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Friday, September 25, 2009

Alberta scientist urges funding for carbon capture

Written by Mike Barber


One of Canada's leading environmental scientists has called on all levels government to fund research into carbon-capture technology that could strip the atmosphere of excess carbon dioxide.

David Keith, director of the University of Calgary's Institute for Sustainable Energy, Environment and Economy, authored an article appearing in this week's issue of the prestigious journal Science, urging more investment in climate engineering.

Climate engineering is a growing field of research that seeks to modify the environment through vast human projects, such as placing large mirrors in space to prevent sunlight from reaching Earth.

Most carbon-capture models focus on reining in sources of concentrated CO2 , such as power plants that burn fossil fuel. But Keith's team at the institute has developed a prototype air-capture plant, or scrubbing tower, that sucks in carbon dioxide--the most common greenhouse gas--from the atmosphere, thus targeting emissions from cars and homes that, due to their dispersal, are harder to corral.Capturing carbon from the air, Keith said, should be seen as "an essential tool in our kit for managing carbon-climate risks."

The tower contains chemical solutions that absorb CO2 and make it easier to store or reuse as a fuel for vehicles and other purposes.

Individual towers would do little to counteract emissions, said Keith, but a small-scale plant with dozens of them would help determine just how well the technology works.

"Capturing carbon from the air is always going to be harder than capturing it from big industrial sources," he said, adding it's also more expensive. A full-scale plant would aim to capture about a million tonnes of the gas, and even at an optimistic rate of around $200 per tonne of captured CO2, the costs could be quite high initially. But, he said, without more investment into research and development, we'll never know just how effective--or affordable --a technology air capture could be.

Critics have charged that climate engineering projects target the effects of human behaviour --namely, capturing their emissions--instead of shrinking carbon footprints.

Keith cautioned that air capture shouldn't be seen as a climate saviour, but rather as part of a range of initiatives aimed at lowering emissions and removing them from the environment.

According to research I have done, David Keith' s "scrubbing tower", is referred to as "carbon dioxide air capture"(source: "It is a different approach to removing CO2 from the stack emissions of large point sources, such as fossil fuel fired power stations. It is regarded as greenhouse gas remediation, which is a branch of geoengineering. Some commentators regard air capture as a form of carbon capture and storage, but CCS is usually used to describe capture at source rather than capture from ambient air."

"Air capture is not generally seen as an attractive alternative to capture at large, point source emitters (such as power plants), as it is likely to be more efficient and cheaper to capture and store carbon dioxide from more concentrated streams. There are, however, some advantages of air capture as it removes the need for CO2 piping to transport the gas to underground storage sites, and allows the use of renewable energy and optimal storage sites. In addition, the cost of air capture, unlike capture at power plants, likely benefits from not having to remove all, or even most, of the CO2 it processes."

"There are several benefits to using air capture:

  • Capture of CO2 from dispersed sources (e.g. cars and domestic heating systems) is possible.
  • Energy required for the process can be cheaply-generated renewables, as long distance transport of power is unnecessary.
  • Geographic flexibility will allow the use of near optimal carbon storage geology and reduces labour costs.
  • Administration and control will be easier with large, centralised facilities.
  • Support industries could naturally 'cluster' around air capture plants, reducing costs.
  • As a geoengineering approach, because it is a greenhouse gas remediation technique it is superior to solar radiation management techniques, as it removes CO2 from the atmosphere and thus prevents ocean acidification. It is, however, slower acting."
The photo is an example of an "air scrubber", which I found at the following website:
carbon dioxide scrubbers, already exist and are used "to “scrub” carbon dioxide from the air on board submarines and spacecraft." "Proponents of air capture propose scaling up such machinery so that it can process the atmosphere directly, extracting the CO2 so that it can be sold for industrial use or stored underground."

"Air capture has the further advantage that it can be done anywhere—not just in places where carbon dioxide is being emitted, such as power stations. An air-capture plant could, for example, be set up at a site where CO2 can be easily stored, such as an empty oilfield. And air capture would open the way to capturing emissions produced by millions of cars and aircraft."

"If air capture is to get anywhere, however, it must overcome three sets of objections: technical, financial and political. The process is no good if it produces more carbon-dioxide emissions than it removes from the atmosphere. Nor is it of any practical value unless the cost of removing each tonne of CO2 is lower than the alternatives. And whether or not it can be made to work efficiently and cheaply, air capture will be politically controversial because the mere possibility of its deployment could be used as an excuse to put off other action to reduce emissions."

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Thoughts worth thinking about

"Our subconscious minds have no sense of humor, play no jokes and cannot tell the difference between reality and an imagined thought or image. What we continually think about eventually will manifest in our lives."-Sidney Madwed

Laws alone can not secure freedom of expression; in order that every woman and man present their views without penalty, there must be spirit of tolerance in the entire population.- Albert Einstein Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around. - Leo Buscaglia

A person's true wealth is the good he or she does in the world. - Mohammed

Our task must be to free ourselves... by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature and its beauty. -Albert Einstein

The best way to find yourself, is to lose yourself in the service of others. - Ghandi

The unselfish effort to bring cheer to others will be the beginning of a happier life for ourselves. - Helen Keller

Aim for success, not perfection. Never give up your right to be wrong, because then you will lose the ability to learn new things and move forward with your life. Remember that fear always lurks behind perfectionism. Confronting your fears and allowing yourself the right to be human can, paradoxically, make yourself a happier and more productive person. - Dr. David M. Burns

Life is as dear to a mute creature as it is to man. Just as one wants happiness and fears pain, just as one wants to live and not die, so do other creatures. -His Holiness The Dalai Lama

Mankind's true moral test, its fundamental test (which lies deeply buried from view), consists of its attitude towards those who are at its mercy: animals. And in this respect mankind has suffered a fundamental debacle, a debacle so fundamental that all others stem from it. -

Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being

The worst sin towards our fellow creatures is not to hate them, but to be indifferent to them. That's the essence of inhumanity. -George Bernard Shaw

Ego's trick is to make us lose sight of our interdependence. That kind of ego-thought gives us a perfect justification to look out only for ourselves. But that is far from the truth. In reality we all depend on each other and we have to help each other. The husband has to help his wife, the wife has to help the husband, the mother has to help her children, and the children are supposed to help the parents too, whether they want to or not.-Gehlek Rinpoche Source: "The Best Buddhist Writing 2005 pg. 165

The hostile attitude of conquering nature ignores the basic interdependence of all things and events---that the world beyond the skin is actually an extension of our own bodies---and will end in destroying the very environment from which we emerge and upon which our whole life depends.