How CO2 is Measured

Today, world leaders are meeting in Paris to discuss climate change at the COP21 conference. They are going to be discussing many issues around climate change from how to lower emissions to how to deal with rising sea levels. It is up to every country to change how their policies to be more sustainable and the wealthy countries that made their riches by exploiting the environment need to do even more. How then, do they decide what to do and based on what information?

The CBC is doing a series of investigations into issues and the like related to climate change that people may still be unclear on. One of their first articles is about how CO2 is measured.

When we measure carbon dioxide, can we tell how much came from burning fossil fuels?

Yes. The carbon in carbon dioxide comes in different forms called isotopes, namely carbon-12, carbon-13 and carbon-14. Levels of each vary depending on the source of the carbon dioxide, says Doug Worthy, study lead for Environment Canada’s greenhouse gas observational program.

Natural gas, coal and oil each also have distinct signatures for carbon-13, Worthy said.

Meanwhile, higher levels of carbon-14 mean that carbon dioxide sample is mostly from natural sources, such as plants. Lower levels mean it’s mostly from burning fossil fuels.

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Sucking Diesel Fuel From Thin Air

We’ve polluted so much that there are now companies that think there is profit to be made by sucking CO2 from the air. How they make money is by reselling the CO2 to make carbonation for soft drinks, or strangely, to make diesel fuel.

What a world!

German company Sunfire produced its first batches of so-called e-diesel in April. Federal Minister of Education and Research, Johanna Wanka, put a few litres in her car, to celebrate.
And the Canadian company Carbon Engineering has just built a pilot plant to suck one to two tonnes of carbon dioxide from the air daily, turning it into 500 litres of diesel.

The process requires electricity, but if the start-ups use renewable electricity they can produce diesel that is carbon neutral.

In other words, burning it in your car only returns to the atmosphere the CO2 removed in the first place.

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Why Fossil Fuel Divestment Makes Sense

Rolling Stone has a great article looking into the logic of divestment, that is the growing trend to remove investments in fossil fuel companies and investing in renewable companies instead. On campuses around the world students have been pushing their schools to put their money where their mouth is by divesting.

It makes sense to do this as a society too. It’s not just because the current economic system is unsustainable but because it also makes economic sense.

For RBF, the logic of divestment was twofold. “There was a very clear moral impetus to do this,” Wayne says. RBF makes significant grants in the field of sustainable development, and the fund reached a breaking point with Big Carbon over what Wayne describes as “the schizophrenic notion that we had investments that were undermining our grants.”

But there was also “an economic reason for divestment,” Wayne says. RBF’s business is philanthropy. It was determined not to damage its portfolio. But as RBF scrutinized its fossil-fuel investments, it began to have concerns. One of the primary assets on an oil company’s books are its “proven reserves” – that is, the oil in the ground and beneath the oceans that will be the source of future profits. RBF questioned the wisdom of parking its money in companies that, in a low-carbon world, would not be able to bring that oil to market – “proven reserves” risked becoming “stranded assets.” RBF also balked at investing in companies that continue spending astronomical funds in the hunt for even more unburnable oil. Exxon Mobil, America’s largest oil company, despite having more than 25 billion barrels of proven reserves, sunk more than $7 billion into new exploration in 2013 alone. “There is no good reason for this vast expenditure of stockholder wealth,” wrote Longstreth. (He has also served as chairman of the finance committee of the Rockefeller Family Fund.) “It is wasted capital,” he continued, “an offense against stockholders in terms financial alone.”

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Biofuel from Whiskey

Celtic Renewables has found a way to turn a byproduct from the creation of whiskey into something even more flammable: fuel. This will greatly lower the wast from whiskey distillation while contributing to the growing field of bio-energy. Neat!

This isn’t the first time someone has thought to turn whiskey waste into energy. A handful of other distilleries, including the American bourbon producer Maker’s Mark, use anaerobic digesters to convert waste into biogas, which is then used to fuel the distilling process—a neat little closed-loop system. But Celtic Renewables’ process creates three useful substances instead of just one.

When I spoke to the company’s founder and chief scientific officer, an Irish industrial microbiologist named Martin Tangney, he excitedly ennumerated the virtues of the byproducts his process produces: As a fuel, biobutanol is 25 percent more efficient than ethanol. Acetone has all kinds of industrial uses—plus, it’s a nail-polish remover. The animal feed is rich in protein.

Read more at Mother Jones.

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Solar Power for Gas Production

Here’s a novel idea to conserve energy, use the sun to separate chemicals which can then be used as fuel thereby consuming less energy to create fuel.

Researchers have developed a novel thermochemical reactor that uses sunlight to convert carbon dioxide and water into hydrocarbon-fuel precursors at a relatively high efficiency.

The new thermochemical reactor is believed to be more efficient than previously developed ones, whose efficiencies could not be comparably measured. And it is amenable to continuous operation, suggesting that an industrial-scale version of the process could be developed for solar towers.

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