22 Feb 2009

Those floating Oases Again


Back in August 2006 I floated an idea which (so far as I knew) was original, although as it seemed obvious to me, I assumed it had been thought of already. Certainly between March and August of that year, I discussed it freely on the Climate Chage newsgroup (via Google's reader) and had some positive responses.

Tonight I watched an experiment to verify the potential of this idea - on the Discovery channel. I'm glad to see others have come up with the idea independantly (or read it on the group and took it further as I encouraged them to do).

Hungry Oceans
Oceans cover 70 percent of our planet and are one of the most important carbon sinks we have, but the phytoplankton that convert carbon dioxide into living matter are declining – and many scientists believe that Climate Change is the culprit. Dr. Brian von Herzen of The Climate Foundation join forces with Marine Biologists at the University of Hawaii and Oregon State University to deploy three wave powered pumps. They head into the huge swells of the North Pacific in an attempt to restore this critical natural mixing effect.

14 Feb 2009

The Future of Energy Transmission


Using Methane to transmit energy

I doubt that we will, in the long term, transmit electricity from wind turbines. It makes far more sense to use the electricity onsite to generate methane (or methanol for remote areas that need a tanker collection) and plug it in to the existing gas network. The technology for this is not yet cheaply available, but people are working on it.

    Methane generation blows all the objections of the doubters out of the water:
  • It can be stored easily, so you never need to leave a turbine idle when it's not needed.
  • It can be shipped to every home and business in the UK with ease, and exported to generate revenue.
  • It can be used as a feedstock for heavier liquid fuels and plastics, eliminating the need for fossil fuels completely.
  • It can be burned, if necessary, in gas-fired power stations for baseload and high-demand electricity use.
  • Since it is made, in this instance, from water and CO2, there is no net cost to the environment*.
  • You can use all types of renewable energy, including microgeneration, to power the same distribution network with zero load balancing issues.
  • You can provide every home and business with its own methane-powered generator, making electricity transmission a thing of the past.

*beyond the hardware and inevitable but hopefully minimised leaks

Imagine replacing every eyesore pylon with a turbine?

Methods of Generating Methane or Methanol

Bearing in mind that free methane is an extremely bad idea I thought I would raise a few ideas about how to go about generating methane on demand using just (sea) water, air and ambient energy (which may or may not be turned into electricity) such as wind, waves, tides and sunlight.

The first method is an engineered organism, derived from methanogens.

There is a kind of autotrophy which is far less familiar. This kind is labelled chemoautotrophy because it relies on chemical processes rather than light for the energy needed for food production. Instead of dumping oxygen, these organisms dump other metabolic waste products. Methanogens, the ones with which we are most concerned, dump methane. Although numerous organic molecules, including acetate, formate, and methyl alcohol, can be used as the source of carbon, the simplest methanogenesis reaction employs carbon dioxide and hydrogen:

(carbon dioxide)+(hydrogen)(yields)(methane)+(water)


So, generate a hydrogen-rich atmosphere in a reaction chamber filled with these organisms using hydrolosis, syphon off the methane waste product, recycle the water into the hydrolysis section, and you have a methane-generator that also oxygenates the surrounding seawater. As they grow, they will need a nutrient stream, but if they are able to feed off their own dead, that could be self-contained. Otherwise, they may need an effluent stream, such as sewage, to live off, the remnants of which might prove effective fertiliser for the oxygen-rich waters.

Alternatively, the technologies developed for coal gasification may offer a more mechanical way to achieve the goal, given a way to concentrate the CO2 and reduce it to CO (perhaps using focused beam solar)


The most active organisation in this area is, however, Nasa who are looking at ways to generate methanol from CO2 in the Martian atmosphere. They do say in the linked article, talking about potential commercial applications:

Current methods of methanol production yield about 27 million metric tons worldwide per year, with the principal feedstocks being natural gas, coal, and wood. All of these have other applications. In contrast, a MMISPP based methanol factory could use renewable energy sources to combine the CO2emissions from existing industrial plants (such as steel mills) with water to produce methanol, thereby supplying the economy with large quantities of storable fuel, while reducing or eliminating steel mill CO2emissions.

8 Feb 2009

Fight the enemy, not his weapons.


Our number one goal is to bring about change. Any campaign that scares off potential supporters and marginalises the remainder is counter-productive. We have to start thinking in the short terms and practical realities that politicians are forced to consider.

1. Meat is Murder.

We certainly have to look at reducing meat content in our diets, but calling for global veganism is too extreme and attacks the generality when it is the specifics that matter. We have to move away from intensive farming to a more labour-intensive organic system, and that means rearing animals in a natural way with a varied diet so they can fertilise the land they live on and bind up large volumes of carbon in the soils.

Often the best way of looking at the problem is to figure out why a particular activity leads to large emissions. With meat-eating, it's because the volumes we demand lead to factory farming. Do away with factory farming, then adjust your meat intake to match production in less intensive ways. Reducing population will allow significant meat content without harming the atmosphere.

One must also consider that, within the carbon cycle, biomass is just biomass, no matter what form it takes. Any animals that exist will produce methane and CO2, and even if they are part of a manmade/managed ecosystem, they are still a part of the natural cycle of carbon and do not add anything man-made. Those animals that are extracted from anything that might be called an ecosystem and reared artificially, however, are extraneous to the natural cycle, and their emissions should be eliminated.

2. All Cars are Bad

Again the target is wrong. We have to stop burning fossil fuels to make and power cars, and reuse/recycle every part they contain. A car is not inherently wrong. We just have to make their manufacture and use low- to zero-impact.

3. Evil King Coal.

Burning coal should be phased out as rapidly as possible - except in those rare instances where using coal has no significant impact on the environment. Coal can be used for a large number of things, just so long as none of its by-products from use are released into the atmosphere.

Take, for example, plastics and carbon nanotubes (and this holds true for all fossil fuels). They require long-chain hydrocarbons for efficient manufacture. They often incorporate molecular structures that would be poisonous if set free in the world. But plastics are frequently the most stable forms of carbon sequestration there is. When Oil peaks, it's not just the price of fuel that will sky-rocket (as it did last summer). The price of everything that uses oil as a feedstock will go through the roof too.

We might also consider a campaign against biodegradable plastics. Burying megatonnes of plastic deep in the ground where it will remain indefinitely is one way to sequester fossil carbon more or less permanently and avoid it turning to methane.

4. Too Many Children.

Population control happens anyway - there's no need to campaign for it. In any country where women are educated and have ready access to contraception, fertility rates fall - ultimately to below 2.1 per couple, which is the level for sustained population. Most of Europe, Japan and North America are already below this rate and worrying increasingly about demographics - with a falling number of workers supporting a rising number of pension-welfare dependants.

So climate campaigners can join the existing, highly positive campaign, and keep quiet about their reasons. Campaign vigorously for universal primary education for girls (as well as boys), and for family planning clinics throughout the third world. Oppose those who object to any form of effective contraception. Encourage healthcare for children so that their parents do not think they need any 'spare capacity'.

Above all, remember that the enemy is not lifestyles, over consumption and wealth. The enemy is the wanton burning of fossil fuels and the lack of support for sustainable alternatives, coupled with unsustainable population growth caused by ignorance and lack of access to condoms or the pill.

The goal is to live in harmony with the world, taking what it can give, and give again the following year without any danger of running out.