Technology Defeats Climate Change

 

I’ve written about the scientific basis for why I’m skeptical about catastrophic anthropogenic climate change before — have fun reading that one! — but if you didn’t find my rationale convincing, the reasons to ignore catastrophists are really piling up. If it’s true that “tomorrow’s technologies will solve today’s problems,” we live in an age of wonders.

Why is that? Harvard scientists have announced the invention of an energy-efficient means of carbon capture:

You read that correctly: this is a chemical process for extracting CO2 from the atmosphere that has been invented and demonstrated at small scale. The implications of this technological leap forward are obvious and large.

What are the details? According to Yahoo! News;

Carbon Engineering, a Canadian-based clean energy company, outlined the design of a large industrial plant that it said could capture carbon dioxide from the atmosphere at a cost of between $94 and $232 a tonne.

Also,

CE has operated a pilot plant on a 0.5-hectare industrial site in Squamish, BC, since 2015.

The design goal for the pilot were (1) to test each unit operation for which there is significant technical risk at a scale the equipment supplier judged sufficient to allow specification of commercial-scale hardware, and (2) to test the most important units as components of a closed-loop process. The pilot plant builds on previous prototype data that CE acquired for each unit, and on work with SPX, RHDHV, and Technip to design and size the contactor, pellet reactor, and calciner, respectively. CE’s pilot data have been used to refine the commercial-scale plant design described earlier.

The upshot of some of this technical mumbo-jumbo (I’ve read through it and there’s nothing remotely magical going on in there) is that CE (Carbon Engineering) is able to capture carbon dioxide from the atmosphere via this chemical process and reduce that carbon to a liquefied form. The resulting carbonate product can be used in a technique called the Fischer-Tropsch Process to polymerize the captured carbon into liquid fuels, such as diesel, gasoline or jet fuel (kerosene.)

Although the F-T Process is somewhat more energy intensive, the actual carbon capture technology itself clocks in with a price tag of around just $0.12 per pound — making the captured carbon hydrate reasonably cheap as fuel feedstock.

This is fantastic news on a variety of fronts. Not only could it “save the planet” if you’re the sort of person who is genuinely concerned about anthropogenic climate change, but the reaction to this news should serve as a dye test, distinguishing the honestly concerned from “Watermelons” – you know, people who masquerade as green on the outside but are thoroughly red on the inside.

The future is going to be great.

Published in Environment
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  1. Judge Mental Member
    Judge Mental
    @JudgeMental

    They talk about a tipping point for warming.  They’re going to produce a tipping point for cooling and we’ll get an ice age.  In twenty years, environmentalists will be protesting against carbon capture.

    • #1
  2. Duane Oyen Member
    Duane Oyen
    @DuaneOyen

    We knew that something like this was eventually inevitable- CC&R (carbon capture and recycle) makes the most sense to me in the simplest form- methanol (CH3OH), with its naturally high octane and ease of conversion.  Work on this stuff has been going on fior a good decade, and Roger Pielke Jr. has been tracking progress.

    But I submit, Shawn, that you are giving in when you refer to “CACC” instead of “CAGW”.  Referring to CC instead of GW allows the dishonest disaster-mongers to get away with their attempt at re-branding to avoid trying to explain the totally unexpected (and theoretically problematic) 15 year pause in warming.

    • #2
  3. Shawn Buell (Majestyk) Contributor
    Shawn Buell (Majestyk)
    @Majestyk

    Duane Oyen (View Comment):
    But I submit, Shawn, that you are giving in when you refer to “CACC” instead of “CAGW”. Referring to CC instead of GW allows the dishonest disaster-mongers to get away with their attempt at re-branding to avoid trying to explain the totally unexpected (and theoretically problematic) 15 year pause in warming.

    With this technology in hand this will end up as a distinction without a difference.  If it is engaged at the industrial scale, the notion that CO2 emissions will either cause “climate change” or “global warming” will simply be off the table.

    Let them have their semantic infiltration on a topic which will suddenly vanish as a meaningful policy issue.

    • #3
  4. Phil Turmel Coolidge
    Phil Turmel
    @PhilTurmel

    I’m not impressed at all.  The technology is purely for capturing CO2 in still-oxidized form.  The real energy consumption is in reducing the CO2 back to C in some fuel form.  That takes at least as much energy as was released when it was burned in the first place.  Which is fine if that energy is coming from a nuke, but otherwise you’re just oxidizing in a power plant to reduce in a fuel plant.  And losing some to conversion along the way.  Dumb.

    The other proposals all involve sequestering the CO2 underground, at high pressure.  In case anyone hasn’t noticed, pumping stuff underground willy-nilly, even in deep old retired oil wells, makes earthquakes.  And the CO2 is still in a hard-to-confine, easy-to-liberate form.  More Dumb.

    Researchers in this field are the worst sort of grant-wh***s in the entire shoddy research grant ecosystem.

    • #4
  5. Jules PA Inactive
    Jules PA
    @JulesPA

    Shawn Buell (Majestyk): The resulting carbonate product can be used in a technique called the Fischer-Tropsch Process to polymerize the captured carbon into liquid fuels, such as diesel, gasoline or jet fuel (kerosene.)

    This is the coolest thing ever. 

    Is it fair to say this process captures the carbon up front, skips the millions of years to form fossil fuels naturally, and gives us the same or similar energy?

    Is there a downside?

    • #5
  6. Mendel Inactive
    Mendel
    @Mendel

    Phil Turmel (View Comment):
    I’m not impressed at all. The technology is purely for capturing CO2 in still-oxidized form. The real energy consumption is in reducing the CO2 back to C in some fuel form. That takes at least as much energy as was released when it was burned in the first place.

    My thoughts exactly. This is essentially an energy-inefficient form of CO2 sequestration. The rest is still handwaving and wishful thinking.

    • #6
  7. Mark Camp Member
    Mark Camp
    @MarkCamp

    Mendel (View Comment):

    Phil Turmel (View Comment):
    I’m not impressed at all. The technology is purely for capturing CO2 in still-oxidized form. The real energy consumption is in reducing the CO2 back to C in some fuel form. That takes at least as much energy as was released when it was burned in the first place.

    My thoughts exactly. This is essentially an energy-inefficient form of CO2 sequestration. The rest is still handwaving and wishful thinking.

    Make that three.  The output shown in the diagram is…Carbon dioxide!

    I thought you were saying that  CO2 was the problem.  Not the solution. 

    Maybe you showed the wrong diagram?

    • #7
  8. Mark Wilson Member
    Mark Wilson
    @MarkWilson

    Phil Turmel (View Comment):

    I’m not impressed at all. The technology is purely for capturing CO2 in still-oxidized form. The real energy consumption is in reducing the CO2 back to C in some fuel form. That takes at least as much energy as was released when it was burned in the first place. Which is fine if that energy is coming from a nuke, but otherwise you’re just oxidizing in a power plant to reduce in a fuel plant. And losing some to conversion along the way. Dumb.

    I think you touched on the key point but then brushed it aside.  Take as an assumption that we will continue to need the energy density of hydrocarbon fuels for the transport economy.  With a nuclear power source (or fusion!) we can eventually shift the hydrocarbon fuel economy away from finite and conflict-prone fossil fuel reserves and toward an infinitely renewable home-grown industry — all without having to replace all our vehicles with newfangled Teslas and Bolts.  This would make our transportation potentially cheaper, cleaner, and higher performing than battery-powered electric vehicles.

    • #8
  9. Mark Wilson Member
    Mark Wilson
    @MarkWilson

    Mark Camp (View Comment):

    Mendel (View Comment):

    Phil Turmel (View Comment):
    I’m not impressed at all. The technology is purely for capturing CO2 in still-oxidized form. The real energy consumption is in reducing the CO2 back to C in some fuel form. That takes at least as much energy as was released when it was burned in the first place.

    My thoughts exactly. This is essentially an energy-inefficient form of CO2 sequestration. The rest is still handwaving and wishful thinking.

    Make that three. The output shown in the diagram is…Carbon dioxide!

    I thought you were saying that CO2 was the problem. Not the solution.

    Maybe you showed the wrong diagram?

    The point is that it’s the same amount of atmospheric CO2 you started with, it’s not pulling new hydrocarbons out of the ground to add net CO2 to the atmosphere.

    • #9
  10. Shawn Buell (Majestyk) Contributor
    Shawn Buell (Majestyk)
    @Majestyk

    Mark Wilson (View Comment):
    I think you touched on the key point but then brushed it aside. Take as an assumption that we will continue to need the energy density of hydrocarbon fuels for the transport economy. With a nuclear power source (or fusion!) we can eventually shift the hydrocarbon fuel economy away from finite and conflict-prone fossil fuel reserves and toward an infinitely renewable home-grown industry. This would make our transportation potentially cheaper, cleaner, and higher performing than battery-powered electric vehicles.

    Right – pairing this with a nuclear power plant may actually produce the means by which we can efficiently store chemical energy, which is especially important for industries like air transport, which require high energy density fuels.

    • #10
  11. Shawn Buell (Majestyk) Contributor
    Shawn Buell (Majestyk)
    @Majestyk

    Mark Wilson (View Comment):
    The point is that it’s the same amount of atmospheric CO2 you started with, it’s not pulling new hydrocarbons out of the ground to add net CO2 to the atmosphere.

    Precisely.  They’re plucking the CO2 molecules out of the atmosphere and harvesting them in a basically pure form.

    • #11
  12. Hypatia Inactive
    Hypatia
    @Hypatia

    It was a crisis in the nineteenth century when we were gonna run outta whale oil.  Then there was a worldwide conference aboutbthe insoluble problem of horse manure in the streets.  These problems were obviated  by new technologies.

     I don’t believe in AGW, and from what I’ve read we’re  probably entering another ice age.   Our goal should be just to keep the warmist- alarmists from actually destroying  our means of keeping people warm before the cold kicks  in.

    CO2 is plant food.

    • #12
  13. Judge Mental Member
    Judge Mental
    @JudgeMental

    Mark Wilson (View Comment):

    I think you touched on the key point but then brushed it aside. Take as an assumption that we will continue to need the energy density of hydrocarbon fuels for the transport economy. With a nuclear power source (or fusion!) we can eventually shift the hydrocarbon fuel economy away from finite and conflict-prone fossil fuel reserves and toward an infinitely renewable home-grown industry — all without having to replace all our vehicles with newfangled Teslas and Bolts. This would make our transportation potentially cheaper, cleaner, and higher performing than battery-powered electric vehicles.

    And we can pollute as much as we want.

    Image result for coal burner truck gif

     

    • #13
  14. Mark Wilson Member
    Mark Wilson
    @MarkWilson

    Judge Mental (View Comment):

    And we can pollute as much as we want.

    I started coughing just from looking at that gif.

    • #14
  15. iWe Coolidge
    iWe
    @iWe

    CO2 is plant food. 

    The more we produce, the more plants grow. Which leads to more food for all  life. It’s all good, unless we believe that plant food is somehow a pollutant. Which is, of course, silly nonsense. 

     

    • #15
  16. Steve C. Member
    Steve C.
    @user_531302

    Phil Turmel (View Comment):

    I’m not impressed at all. The technology is purely for capturing CO2 in still-oxidized form. The real energy consumption is in reducing the CO2 back to C in some fuel form. That takes at least as much energy as was released when it was burned in the first place. Which is fine if that energy is coming from a nuke, but otherwise you’re just oxidizing in a power plant to reduce in a fuel plant. And losing some to conversion along the way. Dumb.

    The other proposals all involve sequestering the CO2 underground, at high pressure. In case anyone hasn’t noticed, pumping stuff underground willy-nilly, even in deep old retired oil wells, makes earthquakes. And the CO2 is still in a hard-to-confine, easy-to-liberate form. More Dumb.

    Researchers in this field are the worst sort of grant-wh***s in the entire shoddy research grant ecosystem.

    The test…are there investors willing to finance a full scale plant?

    No special tax credits or government guarantees.

     

    • #16
  17. Mark Wilson Member
    Mark Wilson
    @MarkWilson

    iWe (View Comment):

    CO2 is plant food.

    The more we produce, the more plants grow. Which leads to more food for all life. It’s all good, unless we believe that plant food is somehow a pollutant. Which is, of course, silly nonsense.

    The Atlantic’s writeup about this technology does exactly that, using the strangely-hyphenated phrase “carbon-dioxide pollution” in three places:

    A team of scientists from Harvard University and the company Carbon Engineering announced on Thursday that they have found a method to cheaply and directly pull carbon-dioxide pollution out of the atmosphere. …

    If you were to burn Carbon Engineering’s gas in your car, you would release carbon-dioxide pollution out of your tailpipe and into Earth’s atmosphere. …

    Keith said it was important to still stop emitting carbon-dioxide pollution where feasible.

    Stop polluting: hold your breath.

    • #17
  18. Phil Turmel Coolidge
    Phil Turmel
    @PhilTurmel

    Mark Wilson (View Comment):

    Phil Turmel (View Comment):

    I’m not impressed at all. The technology is purely for capturing CO2 in still-oxidized form. The real energy consumption is in reducing the CO2 back to C in some fuel form. That takes at least as much energy as was released when it was burned in the first place. Which is fine if that energy is coming from a nuke, but otherwise you’re just oxidizing in a power plant to reduce in a fuel plant. And losing some to conversion along the way. Dumb.

    I think you touched on the key point but then brushed it aside. Take as an assumption that we will continue to need the energy density of hydrocarbon fuels for the transport economy. With a nuclear power source (or fusion!) we can eventually shift the hydrocarbon fuel economy away from finite and conflict-prone fossil fuel reserves and toward an infinitely renewable home-grown industry — all without having to replace all our vehicles with newfangled Teslas and Bolts. This would make our transportation potentially cheaper, cleaner, and higher performing than battery-powered electric vehicles.

    { My bold }  I didn’t brush it aside.  I rejected it as worthless without nukes.  Until/unless greenies suddenly put as much effort behind nuclearization as they currently are putting into anti-petroleum alarmism, this new process is only a propaganda tool.  With nuke power, especially with high-temperature nukes like pebble-bed designs, synthesizing fuels from atmosphere is already possible.  Especially hydrogen.

    So, still not impressed.  This is a marginal improvement to a fuel production possibility that is currently non-feasible for non-technical reasons, and likely to remain so.

    • #18
  19. Mark Wilson Member
    Mark Wilson
    @MarkWilson

    Phil Turmel (View Comment):

    { My bold } I didn’t brush it aside. I rejected it as worthless without nukes. Until/unless greenies suddenly put as much effort behind nuclearization as they currently are putting into anti-petroleum alarmism, this new process is only a propaganda tool. With nuke power, especially with high-temperature nukes like pebble-bed designs, synthesizing fuels from atmosphere is already possible. Especially hydrogen.

    So, still not impressed. This is a marginal improvement to a fuel production possibility that is currently non-feasible for non-technical reasons, and likely to remain so.

    Ok.  I’m not going to quibble over the distinction between “brush aside” and “reject as worthless”.

    Synthesizing fuel from the atmosphere is already possible, but is it cheap?  I thought the main thrust of this development is favorable cost and scalability.  Also, even though we can currently make hydrogen it is not as practically useful as liquid hydrocarbons for transportation fuel.

    In terms of practical impact you judged it entirely on politics.  You basically said given X premise [no nukes], this sucks, while I said given Y premise [we could build nukes or fusion], this is cool.  I don’t understand why you chose to come down so strongly on the negative, even calling it “dumb”.

    • #19
  20. Phil Turmel Coolidge
    Phil Turmel
    @PhilTurmel

    Mark Wilson (View Comment):
    Synthesizing fuel from the atmosphere is already possible, but is it cheap?

    Close.  Per the Electricity section of this article on syngas, the basic feedstock for most fuel formulation, a bulk price of $0.02 per kilowatt-hour will do.  Nukes used to be there, and could be again with a bit of realism about their regulation.

    • #20
  21. Chris O. Coolidge
    Chris O.
    @ChrisO

    I recall tales of individuals fabricating highly efficient carburetors and the like, and auto manufacturers buying them up (or out) to keep it quiet. Wasn’t too sure about those stories, but some years later I was in a meeting about a Superfund site and two guys approached me and I immediately sat them down with the elected official I worked for. They showed us a natural process for detoxing soil, and at low cost. Then they told us about all the resistance they’d met. The cleanup process was mainly federal and my boss was a state legislator. There was little we could do to help.

    Twenty years later I read about a similar process being used on a cleanup project. The article presented it as a miraculous breakthrough. Good ideas break through and here’s hoping this one, if needed, doesn’t take twenty years.

    • #21
  22. Mark Wilson Member
    Mark Wilson
    @MarkWilson

    Phil Turmel (View Comment):
    Per the Electricity section of this article on syngas, the basic feedstock for most fuel formulation, a bulk price of $0.02 per kilowatt-hour will do.

    It appears most syngas is made from fossil fuels. 

    • #22
  23. Mendel Inactive
    Mendel
    @Mendel

    Mark Wilson (View Comment):
    I think you touched on the key point but then brushed it aside. Take as an assumption that we will continue to need the energy density of hydrocarbon fuels for the transport economy. With a nuclear power source (or fusion!) we can eventually shift the hydrocarbon fuel economy away from finite and conflict-prone fossil fuel reserves and toward an infinitely renewable home-grown industry — all without having to replace all our vehicles with newfangled Teslas and Bolts. This would make our transportation potentially cheaper, cleaner, and higher performing than battery-powered electric vehicles.

    I think you’re brushing aside the key objection.

    Turning atmospheric CO2 into usable hydrocarbons is a two-step process: 1) capture the CO2, and 2) chemically reduce it into something useful (most likely methane). The development Shawn is reporting is for step 1), but step 2) is by far the most formidable hurdle in the above process.

    It’s not just a matter of CO2 reduction requiring “lots of energy”; the current methods are inefficient enough that we would likely emit more CO2 building the huge number of nuclear plants (or solar panels or whatever) required for the process.

    • #23
  24. Mendel Inactive
    Mendel
    @Mendel

    Phil Turmel (View Comment):

    Mark Wilson (View Comment):
    Synthesizing fuel from the atmosphere is already possible, but is it cheap?

    Close. Per the Electricity section of this article on syngas, the basic feedstock for most fuel formulation, a bulk price of $0.02 per kilowatt-hour will do. Nukes used to be there, and could be again with a bit of realism about their regulation.

    I’m skeptical about whether those prices are realistic. I used to work in the field of CO2 assimilation (by biological organisms, mostly bacteria), and at least a few years ago most theoretical calculations of the cost of assimilating atmospheric CO2 by synthetic means were gross oversimplifications and unlikely to scale up – especially since you would need to factor in the cost of building new nuclear plants into the equation, which is a huge money pit in almost any regulatory environment.

    • #24
  25. Steven Seward Member
    Steven Seward
    @StevenSeward

    iWe (View Comment):

    CO2 is plant food.

    The more we produce, the more plants grow. Which leads to more food for all life. It’s all good, unless we believe that plant food is somehow a pollutant. Which is, of course, silly nonsense.

     

    From my understanding of reading the paleoclimatology graphs, the percentage of CO2 in the atmosphere at the start of the Industrial Revolution was at an all-time low in Earth’s history, and just a smidgeon above the level required to sustain plant life.  Even though we are close to doubling that minute level today, the atmosphere used to have as much as 30 times more CO2 in the past.

    I say “Light the fires and put more CO2 into the air!”

    • #25
  26. Phil Turmel Coolidge
    Phil Turmel
    @PhilTurmel

    Mark Wilson (View Comment):

    Phil Turmel (View Comment):
    Per the Electricity section of this article on syngas, the basic feedstock for most fuel formulation, a bulk price of $0.02 per kilowatt-hour will do.

    It appears most syngas is made from fossil fuels.

    Yeah, imagine that.

    • #26
  27. Mark Wilson Member
    Mark Wilson
    @MarkWilson

    Phil Turmel (View Comment):

    Mark Wilson (View Comment):

    Phil Turmel (View Comment):
    Per the Electricity section of this article on syngas, the basic feedstock for most fuel formulation, a bulk price of $0.02 per kilowatt-hour will do.

    It appears most syngas is made from fossil fuels.

    Yeah, imagine that.

    The point being, this tech is supposed to pull the raw material from the air, so it would be an advancement. 

    • #27
  28. Mark Wilson Member
    Mark Wilson
    @MarkWilson

    Mendel (View Comment):

    Turning atmospheric CO2 into usable hydrocarbons is a two-step process: 1) capture the CO2, and 2) chemically reduce it into something useful (most likely methane). The development Shawn is reporting is for step 1), but step 2) is by far the most formidable hurdle in the above process.

    It’s not just a matter of CO2 reduction requiring “lots of energy”; the current methods are inefficient enough that we would likely emit more CO2 building the huge number of nuclear plants (or solar panels or whatever) required for the process.

    Yes, I understand there are two major steps and step 2 is the hard one.  I just thought it was unnecessarily harsh to criticize as unimpressive and dumb an invention that would thrive in a different regulatory environment because of the current regulatory environment. 

    • #28
  29. Mendel Inactive
    Mendel
    @Mendel

    Mark Wilson (View Comment):

    Mendel (View Comment):

    Turning atmospheric CO2 into usable hydrocarbons is a two-step process: 1) capture the CO2, and 2) chemically reduce it into something useful (most likely methane). The development Shawn is reporting is for step 1), but step 2) is by far the most formidable hurdle in the above process.

    It’s not just a matter of CO2 reduction requiring “lots of energy”; the current methods are inefficient enough that we would likely emit more CO2 building the huge number of nuclear plants (or solar panels or whatever) required for the process.

    Yes, I understand there are two major steps and step 2 is the hard one. I just thought it was unnecessarily harsh to criticize as unimpressive and dumb an invention that would thrive in a different regulatory environment because of the current regulatory environment.

    Fair enough. I don’t know much about inorganic chemistry, but I am fine believing that this is a real breakthrough. Just not convinced about the rest of the hype in the OP that this clears the way for turning atmospheric CO2 into liquid fuel.

    • #29
  30. Brian Watt Inactive
    Brian Watt
    @BrianWatt

    Mark Wilson (View Comment):

    Phil Turmel (View Comment):

    I’m not impressed at all. The technology is purely for capturing CO2 in still-oxidized form. The real energy consumption is in reducing the CO2 back to C in some fuel form. That takes at least as much energy as was released when it was burned in the first place. Which is fine if that energy is coming from a nuke, but otherwise you’re just oxidizing in a power plant to reduce in a fuel plant. And losing some to conversion along the way. Dumb.

    I think you touched on the key point but then brushed it aside. Take as an assumption that we will continue to need the energy density of hydrocarbon fuels for the transport economy. With a nuclear power source (or fusion!) we can eventually shift the hydrocarbon fuel economy away from finite and conflict-prone fossil fuel reserves and toward an infinitely renewable home-grown industry — all without having to replace all our vehicles with newfangled Teslas and Bolts. This would make our transportation potentially cheaper, cleaner, and higher performing than battery-powered electric vehicles.

    We are so close…we need more banana peels and discarded beer cans to continue development.

    • #30
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