Sometimes we overlook the simplest approaches. We should plant trees. Lots of them. It's not a perfect solution, but it's the simplest, can be adapted to every environment, has costs that are relative to local economies, doesn't depend upon global supply chains, doesn't require human maintenance after initial planting, etc.
That's because it's not a solution at all:
We need to stop tilling and grow diverse, more than 8, species wherever we can.
Five tenants of soil health https://youtu.be/uUmIdq0D6-A
NASA CO2 https://youtu.be/x1SgmFa0r04
Here's a back of the envelope calculation: a tree absorbs about 48 pounds of CO2/year , which is 22kg. So, one trillion trees absorb 22 GT/year. The world puts out 36 GT/year (or about 50 GT of CO2-equivalent if you include methane and other greenhouse gases). One trillion might not be enough, but 2 could do the trick.
All the trees that were cut down to built my house are not rotting - that carbon is captured and out of the system until/unless my house is burned down or left to rot.
It's funny to think - right now "green building" tries to minimize the amount of wood in a structure, but are we approaching a future where green building means locking up as much wood product in a structure as possible, to get it out of the carbon cycle?
It just might help to shed some light on something akin to the blockchain/machine learning hypecycle bubbles amongst startups.
- C removal requires lots of energy (can't avoid thermodynamics)
- electricity on that scale is either expensive, dirty, or both
- cheap/clean energy is intermittent (and still a small percentage)
- excessive electricity is as bad as not enough electricity
- build lots of new (safe and cheaper) nuclear power plants
- hook them up to the grid and use them as peakers (!), and using them for C removal on off-times
- provides cheap and clean (from the perspective of C footprint) energy
- solves the intermittency problem of wind/solar
- provides abundant energy for C removal
Assumption: that safe nuclear fission power plants (using Thorium, MSR, .. reactors) are feasible and can be built on the cheap (for some value of "cheap")
The development of next-gen/thorium/msr/whatever from first-commercial-success to repeatable-and-therefore-cheaper is, even in a highly optimistic scenario, a 30+ year proposition. I fervently believe we should fund and invest in that r&d, but even if it pans out (which I bet it would, but you have to acknowledge its our guess), its simply not a part of our "it is time to act now" timeline.
I do this all the time too, its largely a part of the fact that many of us are middle aged men now. We were taught to think of, and mentally frame this as, an "over the course of the next several decades" type of problem. In which case a nuclear solution was fairly obviously the best path available.
The problem is we didn't take that path. And the decades have passed. So while we should start down that path now ASAP from an r&d/investment perspective, it is almost completely a distraction today from a "net-zero in 20-30 years" perspective.
I guess what I'm mostly trying to say is, whenever engaging in the climate-change/energy-generation-mix "debate" these days, try to mentally factor in time as one of the top constraints in your model. Here's an IPCC chart of four example scenarios that show you what the slope of the curves need to look like:
Also, if storage remains expensive at scale, so that wind/solar gets very expensive past 80% market penetration, nuclear would be a low-carbon way to fill in that last 20%. It doesn't do away with the need to roll out wind/solar as fast as we can, but it helps us with the hard part later.
Nuclear also may be well-suited for industrial applications requiring process heat instead of electricity.
But another main factor is the destruction of the densest of those ecosystems, the rain forest on a large scale.
That is my answer, stop humans/companies/countries from destroying the rain forest on a large scale (I'm looking at brazil and neighbors) and think of ways to rebuild lost rainforest in an efficient way. I am going to wager, from the knowledge and experience I gathered in my years of living, there is no other solution that is sustainable.
We've spent over 200 years pumping carbon into the atmosphere from a source we can't return it to. No amount of growing forests is going to fix this issue without being able to turn those forests into carbon that's in the ground. We need to get carbon out of the carbon cycle. The natural life of plants doesn't do that.
Edit: we might be able to do it, if we can somehow turn land where forests don't grow into forests.
Fast growing plants are probably the most effective carbon extraction we have. Problem is when they die they turn back into CO2.
So we should bury those plants before they rot. Our excess CO2 stems mostly from dead plants and animals that have been buried. Seems sensible to put some of our excess back into the ground.
You’d have to be extracting more carbon than your diggers consume (since even today I don’t think this has electrified and capable of running on solar). Your diggers are consuming concentrated carbon compressed from plant and animal biomass under high pressure and energy over millions of years. It seems highly unlikely just growing and burying biomass is sufficient. Additionally, I’m pretty sure the CO2 is just going to leak out in large quantities since, unlike the naturally sequestered CO2 we extract from the ground, you have bacteria that can break down the biomass and let the CO2 escape as a gas. Which means we have serious additional efficiency losses.
The only solution that could work for sequestration as far as I can tell seems like an industrial process powered by nuclear because it breaks the energy cycle completely to accomplish the task. Solar is popular but I’m skeptical that renewables are up to the task that’s required to undo several hundred years of fossil fuels being the engine of the world’s industrial progress.
Greater than 80% of farm land soil is dead. What little carbon that is built up in a season is released in the spring when the field is tilled.
No till, diverse cover crops, and animals (a complete ecosystem) stores immense amounts of carbon in the soil.
In WV we have tons of old strip mine - we should fill them up with plants and bury it.
If we did something like that I imagine the biomass under the earth would compress over time and the land above would end up shifting and causing issues for anyone that wants to use it.
Edit - Daydreaming about this scenario and I am imagining trying to sell the idea of refilling the old coal mines with biomass to folks living in coal country. An interesting and funny situation.
Taking (sustainably harvested) wood from old trees which are close to dying anyway and using this wood to build durable (lasting decades) houses would be helpful.
This would channel carbon from the natural cycle into an artificial reservoir made up of buildings.
Questions left unanswered:
- would this reservoir be big enough?
- is the rate of carbon fixation sufficient?
And there are many possible ways to control the climate in a smart way instead of trying to simply remove CO2. One possibility is to use ocean thermal energy conversion plants , to cool down tropical region of northern hemisphere, artificially re-creating conditions that cause green Sahara periodically. Aubrey de Greys new moonshot https://viento.ai/ is working on similar ideas.
I recon the problem isn't what humans need to live but rather what many of them want to have.
It grows rapidly. The fruits (bud) are valuable and the remaining plant material can be compressed and buried.
One interesting approach with plants is to pyrolise them to make biochar - essentially turn them to charcoal. You get a bit of hydrocarbon gas out of them, which you can sell to pay the bills (this is the biggest problem with any carbon capture - there's basically no way to pay the bills), and then you bury the pure carbon that you're left with.
I did a bit of research on this a while back and wrote up the calculations here:https://concretecuts.xyz/articles/biochar
Essentially we'd need to devote quite large amounts of land towards this if we wanted to compensate for our current emissions - something like 66% of the world's forests would need to be periodically cut down, with around 1% cut down and pyrolised each year.
You could probably get some easy wins with existing wood and crop waste - by my estimate we could capture 3% of global emissions just by pyrolising Europe's existing biofuel feedstocks.
Artificially growing algea in pools and using that to make fuel/ pump it underground so the fermentation products don't get released is not nearly efficient enough to be viable. Ironically this usually also uses fertilizers which are dependent on the fossil fuel industry.
See the article we are talking about here. First you spend energy to bring up carbon. Then you spend more energy to get it back down again. The math does not check out. Not bringing up the carbon in the first place would have been far more beneficial for atmospheric CO2 levels.
Worse, they plan to do more of the oil-digging: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-norway-oil-environment-id... (this is dated Dec 2020)
"Norway wants to lead on climate change. But first it must face its legacy of oil and gas." -- "An expert explains Norway’s climate change paradox." -- https://www.vox.com/22227063/norway-oil-gas-climate-change
However Norway is not the sole oil producer. If demand is not reduced and other producers compensate for our reduction, then that won't really help the planet at all.
As such it seems reducing demand would be the best way. Not that easy to achieve on a global scale though, it would seem.
Reality is that Norway is increasingly subsidizing it's oil industry in a way that is not sustainable - especially not economically.
Instead of investing in the future Norway is investing in old dying industries - our Corona package contains almost no investments in sustainable technologies even thought the economy is heading for a hard shock the next time the oil price takes a dive.
Reducing demand and reducing supply both help in getting the CO2 emissions down. A good start would be to just stop subsidizing the fossil fuel industry.
I absolutely agree that we should focus a lot more on making new jobs that aren't oil-related, and stop investing in oil like we do. Oil is most definitely not the future, and we should push hard to make a transition starting yesterday.
That's not at odds with what I wrote above though. Reducing climate change is a global game of prisoners dilemma.
That's part of my point. Making an impact against climate change requires everyone to work together while sacrificing something, like the mutually best outcome for the prisoners.
However not following that path can be very economically beneficial to a country, at least short term.
Thus there's incentive to ignore climate change and not work together, like the example I gave earlier. If someone else will pump the oil that we won't and the oil is getting burned all the same, why should Norway take that hit? That's what the dilemma the prisoner has.
I mean, just look at how hard the delegations worked to get the Paris agreement signed. I mean, good thing they did but it was a fairly wimpy compared to what was and is likely needed.
- Catching CO2 of unavoidable CO2 emitting processes, namely burning trash. In Europe we decided that we do not want landfills anymore, and what cannot be recycled has to be burned. We already start with a higher CO2 concentration, and have energy that is created while burning. Seems like a perfect opportunity for catching CO2.
- Natural processes that catch CO2: Trees, olivine, ...
- Systems for better indoor air with controlled home ventilation systems: I guess you will find people willing to pay for air with a lower CO2 content.
Unfortunately, carbon capture and storage is not economical (yet). Let's hope it will be soon, with EU CO2 prices already reaching 50 euros / ton this week .
If I understand this International Energy Agency report correctly, many forms of carbon capture become economical if these price levels subsist in the EU (and other economic blocs impose similar prices on their industry).
Charcoal is pretty much pure carbon and that's what we should be putting into the ground. Putting CO2 into the ground runs into problems because you have to deal with the fact that you are burying a gas (gasses don't like to be contained).
So skip that, and instead focus on burying pure carbon.
This sort of operation would need a stable cap and trade or carbon tax system to be profitable.
I should also add, I think China or somewhere in the hot parts of Africa would be a a good place for this as it would be a large area operation. Sadly as an Australian we suffer from regulatory capture and a carbon tax won't be back on the cards for some time.
IMO, barring some breakthrough, biology will be the most efficient mechanism for capture. Millions of years of evolution have made plants and algae pretty good at carbon capture as the carbon levels slowly depleted (until recently).
An appealing benefit of biological carbon capture is the fact that all biology is solar powered. All the non-biological solutions required a pretty hefty energy input from somewhere. I mean, I guess it's nice that you could provide that from solar/wind/or nuclear. But then it's also nice to not require transmission lines for energy input.
I'm hoping someone can find, or mix and match an algae in lab that will have the right mix ofproperties to explosively grow.
Providing food stock will be tricky, either through something very efficient like straight sugar or designing the algae to consume anything which could have other upside benefits.
And like all well meaning engineering the real challenge will be making sure the algae that can grow by eating anything doesn't get out of the pond.
But if you provide too much nutrient, too much algae grow, and when they die and decompose they absorb all the oxygen in the water and kill the whole ecosystem. (That's called eutrophication).
Solar has a problem that consumers tend to need more energy during the night. So the solution is to pipe electricity from somewhere east so everyone's electricity is piped in from say a location east where its still light.
I got the idea when I heard Singapore wants to run a cable to Australia to get solar because they are too small for renewables.
If if could work for those planners it might work elsewhere. People are talking about pumped hydro as batteries, that's good for storage but this is more of a on demand system.
Cool idea, probably unrealistic.
If you have a truly ridiculous amount of free or almost free photovoltaics somewhere, you could theoretically crack hydrogen from seawater and compress it into tanks, ship it elsewhere (using hydrogen powered ships, hopefully) to be run through giant proton exchange membrane fuel cells. Right now its economics are prohibitively bad. But do the math if the electricity to run the cracking process was far under 1 cent per kWh...
The public assume that it's just a matter of building a "big wire", but the "big" here has to be so big to be effective that we're actually into the realm of new materials science.
The idea of solar panels in Africa powering homes in Europe is probably unlikely to happen for a long time, and even if it did history has shown us time and again that a distributed network is far more resilient than a centralised one, and so the best solutions look a lot more like putting solar panels on every house.
Edit: OK I looked it up again and there are two stages. The one that's having actual work done is beaming energy between two places on earth, but the space one is being "explored".
(Most of the 1970s proposals are basically pleas for funding with cool Syd Mead concept art attached, they were never mathematically feasible even in their own era without some other breakthroughs)
If you are beaming serous amount of energy toward earth, you better have a good answer to that. Or you will get the visit of very serious people with no sense of humor.
And the difference between an airliner and a cruise missile is? And the difference between a rocket and an ICBM is? By your argument, we wouldn't be using those technologies. And yet we do, on a daily basis.
The known reaction time window of a ballistic missile is ~15 minutes (for russia) to 30m (for the USA) and is already too short, leading to near russian launch at least once that we know of.
The reaction time for any space based weapon is down to minutes to seconds. Putting them into orbit is already a war declaration.
This is not something that will be allowed without heavy international control and multi national regulation.
is the presence of failsafe mechanisms using lasers around the energy beam so that if any of these lasers are not anymore aligned with its receptors (or if they are interrupted by any obstacle) then the energy beam is immediately cut.
It can even be implemented via optomechanical systems, to be better failure resilient.
The problem is 'What assurance does the Department of State have that your space death ray is not going to be deliberately pointed at the next RNC?' and 'What assurances does the Ministry of Foreign Affairs have that it is not going to be deliberately pointed at the May Day Parade?'
You're incredibly unlikely to explain yourself to the satisfaction of both of those groups of people at the same time.
Never mind that this is also a multiple-orders-of-magnitude-impractical means of generating energy.
Plus, you can count on the bazillion scientists working on it to whistleblow any sticks that would have been put in their wheels during the design if the military wanted to middle.
There are only two kinds of projects: secret projects for the military, and civil projects where the design and the safety are pretty much the thing of hundreds engineers not bound by military oaths.
If the system is designed to be cut in the event that it would be unaligned with its on-ground receptors, through opto-mechanical interrupters, then you cannot use it for an aggression, unless you move the on-ground receptors all the way to your target, but that would be very flagrant and difficult to hide, and every worker at the receptor facility would see it, as well as any other civilian far or near the project.
The only way that such satellite could go wrong is if it actually does not integrate such failsafe mechanisms, and if its real design is hidden, and ill-known to anybody except a handful of military-secret-bound engineers.
If I were to follow your reasoning, then by the same rule any energy plant or even any technological artifact would be incredibly unsafe. But the fact is that we integrate security mechanisms in those, and are mostly satisfied with them, such that we accept to use these technologies.
Of course accidents happen, but the security mechanisms evolve too. Some are so good that they rarely fail anymore, like for example the master cylinder in car brakes (it is an actuator that enhances your effort on the brakes, but if it fails then you end up just pushing raw on the brakes and thus it works anyway, just a little harder).
Of course, this kind of Dyson sphere project will require quite a bit of popular education to convince and explain why its mechanisms make it safe.
This reminds me of the company who developed RNA vaccines because they don't risk to change cells' DNA and they are safer globally, and then they have to explain endlessly to people that no, it's not an evil design, and, no, it does not even include nano-5G-antennas....
I don't care to comment on the dictatorship case, that's bad anyway if they launch any satellite at all, we'll never know what's in, so that's not an actionable subject of discussion (except, shoot down all of their spacecrafts).
Any country with ASW capabilities would find it prudent to shoot this thing down, because there is no defense from it being used against it - with exactly zero warning.
So, any project conducted for the sake of energy production, i.e. in the civilian realm, would have no chance to include these elements of aggression.
Heck, in democracies, even for military projects that are too evil, there are whistleblowers. Especially in high-tech projects, because among scientists there is quite a bit this kind of mindset.
You've got your directions backwards.
7pm in NYC is 4pm in SF, so you wanted to use solar power to provide evening energy then you generate in the West (SF) to power the East (NY).
Transporting electric power over long distances comes at a cost since wires are resistors unless you're using superconductors which still rrquire low temperatures to work.
There's a 3200km(2000 mile) long, 12GW HVDC transmission line somewhere in China that does exactly that.
Its main purpose is to connect regional grids but given the sheer length of the thing the difference in solar time at each end is well over an hour - could have been better, but that would require a different angle.
"April 2010 announcement for a 2,000 MW, 64 km line between Spain and France is estimated at €700 million. This includes the cost of a tunnel through the Pyrenees"
That might be true for private households, but it's not true for the average electricity consumer.
For example: https://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.php?id=42915
The energy required by individual households can be easily stored in a decentralized manner with batteries (e.g. Powerwall).
A side note, I had never heard of Casey Handmer before seeing this. I'm wondering how he appears to be a software developer at JPL but markets himself as some CEO-for-hire on only interesting problems...
Casey's writing is second to none on doing engineering analysis.
A few of my favs:
This is a nice (side) job if u can get it. Where do u see any marketing like that in his blog?
As a side note. The blog seems very knowledgable and technical. So good for him.
Whales act as a nutrient pump in the ocean; beside the 30-tons of carbon they capture and sink over their lifetime in their own biomass, they eat in the deepest parts of the ocean and come back to the surface to breathe, where they release a large amount of nitrate, phosphorus and iron every time they defecate, causing a lot of algal growth.
restoring whales population to their pre-industrial levels could have the same effect as planting several billion trees.
I would like to see the maths on that :D Whales usually don't create their own microclimate or provide a habit for a number of species. They also don't rebuild and support topsoil, can't be harvested for fibres and are not very suitable as building materials.
In other words, trees are more versatile than whales.
Can it ever compete with finding the thing that currently emits the most fossil carbon and replacing it with something that doesn't do that as much?
Seems like a lot of the carbon capture funding has historically came from Industries that did not want to stop emitting fossil carbon, since that was a key part of their main business, and so needed something that was at least vaguely-plausible as a future solution so they could keep emitting carbon today.
A carbon price, as mentioned in the article, would also pit these two things against each other directly. Generate carbon and pay someone to bury it, or just don't emit it in the first place.
If you change this, you may end up screwing up the climate even more.
> A 2019 study of the global potential for tree restoration showed that there is space for at least 9 million km2 of new forests worldwide, which is a 25% increase from current conditions. This forested area could store up to 205 gigatons of carbon or 25% of the atmosphere's current carbon pool by reducing CO2 in the atmosphere and introducing more O2.
Wikipedia claims algae has very high water requirements (>600L of water for 1L of fuel) https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Algae_fuel
Is this actually the problem or is there other factors? A lot more is needed for 1kg of beef or certain crops.
I live in the tropics and water usage is just never an issue and if it was they'd actually store some of what falls from the sky. Truly doubt that water is the real bottleneck here.
edit: From the wiki page
Among algal fuels' attractive characteristics are that they can be grown with minimal impact on fresh water resources, can be produced using saline and wastewater
The retort to this theory would be that a company with a lot of resources could simply invest in the new technology.
But with the level of lazy corruption in the world it seems possible that these entities might be suppressing the technology somehow.
It's not a conspiracy, it's just capitalism chasing returns.
Maybe not the worst analogy would be the comparison between two systems for mining cryptocurrency: A, a specialized chip (ASIC), specifically designed to efficiently run the required algorithms and B, a general purpose PC that has all kinds of peripherals (monitor, keyboard, mouse, hard drive, ...) attached to it, drawing additional power that doesn't benefit the mining.
B of course will never beat A in terms of energy efficiency.
So I'd guess if there's a purely chemical/enzymatic process that can do the job, it'll be that, rather than a whole cell/organism.
> In theory would only need sunlight and water to operate ...
Don't forget minerals.
Surely they have optimised their industrial processes, which could be repurposed into a large storage unit rather than a cast iron gas bottle?
If you are interested in founding something in the space, please reach out!
The US Forest Service estimates that 1 acre of forest stores about 80 tons of carbon. You could store about 180 billion tons of carbon onto that area if it were all a forest.
CO2 makes up about 3 trillion tons of the atmosphere. ~27% of it is carbon, therefore there is roughly 800 billion tons of carbon in the atmosphere.
It seems plausible that if we somehow planted a forest on the entire Sahara desert, that we could reduce the amount of carbon in the atmosphere by a significant amount.
I hope I didn't make any errors in my calculations.
Answer that's missing in the article:
CO2 is one of the stablest elements in the atmosphere. Removing it will require humongous amounts of energy (as a rule of the thumb, more energy than the energy-producing process that generated this CO2 in the first place). Therefore CC at scale is probably a pipe dream and will remain so, because thermodynamics.
with that prize money one can plant a whole lot of forests
He is making valid point that we would need more energy to capture but we have lot of energy we could use in daytime near equator. Fossil fuel are burnt just because they are easy to work with and could produce energy all the time, but we have lot of solar energy that is wasted.
> If we’re going to capture 10 GT of CO2 a year by planting trees, how much water will we need to irrigate them?
Not in itself. When the plant dies, it rots and all the carbon goes back to the atmosphere by the action of fungi and bacteria.
Plants can function as the zeroth step in a carbon capture pipeline. The actual capture happens when the plant dies and you bury (or otherwise process) its tissue somewhere so that the carbon cannot go back to the biosphere.
Just growing plants and letting them die is purely carbon neutral.
Actually, no. Depending on the plants and circumstances, it can be carbon-(equivalent)-positive because rotting plant material exudes methane, which has a far higher global warming potential than CO₂. So even with simple plant agriculture you can harm the climate, e.g. wet rice production.
I think the idea is to bury it to "geological" depths, forever isolated to the biosphere.
In the last century, we have burned millions of years worth of plant-based carbon sequestration. This was carbon that had been out of the biosphere for millions of years. Now our goal is to remove this carbon out of the biosphere again. I'm skeptical that this can be at all achieved by purely biological means. But burying dead plants a few meters deep, readily accessible to rot, is not likely to make any difference. Otherwise, we are going back to pre-cambrian CO2 levels, which were much higher than today.
Just planting a lot of plants and expecting they will efficiently capture a lot of carbon out of the air is going to lead to disappointment.
Natural and sustainably managed biomes don't require irrigation. I know, there are deserts where much biomass won't ever naturally grow, but no solution is suitable everywhere.
Trees can and do last longer than 100 years, and even after death they don't puff release co2 immediately. When left undisturbed, large part of carbon is left fixed in the soil.