For decades the US government has funded research into “clean coal” technology. Billions of dollars have been spent with the only visible result being employment for a small army of government coal researchers and academics. Now scientists at Ohio State University have announced that, after 15 years of effort, they have produced a breakthrough—a new technology capable of turning coal green and carbon dioxide emission free. This was widely reported in the news media and passed practically without critical comment. Is it true? Is coal no longer the dirty, devil spawned fuel of evil industrialists everywhere?
Scientists believe that carbon released from the ocean floor played a key role in past episodes of climate change. Around 55 million years ago, the break-up of the northeast Atlantic continents was associated with the injection of large amounts of molten magma into seafloor sediments. Formation of the North Atlantic basalts heated the carbon-rich sediments, triggering the release of large quantities of methane and carbon dioxide into the ocean and atmosphere. It has been suggested that this release of previously sequestered carbon was responsible for a 100,000 year period of rapid temperature rise known as the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum or PETM. Three letters published in Nature Geoscience suggest that carbon trapped beneath the seabed continues to influence carbon dynamics, at least in the deep ocean.
World wide emission of CO2 from fossil fuel burning decreased by 1.3% in 2009 owing to the global financial and economic crisis says a report in Nature Geoscience. Estimated CO2 emissions from deforestation and other land-use changes (LUCs) have also declined compared with the 1990s. The decrease in greenhouse gas emissions was blamed on the contraction of GDP owing to the global financial crisis that began in 2008. Not so fast, say warmist scientists. They claim that CO2 will rise by 4.8% in 2010, proving that what should be treated as good news is not welcome in climate change circles.
In the November 12, 2010, issue of Science a number of news focus articles decry the results of the 2010 US elections and the possible impact those results may have on the fight against global warming. Staff reporters for the AAAS flagship journal are all atwitter about the evil Republicans coming back into power, and they are not alone. Reportedly, many researchers fear the worst after the Republican victory at the polls produced a 25-plus-seat majority in the House of Representatives and reduced the Democrats' hold on the Senate. The $20 billion for scientific research that was part of the $787 billion stimulus package may have been the high water mark for government funding during the Obama administration.
One of the arguments used by critics of nuclear power is that there is not enough uranium to power a nuclear world for an extended time. The energy hungry world would just be trading looming oil shortages for uranium shortages, they claim. As with most anti-nuclear scare-mongering these charges are totally bogus. MIT has just released a major report on the nuclear fuel cycle that finds uranium supplies will not limit the expansion of nuclear power in the US or around the world for the foreseeable future. It suggests that nuclear power, even using today’s reactor technology with the wasteful once-through fuel cycle, can play a significant part in satisfying the world's future energy needs.
For those who believe in anthropogenic global warming, carbon dioxide is public enemy number one. They warn that CO2 must be avoided at all costs or Earth will heat up uncontrollably causing all sorts of ecological havoc. One proposal for avoiding global warming is the sequestration of CO2 by trapping it at combustion sites or extracting it directly from the air. Supposedly, such sequestration could help avoid a large rise in atmospheric CO2 from the use of fossil fuels, avoiding the hellish fate that surely awaits mankind otherwise. Referred to as carbon capture and storage (CCS), the coal industry has seized on sequestration as a way to get greens off their backs and stay in business. However, it is not clear how effective different types of sequestration and associated leakage are in the long term, or what their consequences might be. A recent paper takes a critical look at the sequestration option.
One of the more attractive forms of green renewable energy is geothermal—harnessing the natural heat of Earth's interior to provide warmth and electricity. Unfortunately, geothermal is really only viable in limited areas around the globe, due to crust thickness and strata type. One of those fortunate places is the American Southwest, the eastern part of California and the states of Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado. The sixteen geothermal plants already present in California's the Imperial Valley are among the first signs of what California hopes will become a renewable-energy boom. But without water these plants cannot generate any power, and their water comes from far away—from the already stressed Colorado river.
With the oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico emboldening all the denizens of the eco-underground, some voices are once again calling for increased production of biofuels—ethanol and biodiesel—and accelerated research into clean coal. Ignoring the fact that biofuels take as much energy to produce as they provide and that they are only competitive with heavy government subsidies, biofuel boosters are again trying to sell their snake-oil to the public. But the single most damning aspect of biofuel production is the exorbitant amount of water it takes to cook-up a gallon of the stuff. Now it appears that the other great energy scam, clean coal, will also increase water usage—by a whopping 80%. With the world facing a real water crisis in the near future, the last thing any government should be doing is wasting their citizens' money on are “green” energy scams that are really just subsidies for coal companies and big agribusiness conglomerates.
In the face of ever mounting evidence that CO2 is incapable of causing the level of global devastation prophesied by climate change catastrophists a new villain is being sought. The leading candidate is nitrous oxide (N2O), better known as laughing gas. A report in Science claims that N2O emissions are currently the single most important cause of ozone depletion and are expected to remain so throughout the 21st century. The IPCC rates N2O as 310 times as potent a greenhouse gas as CO2 on a 100 year time scale. Is this a greenhouse gas bait and switch, or are the global warming alarmists trying to up the ante?
The search for ways to reduce carbon emissions has led to government grant money for schemes ranging from promising to wacky. Recognizing that there is no currently viable replacement for fossil fuels, with the possible exception of nuclear power, the US and other countries with large coal deposits are desperately looking for ways to continue burning coal without incurring the wrath of nature or the IPCC. Clear evidence of the seriousness of this effort is evident in this week's special edition of Science, dedicated to carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) technology.
Even though the new US President gives occasional lip service to nuclear energy, recent actions by his administration force us to ask, “is the Obama administration trying to kill nuclear energy?” The first indication that Obama's support for nuclear power was less than whole hearted came during the stimulus debate, when a push to include tens of billions of dollars in insurance for new nuclear reactors failed. Then, the Obama administration came out this month against storing nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain, Nevada.
Northern Ireland's environment minister, Sammy Wilson, announced Monday he has banned British government TV ads on climate change and denounced their energy-saving message as “insidious propaganda.” Wilson said the Act on CO2 ads were “giving people the impression that by turning off the standby light on their TV, they could save the world from melting glaciers and being submerged in 40 feet of water.”
Listening to the verbal posturing by some eco-activists and like minded politicians might give one the impression that, with the recent sharp drop in world oil prices, all pressure to accelerate domestic oil production has abated. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Once again the counter argument is made by the most unlikely of sources, the OEDC IEA—an organization that, along with the UN IPCC, helped serve as ground zero for the global warming hysteria outbreak of recent times.