Among the issues most commonly discussed are individuality, the rights of the individual, the limits of legitimate government, morality, history, economics, government policy, science, business, education, health care, energy, and man-made global warming evaluations. My posts are aimed at thinking, intelligent individuals, whose comments are very welcome.

"No matter how vast your knowledge or how modest, it is your own mind that has to acquire it." Ayn Rand

11 March 2009

Scrubbing CO2 Out of the Atmosphere

The 7 - 13 March 2009 issue of the Economist has an article on the use of various scrubbing processes to remove CO2 from the air. There are advocates for the use of scrubbers to clean general air, not just the air emitted from coal-fired power plants, by removing CO2. [Disclosure: I have analyzed smokestack modified lime powders in a couple of projects for the purpose of solving problems or improving the absorption capacity for SO2.] Now if this can be done without subsidies from governments by selling the CO2 to greenhouses to promote plant growth, for food and soft drink processing, fire extinguishers, gas to pressurize oil fields to squeeze out more oil, and for water treatment purposes, I am fine with this. After all, the article notes that CO2 is the 19th most important chemical commodity by weight produced in America. It does have economic value, over and above the fact that plants will not grow without it.

But, of course, this is not the main thrust of the European viewpoint given in the article. No, the very first sentence is "Preventing catastrophic climate change, most people agree, will mean reducing the level of man-made carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere." Well now, isn't that sweet?

Here is a poll of Americans taken among adults from 5 - 8 March 2009 by Gallup. The main news is that the percent of Americans thinking that global warming is exaggerated by the media is now up to 41%, but 57% still think the media has it right or underestimates the seriousness of global warming. I am disappointed in Americans here, but it is clearly hard for them to see through the smokescreen put up by much of the media. Nonetheless, some of the 57% who think the media has it about right are watching Fox News, which is generally not very alarmist. The biggest change in the last year toward increased skepticism of the media reports on global warming is Independents whose skeptics jumped from 33% to 44%, while Republican skeptics increased from 59% to 66%, and Democrat skeptics from 18 to 22%. So, an Independent is twice as likely as a Democrat to be skeptic and a Republican is 3 times as likely to be a skeptic. The age group most skeptical and with the biggest change in skepticism is those 65 and older. The immutable group is those 18 to 29, who have been stuck at 31% skeptics. Of course, these are the most indoctrinated Americans of all.

60% worry about global warming either a great deal or a fair amount. First, not all of the 60% who worry about it are likely to be convinced that it is predominantly caused by man's CO2 emissions. Second, worrying a fair amount is not what you do when faced with a catastrophe. A catastrophe causes a great deal of worry and only 34% worried a great deal about global warming. When the question was put another way, only 38% thought global warming will pose a serious threat to themselves and their own way of life.

Well, maybe the Economist being based in the U.K. is thinking that most Britons believe that global warming is occurring, is caused by man emitting CO2, and that it is a catastrophe. Yet, the level of skepticism in Great Britain is now even higher than in the U.S.! They went through a period when they were more convinced than were Americans, but now they have examined the issue more carefully and the majority do not believe that man-made global warming is occurring and is a catastrophe. Here is a report on the Ipsos MORI poll of 1,039 Britons in June 2008. Six out of 10 people agreed that "many scientific experts still question if humans are contributing to climate change." 20% were undecided. Four out of 10 "sometimes think climate change might not be as bad as people say." Again 20% were undecided.

It is unlikely that most Chinese and most Indians agree that man-made global warming is occurring and it is a catastrophe. It does not appear that most Eastern Europeans are convinced that man-made global warming is a catastrophe. I have serious doubts that most Africans and South Americans are very worried about catastrophic global warming either. So, who do you think the people are who the Economist is talking about? I expect it is the university faculties and the media professionals they are talking about as 'most people.' Or is this just another instance of the Big Lie? Still another being the reference in the British article I linked to above that 2,500 scientists concluded in the last IPCC report that global warming was 90% certainly due primarily to human activity and that drastic action was needed to prevent it. Well, very many of the 2,500 were not scientists at all and only a small fraction were really climate scientists, and many of them did not agree with the summary conclusions.

Let us return to the Economist article. The exhaust from a coal-fired power station is around 10% carbon dioxide. The atmosphere is about 0.04% CO2. So, recapturing CO2 from the air is much less economical than recovering it from a coal-powered power plant. If it were economical to recover it from the air, then it should be more economical to recover from coal-fired power plants. In fact, this could then be a way for a coal-fired power plant to make more money. But, they do not do this because it is too expensive. While there is a fairly big market for CO2, apparently it does not pay very much and it is not big enough. But, our socialist friends at the Economist are not deterred. No, they appeal for subsidies and carbon off-sets to fund scrubbers which will operate on ordinary air.

Dr. Lackner, professor of geophysics at Columbia University and a member of the company Global Research Technologies, says they have a scrubbing technology that can remove CO2 from the air for industrial purposes at $200 per ton. To support this with carbon offsets now valued at only $10 per ton is not going to be feasible. But, environmentalists hope that carbon offsets will soon be valued at over $50 per ton and Dr. Lackner hopes to bring his costs down to $30 per ton. If so, the general air scrubbing can be accomplished with carbon offsets as the primary income. [In 1999, according to DOE, the average weight of carbon dioxide emitted per kW - hr of electric power from a coal-fired power plant was 2.095 pounds. At $30 per ton of CO2, this would increase the cost of 1 KW - hr of electricity by $0.0314.]

Then one still has to find a way to use this CO2. The Economist suggests that it might be converted into fuel for cars, but the conversion will cost about $4-5 per gallon according to a Dr. Eisaman. But, the primary cost is the energy needed to strip hydrogen electrolytically from water to combine the hydrogen with the carbon in the CO2 to make the hydrocarbon fuel for cars. So, Dr. Lackner suggests that wind farms sometimes generate too much electricity for the electric grid to handle, especially at night, so their output could be used to supply the power that produces the hydrogen from water and otherwise power the proces to make fuel from CO2. The idea is that then the air capture systems for removing CO2 from the air would have cheap enough power to allow the scrubbing of air using carbon offsets.

There is a flaw here, folks. Long before you can make this make sense, it would be more sensible to recognize that coal-fired power plants are dependable and cheap, while wind farms are expensive, undependable, and inclined to produce more power at night than during the day, when more power is needed. Clearly, the thing that must make much more sense is to put the scrubber on the output of the coal-fired power plant where the CO2 concentration is 10%, rather than feeding it regular air where the CO2 concentration is only 0.04%. Operating a scrubber on the CO2 enriched air should be much less expensive.

So, what is the motive in suggesting that we dump the coal-fired power plants and oil-based fuel for cars and replace them with wind farms, general air scrubbers, and synthetic fuel for cars that costs more than twice what gasoline costs? Why would you want to continue with the plan to bankrupt the coal-fired power plants as Obama has pledged to do? But, even more so, if CO2 makes plants grow better in greenhouses, should we not want more CO2 in the air anyway to make our crops throughout the world grow better? And to the degree that we need CO2 for industrial purposes, would it not make sense to encourage the producers of CO2 to work more closely with coal-fired power plants to make them a primary source of the enriched air with higher concentrations of CO2? And, perhaps it would make sense to build a lot of greenhouses right next to coal-fired power plants so the plant output air can be piped directly through them before we add on lots of carbon offsets and carbon taxes. I also wonder if the carbon dioxide output of gasoline and diesel is ever offset by the amount of CO2 pumped into oil fields in anyone's calculations.

Of course, I do not think it is bad in the air. First, it is known that after a certain concentration of CO2 is reached, it has less and less effect as a greenhouse gas. Its present concentration is already such that additions are doing little to add to warming. Second, there is reason to believe that increased CO2 causes increased water evaporation and cloud cover, which produces cooling. Third, the earth has often been warmer and man has flourished when it was, largely because plants and other animals tend to flourish when it is warmer. Fourth, the areas of the earth which are warming most are those where warming is the most welcome, such as northern North America, northern Europe, and northern Russia. Finally, while I think that man does cause some degree of global warming, I believe that warming has been dominated by natural forces.

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