, but they are expensive per unit of power output. And when you go down to the size of a unit to power a house, the advantage of large size is lost. It’s why we don’t have turbine power plants for our cars, although it would be interesting which is more expensive, turbines or hydrogen fuel cells.

    What power unit to use where is determined by cost and total value produced and these are a product and compromise of efficiency, initial cost, wear, safety, reliability and all the other factors.

  22. Joe, you say, (and re Ronald’s comment also)
    [JR: Cogen works best when sized to the year-round thermal load, which is low in the vast majority of homes. Most cogen systems don’t scale down well, so they remain disproportionately expensive for micro-cogen. Most existing homes aren’t designed to simply drop in a cogen system, so you’re going to have to pay a plumber and electrician. But the savings of cogen are small. So the systems never pay for themselves. I have a long discussion of this in Chapter 3 of “The Hype About Hydrogen.” Maybe I’ll post it some day.]

    Thanks for filling in the details. Would not this change if the cogen system is part of your hybrid car, which you already own, thus most of the system would be free?

    [JR: No. Car engines are way to inefficient.]

    To get ahead, your Prius engine is a little too big though it might be made to work in a pulse mode, where it only runs about 10% of the time. It still is a little awkward, since that would only be about 6 minutes every hour. Break that up into six , one minute bursts and it might work, but even the Prius engine might not be too efficient if started this often.

    Now what if the hybrid car had a 16 hp engine instead of the Prius 100 hp engine?

    What I am getting at is that there are two sectors of American life where we waste a massive amount of energy. Both need to be fixed.

    I realize it will take some time to get you used to the idea that a car can be built that would run on 16 hp. I know it can be built; I am not so sure it can be sold. Just pretend its true for a minute. And that you actually have one.

    Now think about cogen based on that car. Given that working all the time will not be possible for households as they are now set up, when it does work it would make natural gas two or three time more effective than it now is with central power plants. This means that it is almost even with coal, at least for present natural gas prices. Maybe this would be progress.

    For much of the USA, on cold evenings and mornings when the household needs to be heated the heat from the car would work through the typical heating system. Plumbing is easy. This is heavy load time for electric utilities.

    Absorption chiller air conditioners could come next, because these would make the system work in hot climates. And people struggle with the cost of running the machines they now have. A 60% reduction in cost could be realized.

    Ronald is right about economies of scale, but he gets it wrong about engines. Evidence exists that Prius engines get 38% efficiency, even on the UDDS driving schedule. Gas turbines do not have sliding friction but high velocity gases have their own form of losses, and the whole thermodynamics thing is different and they have the same problem as diesels with peak temperatures making NOx compounds since air is the working fluid. Simple gas turbines get closer to 30% efficiency. Smaller ones do even worse.

    What we need is a mass produced 16 hp engine that is scaled down from the Prius engine. Industrial diesels by Kubota and Yanmar do this just fine, and if catalytic converters finally get here that will work for these, maybe they are the answer. However, the Prius engine is a marvelous demonstration of what can really be done now, and catalytic converters for these are well known technology.

    So scale down the Prius engine and use it in low powered cars and then hook it up to run in cogen system mode at night.

  23. Leland Palmer says:

    Concerning Biomass resources:

    The EPA has published an Excel Spreadsheet of renewable energy resources on reclaimed land, which can be plugged into Google Earth. It’s quite instructive to look at this with the CARMA (Climate and Resource Monitoring for Action) database in Google Earth at the same time, and compare coal use in power plants with biomass resources.

    In many states in the Mideast like Indiana and Iowa, there are huge resources of crop residues available for biomass, apparently easily meeting coal demand. Many coal plants are located on rivers for cooling water, and this is a potential way to transport biocarbon originating upstream. Washington has lots of crop residues and forests too, but very few coal plants, so they could potentially be a big exporter, transporting biocarbon down the Columbia river to the Pacific. Some areas of the Southwest, as expected, have abundant solar energy but a shortage of biomass.

    Generally, crop residues are bigger than forest resouces in terms of biomass per area, but forest areas are much greater, I think, and so offer the largest total resources if the transportation problems can be solved. I suggest solving the transport problems by carbonization of biomass into biocarbon, building biocarbon log pipelines, and transport of biomass energy by biomass gasification, perhaps primarily as carbon monoxide to avoid problems of hydrogen embrittlement.

  24. Sing (California here I come is the tune)

    Title: “Zero Emission Hymn of America”
    Carbon dioxide, here it come,

    Coal is where you started from,

    Crank up railroads, crank up the mines,

    We are headed for real good times.

    Man the lifeboats, preservers on,

    Build the batteries, run the con,

    Making money is all that counts,

    Carbon dioxide, here it come.

    —Trail off humming the tune.
    (Hum and trail off)

    Any more verses anyone?

  25. Joe, you say,

    [JR: No. Car engines are way to inefficient.]

    I thought we agreed Prius engines get 38% efficiency? Only the combined cycle natural gas plants beat that. And they massively dump heat out in the country somewhere, with little chance of cogeneration.

    Granted, natural gas has an advantage over gasoline of about 25% less CO2 per BTU, but even so–

    [JR: You are starting to worry me. A cogen system that does not have an electric efficiency in excess of, say, 35%, and an overall efficiency in excess of 70% is essentially worthless from a carbon perspective — especially if it doesn’t run on natural gas or something cleaner.]

  26. David B. Benson says:

    Leland Palmer — We already have so-called natural gas pipelines; the stuff is almost pure methane. Use anaerobic disgestors to produce biogas; just existing technology used to clean actual natural gas into so-called natural gas; the reuslt is almost pure methane from biomass. Inject into existing so-called natural gas pipelines for transport.

    The only change required is due to the living microbes in the biogas. That must be filtered out; the technology to do so is alreaedy in use.

  27. Leland Palmer says:

    Hi David B. Benson-

    Yes, it might be a good idea to transport biomass energy as methane.

    The reason the methane thing spooks me a little is that methane is such a powerful greenhouse gas, and I fear the cumulative effect of small leaks.

    Carbon monoxide is more dangerous to humans, but perhaps less dangerous to the climate system.

    It’s a good point, though. :)

  28. Joe,
    You say:[JR: You are starting to worry me. A cogen system that does not have an electric efficiency in excess of, say, 35%, and an overall efficiency in excess of 70% is essentially worthless from a carbon perspective — especially if it doesn’t run on natural gas or something cleaner.]


    How can it be worthless to get two or three times the electric energy out of natural gas as we now do with central power plants burning natural gas? For CO2, this should be four to six times better than the situation with power plants burning coal…..

    [JR: SNIP. You are now officially wasting my time. You seem to be jumping around from argument to argument. We were talking about Prius engines. Now i have no clue what you are talking about. Move on to a new subject, please. For the record, your final sentence below has no basis in fact.]

  29. Ronald says:

    I wrote about the differences of car/motor vehicle engines and steam turbines. One of the costly differences is friction and wear on the engine.
    If I run an engine for 120 000 miles at 60 miles per hour, that’s
    about 2 000 hours. 2 000 hours is can be quite far into the life of a reciprocating engine. For transportation engines anyway, which are design and built compromised to the life of the car. There are about 8 720 hours in a year, so your motor vehicle motor would run for about 3 months. steam turbine lifetimes are measured in years and decades.

    That’s with many reciprocating engines, the wear on them is just to great.

    Many companies have back up generators for if the electrical power goes out. Especially hospitals, but companies with large freezers or any buisness that needs to have things running during power outages where there could be life or property loss. Why don’t they just run the generators all the time, epecially in winter when they could use the surplus heat? Because the economic cost of the motors wearing out quickly is greater than the economic value and entropy value of the fuel being burned for power and heat.

    There might be some value to keep an electrical grid up. Actually our electrical utility runs their back up generators during the hottest summer hours when those engines need to be run just to keep them tuned up. apparently backup generators need to be run some every month or they may not start when needed as one company that ran a big freezer found out. Millions of dollars worth of food was thawed and had to be thrown away. ( I heard 8 hours a month)

    There is an attempt to use the stirling cycle on some concentrated Solor Power thermal that would need to run many hours between overhauls.

    That is the engine that has been looked at mostly to run generators for CHP at low volumes, but they haven’t done it yet.

  30. Ronald says:

    there has been alot of interest in reciprocating engines to generate power for the growing of marijuana plants. Even though it is a way for marijuana plants to be grown hidden from law enforcement, I have read law enforcement say that they consider it a somewhat victory if marijuana growers need to use generators to grow marijuana because it is so much more expensive doing it that way than buying the electricity from the utility. Maybe, maybe not, what else are they going to say.
    But using the reciprocating engine for CHP has been looked at.

  31. David B. Benson says:

    Leland Palmer — Very little unnatural gas leaks:

  32. Hey Joe,

    The whole thing, in easy steps. (Sorry, it takes more than a “twitter.”)

    1) Make a car that will run fast on a 16 hp engine. This requires imagination but it is possible.

    2) Make an engine that is a scaled down Prius-like engine, of a size that can work efficiently at fixed speed and put out 16 hp. (Toyota showed us how.) It needs to have dual fuel capability that enables natural gas as a fuel and some other mobile kind of fuel system.

    3) Power the car as a plug-in hybrid that uses batteries to drive electric motors for short range local operation, and uses the 16 hp engine with a generator to give longer range capability. Allow airflow to cool the engine when on the road and allow exhaust.

    4) Provide a natural gas hookup to the car.

    5) Provide electrical connections.

    6) Provide heat transfer connections from the parked cars to their respective households, and enable control of the engine operation such that it operates IF AND ONLY IF there is a CALL FOR HEAT from the household. Capture all heat from car machinery and get it to the house. (We know how to do that kind of plumbing.)

    7) DO NOT generate electricity; instead get electric power from the grid much of the time. DO generate electricity if the associated excess heat can be fully used. (Almost 100% efficiency guaranteed under this restriction.)

    8) Develop household appliances that operate on heat to maximize time duration of electricity generation. (We know how.)


    1) 80% to 90% reduction in the car and light truck sector of CO2 sources due to efficiency of the car.

    2) Best and highest use of natural gas in a system that is almost cost competitive with coal fired power generation. Reduction in CO2 from electric power generation growing from roughly 30% to 60% depending on natural gas supplies.

    System cost: Zip. It falls within the normal replacement cost cycles for cars and appliances.

    Prognosis: Poor. At least until I figure out how to sell it to the likes of the aforementioned Joe. I am getting some good practice.

    I have an idea, “Why not let it stand to give others a chance to get it?”

  33. I did not put that smiley face in on purpose. It was supposed to be ” 8)”.