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NASA Launch CO2 "Hunter" PDF Print E-mail
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The US space agency is set to launch a satellite that can map in detail where carbon dioxide is in the atmosphere. Nasa's Orbiting Carbon Observatory (OCO) will pinpoint the key locations on the Earth's surface where CO2 is being emitted and absorbed.

CO2 from human activities is thought to be driving climate changes, but important facts about its movement through the atmosphere remain elusive. The agency believes the technology on OCO can end some of the mysteries. "This is Nasa's first spacecraft specifically dedicated to mapping carbon dioxide," principal investigator David Crisp told BBC News. "The objective of the OCO mission is to make measurements that are so precise that they can be used to look for surface 'sources' and 'sinks' of CO2."

Dr Crisp has been presenting details of the mission here at the American Geophysical Union's (AGU) Fall Meeting. As he did so, OCO's launch on a Taurus XL rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California was booked for 23 February. Nasa already has a CO2 detection instrument on its Aqua satellite but this looks at the greenhouse gas some five to 10km above the surface.

OCO, on the other hand, will detail the concentration of carbon dioxide closer to the ground where its warming effect is most keenly felt. The observatory will be engaged in what amounts to carbon accountancy. Its fortnightly global maps of CO2 concentration will help the mission team work out where the gas is entering the atmosphere and where it is being absorbed by land plants and the oceans.

Scientists have calculated that nature cycles about 330 billion tonnes of carbon every year. Human activities put about 7.5 billion tonnes into the atmosphere - a tiny sum in comparison but enough, say researchers, to imbalance the system and raise the global mean surface temperature of Earth. "We know where most of the fossil fuel emissions are coming from; we also know where things like cement manufacturing are producing large CO2 emissions," explained Dr Crisp, who works at Nasa's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

 "But there are other things such as biomass (forest) burning and clearing; and we don't have a good quantification of the CO2 released by those processes. "If you take out the fossil fuels - for which we understand the CO2 source to within 10% - and look at the rest of the carbon dioxide that's introduced into the atmosphere by our activities, it's uncertain by 100%. "The idea is that OCO will help us to constrain that a whole lot better."

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Soot, public enemy number two PDF Print E-mail
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In the frenzied search for solutions to the global warming crisis, climatologists, policy makers and other concerned environmentalists have overlooked one of the leading causes of rising temperatures around the globe—soot—the black residue that coats fireplaces and darkens vehicle exhaust. 

Black carbon soot may in fact be the second largest contributor to global warming next to the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide. According to Stanford environmental engineering Professor Mark Z. Jacobson, “Soot, or black carbon, may be responsible for 15 to 30 percent of global warming, yet it is not even considered in any of the discussions about controlling climate change.”

Jacobson also observed that human beings produce most of the soot particles that pollute the atmosphere.  He maintains that soot consists primarily of elemental carbon and that 90 percent of it comes from the consumption of fossil fuels (particularly coal, diesel fuel, jet fuel, natural gas, kerosene) and the burning of wood and other biomass. 

Jacobson also claims that a worldwide reduction in soot emissions and controlling biomass burning could quell the alarming pace of global warming and also reduce our reliance on soot-producing fuels. Besides its impact on global warming, soot is bad for your health.  The World Health Organization reports that approximately 2.7 million people die each year from air pollution and that reduction of wood and other biomass burning would mitigate global warming and would also save lives and improve people’s health.  

Other studies have dispelled the myth that burning wood and other biomass is “green or carbon neutral” and that the fine particulates emitted during the combustion process actually hasten climate change.

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Wind,Water and Sun best for planet PDF Print E-mail
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 Wind,Water and sun make best alternative for future study finds.

The best ways to improve energy security, mitigate global warming and reduce the number of deaths caused by air pollution are blowing in the wind and rippling in the water, not growing on prairies or glowing inside nuclear power plants, says Mark Z. Jacobson, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford. And "clean coal," which involves capturing carbon emissions and sequestering them in the earth, is not clean at all, he asserts.

Jacobson has conducted the first quantitative, scientific evaluation of the proposed, major, energy-related solutions by assessing not only their potential for delivering energy for electricity and vehicles, but also their impacts on global warming, human health, energy security, water supply, space requirements, wildlife, water pollution, reliability and sustainability. His findings indicate that the options that are getting the most attention are between 25 to 1,000 times more polluting than the best available options.

The paper with his findings will be published in the next issue of Energy and Environmental Science but is available online now. Jacobson is also director of the Atmosphere/Energy Program at Stanford. "The energy alternatives that are good are not the ones that people have been talking about the most. And some options that have been proposed are just downright awful," Jacobson said. "Ethanol-based biofuels will actually cause more harm to human health, wildlife, water supply and land use than current fossil fuels." He added that ethanol may also emit more global-warming pollutants than fossil fuels, according to the latest scientific studies.

The raw energy sources that Jacobson found to be the most promising are, in order, wind, concentrated solar (the use of mirrors to heat a fluid), geothermal, tidal, solar photovoltaics (rooftop solar panels), wave and hydroelectric. He recommends against nuclear, coal with carbon capture and sequestration, corn ethanol and cellulosic ethanol, which is made of prairie grass.

In fact, he found cellulosic ethanol was worse than corn ethanol because it results in more air pollution, requires more land to produce and causes more damage to wildlife. To place the various alternatives on an equal footing, Jacobson first made his comparisons among the energy sources by calculating the impacts as if each alternative alone were used to power all the vehicles in the United States, assuming only "new-technology" vehicles were being used.

Such vehicles include battery electric vehicles (BEVs), hydrogen fuel cell vehicles (HFCVs), and "flex-fuel" vehicles that could run on a high blend of ethanol called E85. Wind was by far the most promising, Jacobson said, owing to a better-than 99 percent reduction in carbon and air pollution emissions; the consumption of less than 3 square kilometers of land for the turbine footprints to run the entire U.S. vehicle fleet (given the fleet is composed of battery-electric vehicles); the saving of about 15,000 lives per year from premature air-pollution-related deaths from vehicle exhaust in the United States; and virtually no water consumption.

By contrast, corn and cellulosic ethanol will continue to cause more than 15,000 air pollution-related deaths in the country per year, Jacobson asserted. Because the wind turbines would require a modest amount of spacing between them to allow room for the blades to spin, wind farms would occupy about 0.5 percent of all U.S. land, but this amount is more than 30 times less than that required for growing corn or grasses for ethanol.

Land between turbines on wind farms would be simultaneously available as farmland or pasture or could be left as open space. Indeed, a battery-powered U.S. vehicle fleet could be charged by 73,000 to 144,000 5-megawatt wind turbines, fewer than the 300,000 airplanes the U.S. produced during World War II and far easier to build.

Additional turbines could provide electricity for other energy needs. "There is a lot of talk among politicians that we need a massive jobs program to pull the economy out of the current recession," Jacobson said. "Well, putting people to work building wind turbines, solar plants, geothermal plants, electric vehicles and transmission lines would not only create jobs but would also reduce costs due to health care, crop damage and climate damage from current vehicle and electric power pollution, as well as provide the world with a truly unlimited supply of clean power."

Jacobson said that while some people are under the impression that wind and wave power are too variable to provide steady amounts of electricity, his research group has already shown in previous research that by properly coordinating the energy output from wind farms in different locations, the potential problem with variability can be overcome and a steady supply of baseline power delivered to users.

Jacobson's research is particularly timely in light of the growing push to develop biofuels, which he calculated to be the worst of the available alternatives. In their effort to obtain a federal bailout, the Big Three Detroit automakers are increasingly touting their efforts and programs in the biofuels realm, and federal research dollars have been supporting a growing number of biofuel-research efforts. "That is exactly the wrong place to be spending our money.

Biofuels are the most damaging choice we could make in our efforts to move away from using fossil fuels," Jacobson said. "We should be spending to promote energy technologies that cause significant reductions in carbon emissions and air-pollution mortality, not technologies that have either marginal benefits or no benefits at all". "Obviously, wind alone isn't the solution," Jacobson said. "It's got to be a package deal, with energy also being produced by other sources such as solar, tidal, wave and geothermal power."

During the recent presidential campaign, nuclear power and clean coal were often touted as energy solutions that should be pursued, but nuclear power and coal with carbon capture and sequestration were Jacobson's lowest-ranked choices after biofuels. "Coal with carbon sequestration emits 60- to 110-times more carbon and air pollution than wind energy, and nuclear emits about 25-times more carbon and air pollution than wind energy," Jacobson said.

Although carbon-capture equipment reduces 85-90 percent of the carbon exhaust from a coal-fired power plant, it has no impact on the carbon resulting from the mining or transport of the coal or on the exhaust of other air pollutants. In fact, because carbon capture requires a roughly 25-percent increase in energy from the coal plant, about 25 percent more coal is needed, increasing mountaintop removal and increasing non-carbon air pollution from power plants, he said. Nuclear power poses other risks.

Jacobson said it is likely that if the United States were to move more heavily into nuclear power, then other nations would demand to be able to use that option. "Once you have a nuclear energy facility, it's straightforward to start refining uranium in that facility, which is what Iran is doing and Venezuela is planning to do," Jacobson said. "The potential for terrorists to obtain a nuclear weapon or for states to develop nuclear weapons that could be used in limited regional wars will certainly increase with an increase in the number of nuclear energy facilities worldwide."

Jacobson calculated that if one small nuclear bomb exploded, the carbon emissions from the burning of a large city would be modest, but the death rate for one such event would be twice as large as the current vehicle air pollution death rate summed over 30 years.

Finally, both coal and nuclear energy plants take much longer to plan, permit and construct than do most of the other new energy sources that Jacobson's study recommends. The result would be even more emissions from existing nuclear and coal power sources as people continue to use comparatively "dirty" electricity while waiting for the new energy sources to come online, Jacobson said. Jacobson received no funding from any interest group, company or government agency.

Energy and vehicle options, from best to worst, according to Jacobson's calculations:

Best to worst electric power sources:

1. Wind power

2. concentrated solar power (CSP)

3. geothermal power

4. tidal power

5. solar photovoltaics (PV)

6. wave power

7. hydroelectric power

8. a tie between nuclear power and coal with carbon capture and sequestration (CCS).

Best to worst vehicle options:

1. Wind-BEVs (battery electric vehicles)

2. wind-HFCVs (hydrogen fuel cell vehicles)

3.CSP-BEVs

4. geothermal-BEVs

5. tidal-BEVs

6. solar PV-BEVs

7. Wave-BEVs

8.hydroelectric-BEVs

9. a tie between nuclear-BEVs and coal-CCS-BEVs

11. corn-E85

12.cellulosic-E85.

Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles were examined only when powered by wind energy, but they could be combined with other electric power sources. Although HFCVs require about three times more energy than do BEVs (BEVs are very efficient), HFCVs are still very clean and more efficient than pure gasoline, and wind-HFCVs still resulted in the second-highest overall ranking.

HFCVs have an advantage in that they can be refueled faster than can BEVs (although BEV charging is getting faster). Thus, HFCVs may be useful for long trips (more than 250 miles) while BEVs more useful for trips less than 250 miles. An ideal combination may be a BEV-HFCV hybrid.  

 
Euro Climate Pact PDF Print E-mail
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European Union leaders reach an agreement on Climate change. 

The plan, agreed at a Brussels summit, sets out how 27 member-countries will cut carbon emissions by 20% by 2020, compared with 1990 levels. French President Nicolas Sarkozy, the summit chairman, said something "quite historic" had happened in Brussels. But critics said concessions made to some nations and sectors would lessen the package's long-term impact.

Scientists say carbon dioxide emissions need to be cut by 25-40% by 2020 for there to be a reasonable chance of avoiding dangerous climate change. In other developments: • EU leaders agreed an economic recovery package worth 200bn euros (£180bn) to ease the economic downturn• A deal was reached on concessions enabling the Irish Republic to hold a second referendum on the Lisbon Treaty, which aims to streamline EU decision-making

'Credibility test'

EU leaders have been discussing the so-called "20/20/20" package to tackle climate change and concessions to limit its impact on struggling industries. The measures, which also require approval by the European Parliament to become law, commit the EU to cutting carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by 20% by 2020. It must also raise renewable sources to 20% of total energy use and achieve a 20% cut in energy use.

EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso called the plans "the most ambitious proposals anywhere in the world". "Europe has today passed its credibility test. We mean business when we talk about climate," he said, appealing to US President-elect Barack Obama to follow Europe's lead. But critics said the package - which includes concessions to heavy industry and Eastern European countries worried that pollution cuts will harm their economic growth - did not go far enough. "This is a flagship EU policy with no captain, a mutinous crew and several gaping holes in it," said Sanjeev Kumar of WWF.

'Act of leadership'

At the same time, a UN climate conference has been taking place in Poznan, Poland, where former US presidential candidate John Kerry said the United States was set to lead the world towards a new climate deal. Mr Kerry, who is representing Mr Obama, described the EU deal as "an enormous act of leadership" that would have an impact on talks about a future global pact.

If the rest of the world agrees to a new UN climate deal next year, the EU says it is prepared to go further, cutting emissions by 30%. That EU leaders have agreed they can meet the promised 20% target is good, says the BBC's environment analyst, Roger Harrabin, because without it there would be no global deal. But the concessions that the EU has made to industries because of the recession will make it very, very difficult to achieve the 30% figure that scientists say is really needed.  

 
Disturbing new stats PDF Print E-mail
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The world could be dependent on "dirty, insecure and expensive" energy by 2030, an influential report has warned.

Current trends showed that demand for power was set to grow by 53% by 2030, the International Energy Agency said. But if governments deliver on promises to push cleaner and more efficient supplies, growth in demand could be restrained by about 10%, it suggests. Greater use of nuclear power could be a "valuable option" to cut imports and curb CO2 emissions, the study added.

Projected primary energy demands in 2030

UK report that said the benefits of cutting emissions outweighed the costs of combating climate change. "WEO 2006 reveals that the energy future we are facing today, based on projections of current trends, is dirty, insecure and expensive," said Claude Mandil, executive director of the IEA. "But it also shows how new government policies can create an alternative energy future which is clean, clever and competitive," he added. The document considered two scenarios:

  • Business as usual - Referred to in the report as the "reference scenario", this projects how the globe's energy mix would look in 2030 if current trends were followed
  • Alternative policy scenario - projects how the energy mix would appear in 2030 if the package of policies and measures being considered by governments were adopted

 

Under the business as usual scenario, the document warned that the demand for fossil fuels, and the related carbon emissions, would continue to grow through to 2030, if there was no action from the world's politicians. Overall, the WEO says primary energy demand would grow by about 53%, with fossil fuels accounting for 83% of the increase between 2004 and 2030. But it said that the alternative policy scenario projected that the growth in demand for energy could be cut by 10% by 2030 - the equivalent to China's current total energy consumption.

It also said this scenario would deliver 16% less carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions than the business as usual scenario, the same as the current total emissions from the US and Canada combined. Nuclear option The WEO champions the role of nuclear power, saying it could make a "major contribution to reducing dependence on imported gas and curbing CO2 emissions".

It forecasts that the total global generation capacity of nuclear power plants could increase from 368 gigawatts in 2005 to 519 gigawatts in 2030. The additional nuclear power plants would also have the advantage of being less vulnerable to fuel price changes than coal or gas-fired generation, helping to enhance the security of electricity supplies. However, it said that governments would have to convince the private sector that the initial investment of about $2bn-3.5bn (£1-1.8bn) per reactor would be a wise move.

Ian Hore-Lacy, director of public communications for the World Nuclear Association, welcomed the IEA's report. "Given that world energy demand, and more particularly electricity demand, is increasing strongly, we need sources of electricity supply that are safe, affordable, with abundant fuel and are environmental benign," he said. "The virtues of nuclear power in all of those respects are becoming widely obvious."

But Greenpeace International called it a "wasted opportunity". In a statement, the environmental group said: "While it is important that the IEA has finally recognised the need to drastically change the global energy supply in light of climate change, it has offered 'business as usual' solutions, which are not commensurate with the problems it seeks to solve." They said the agency's nuclear plan would require more than 200 new nuclear reactors in the next 24 years, which was "neither desirable nor realistic".

Biofuels growth The report also projected that biofuels were set to play an increasing role in road transport, providing up to 7% of the total consumption in 2030. To meet this demand, the IEA envisaged that the total amount of arable land required would be equivalent to at least the combined size of France and Spain. But the WEO warned that the growing demand for food would limit the potential of the plant-derived fuel produced using current technologies.

Yet the emergence of new "second generation" technologies, which allow more of a plant's material to be turned into fuel, could allow biofuels to play a much bigger role in either of the projections outlined in the report's two scenarios, it said.

As for the financial viability of the alternative policy scenario, the IEA reached a similar conclusion to the findings outlined in a report by Sir Nicholas Stern, who was commissioned by the UK government to assess the economic impact of climate change. "The good news is that these policies are very cost effective," said Mr Mandil. "There are additional upfront costs involved, but they are quickly outweighed by savings in fuel expenditure." He added that every $1 invested in energy efficient appliances and equipment delivered a $2 saving on power generation. The report concluded that a shift to the alternative scenario would "serve all three of the principal goals of energy policy: greater security, more environmental protection and improved economic efficiency".

 
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