Wacky baccy pipes

Not a very good title I fear. I’m referring to Lovelock and Rapley propose cure for global warming wherein James “we’re all doooomed I tell ‘ee” Lovelock and Chris “used-to-be-my-director” Rapley propose a load of floating pipes to haul up nutrient rich water to cause blooms to lock up CO2.

Its rather short on numbers (how many of these things would you need?) or that wave action via a flap valve will do the pumping required (I presume it must, because they can’t have got that bit wrong, can they?). A diagram might help. Ah, the BBC has one but I’m still not sure. Maybe I need a video :-). Meanwhile Nude Scientist has Andy Watson equivocal and Hoskers cautious.

The BBC note that a company exists that is proposing this, and indeed has actually started trials: atmocean. So its not really clear why L+R are getting the credit for the idea (except they are famous and atmocean unknown, and unknown companies don’t get published by Nature. Seriously, though: if the L+R letter had been an aricle about science, it would have had to be rejected for lack of novelty). Atmocean even have some numbers: “134 million pipes could potentially sequester about one-third of the carbon dioxide produced by human activities each year”. They want to moor them in vast pipe-farms (“When fully deployed, our 3m diameter by 200m deep pumps spaced 2 km apart will be positioned across 80% of the world’s oceans” so these people are ambitious); more numbers from their faq.

Well, the objections are obvious: maintaining these vast arrays is a problem, as is what they might actually do: bizarrely, the atmocean folk say “The problem we would be most concerned about would be acidification. We’re bringing up higher levels of CO2 along with the nutrients, so it all has to be analysed as to the net carbon balance and the net carbon flux.” – in other words, they don’t know whether this would reduce CO2 or not.

Is it financially viable? Who knows: atmoceans business model page is a 404. Still it would be interesting to see a small scale trial.

Hmm… I’ve just realised quite how ambitious these plans are. Earths ocean sfc is about 4*pi*r^2*2/3 ~ 8*36million km^2 ~ 300 million km^2. At a spacing of 2 km, thats about 100 million in total (close enough to their 134 million for now). So they want to cover the whole ocean (*including the sea ice areas*?) and even that will only sequester (on their doubtless optimistic calculations) 1/3 of current emissions? Not to mention that there are large areas of the ocean where this won’t work. So as a planet-saver its not going to work. You’d be better off with the good old “area the size of spain in the sahara covered in photovoltaics”. At least thats in theory possible.

[Update: surprisingly negative reaction by LeQuere: Other scientists welcomed the proposal as thought-provoking but doubted that it would work.Corinne Le Quéré, who led research this year which showed that oceans were losing the capacity to soak up carbon dioxide, was scathing and feared that if pipes were deployed around the world’s oceans they could exacerbate, rather than cure, the warming trend. “This idea is a complete waste of time,” said Dr Le Quéré, a researcher at the University of East Anglia (UEA) and the BAS. “It doesn’t make sense. There is absolutely no evidence that geoengineering options work or even go in the right direction. I’m astonished that they published this. Before any geoengineering is put to work a massive amount of research is needed – research which will take 20 to 30 years.” I can’t see how she can justify that. It may not work, but then again it might. It would need testing -W]

18 thoughts on “Wacky baccy pipes”

  1. Is there any reason I shouldn’t move Lovelock into the category in my head marked “probably emeritus”?

    For starters, what are they going to make the pipes from? It appears to be plastic, made from, one would assume, the expensive and fast dissappearing fossil fuel called oil. How many tons of plastic are needed?
    Then, we still have no real evidence that blooms actually lock up CO2. There was a discussion about this somewhere on scienceblogs, and the conclusion I came away with was that some blooms could lock Co2 up, but many couldn’t, therefore it wasn’t worth the hassle.

    As for photovoltaics, there’s no need for them. Just get a damn great mirror focused on a steam generator. High efficiency, straightforwards, no need for expensive purification of sand. Why nobody is building them right now I don’t know.


  2. Nice post,

    As for technical solution, I personaly prefer the carbon capture and storage with help of nuclear energy and for economic solution the cap and trade solution.

    As for social solution – I am pessimist – people won’t change be their onw will anytime soon – they didn’t do that at least for 100’000 years


  3. guthrie said:

    As for photovoltaics, there’s no need for them. Just get a damn great mirror focused on a steam generator. High efficiency, straightforwards, no need for expensive purification of sand. Why nobody is building them right now I don’t know.

    They are building them at the prototype scale at least. One is being built in Spain (Solar Tres) based on 2 prototypes in califormia (Solar One and Two). Some of the fancier designs involve molten sodium or salts as the heat absorbing medium – they have enough heat capacity to keep the thing going after sunset.

    check out the wiki article: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_thermal_energy


  4. Just thinking about those pipes…

    for a 1cm thick 3m diam by 200m plastic pipe would weigh ~ 20 tonnes so the plastic for 134e6 of them would be ~ 2.5 Gigatonnes which compares to annual plastic consumption currently of ~0.1 Gigatonnes.

    Having said that the world consumes roughly 4.5 Giga tonnes of oil per year so I guess you could make enough plastic if you wanted to do it badly enough (and had enough energy & manufacturing plants, and were prepared to have less oil for humvees etc etc).


  5. SCM- I think the idea for them dates back to the 19th century. There has been a solar furnace in the Pyrenees (I think) for decades. So all I can say is about time too.


  6. The L+R letter to Nature is, as Rapley explained to BBC News “intended to get people thinking about the concept of technical fixes rather than just to advocate ocean pipes.”

    It should encourage scientists and engineers to throw more (seemingly bizarre) ideas out for discussion and develop a new integrated technical community to share knowledge on what can be done wrt mitigation and adaptation.

    (This story also works to shock some members of the public into realising that the climate situation is pretty bad: we are playing a high stakes game.)

    [I think this really boils down to yet another play-games-with-the-biosphere game. We already have iron fertilisation, we can try this perhaps. The same obvious objections will occur: we dont know what it will do. And for every one person who agrees “this shows how bad things are” there will be another who says “oh good I can keep emiting – these technofixes will fix it” and probably another to say “these people are all mad, Ill ignore them”.

    If you want a techno-fix, solar power in the sahara will do it. Or lots of nukes, though that didnt go down too well last time. Or we could even change our behaviour, if truely desperate. We dont need any more wacky ideas -W]


  7. In that case, it will likely not work in any way possible.
    Ordinary MoPs will just take it as another unrealistic joke.
    Engineers will ask for more details, but probably just laugh it out of town.
    Politicians will take it seriously due to lack of knowledge, until someone points out how much it would cost and how little is known about how well it would work.
    The anti-environmentalists and denialists will feed it to their base either saying “Hey, see we can technologise our way out of the problem” and not do anything about it themselves, thus prolonging the problems. Or they will say “look what the green nazis are proposing now, what a silly idea.”

    Or in other words, I expect this grandstanding to make no practical difference worth mentioning.


  8. “for a 1cm thick 3m diam by 200m plastic pipe would weigh ~ 20 tonnes …”

    The float is not only going to have to raise the pipe every time a wave reaches it, it’s also going to have to raise the entire column of water within it.
    A column of water 200 metres high and three metres across weighs a tad over 1,400 metric tons.

    Oh, and if the pipes are made of plastic then I think they will almost certainly have to be weighted, to keep them reasonably vertical.

    The floats are going to have to be pretty big if they’re not simply going to bob under the crests and re-emerge in the troughs without moving the pipe.

    I guess you also could paint them white to increase our albedo.


  9. Le Quere certainly seems rather inconsistent, but I suppose everyone wants to believe there’s an easy solution – even those who should know better. I don’t mind research in geoengineering, but not if it means wasting mitigation funding and time on chasing rainbows.


  10. William, there is a new publication called “New water paradigm” – claiming that the main reason of “regional” climate changes is the management of small water cycle; i.e. agricultural practices, urbanization =- which mainly leads to increased rainfall run-off and “drying of continents”…
    I would love your comment 😉

    Click to access Water_for_the_Recovery_of_the_Climate_A_New_Water_Paradigm.pdf

    [Its too long. I skimmed to the end but… they need to condense a lot. That changes in water management can affect regional climate seems reasonable. It looks like ideas RP Sr would be happy with -W]


  11. Guthrie says

    “The anti-environmentalists and denialists will feed it to their base either saying “Hey, see we can technologise our way out of the problem” and not do anything about it themselves, thus prolonging the problems.

    Lets see what the IAC said

    ” It is urgent to increase efficiency in the global production and use of energy. Energy efficiency has been a major field for the G8 countries since the 2003 Evian Summit.Concentrating on energy efficiency is an effective contribution towards meeting the global energy challenges The implementation of measures to increase energy
    efficiency will depend to a decisive extent on financing options and technology knowledge. A sound financial and technological framework and improved global investment conditions will therefore be vital.

    Against this background it will be necessary to develop and deploy new sources and systems for energy supply, including clean use of coal, carbon capture and storage, unconventional fossil fuel resources, advanced nuclear systems, advanced renewable energy systems (including solar, wind, biomass and geothermal energy), smart grids and energy storage technologies. Research focused on the energy field must be enlarged significantly.

    The InterAcademy Council (IAC) is preparing a report on these challenges, which will be available later this year.”(November)

    Of course billionaire entrepreneurs already realized the availability of alternative energy systems,”prescient vision ” being why they are billionaires thats why they personally invest more then the EU.



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