Clean coal?

Clean coal – as in burning and capturing the CO2 – is an idea being floated. There are obvious problems (apart from anything else, the capture and storage costs extra energy and so burns even more coal…), and AFAIK only a few pilot schemes exist. So the story that a commercial-scale plant was being built was interesting. Desmogblog commented on it under the heading “The Expensive Myth of Clean Coal” (and just in case youre not inclined to follow the link, there’s an extra bonus of a gratuitous tart-in-a-bikini awaiting you). It looks to be a coal-industry boondoggle: for a $1.8B plant there is a $1B subsidy, which according to DSB makes it about 2* as expensive as wind and about as expensive as solar. I wonder how much subsidy the US solar industry gets?

Green aeroplanes, ho ho

A mind-bogglingly stupid article in the Times came my way. Someone has built a small aeroplane powered by batteries. So far nothing exciting. But then to report the claim Ms Lavrand said that the fuel cost per hour of the Electra was €1 (70p) compared with about €60 for an equivalent petrol-driven machine. The motor and batteries will cost between €10,000 and €15,000, about the same as existing small petrol engines. I don’t believe that a 25 hp engine would be anything like €10,000, nor that the fuel price disparity could be a factor of 60 – it should be the same as for electric/petrol cars; ie, not very much.

Rather more sanely, Hot Topic points to a report saying that NZ “causes” about 10% of its CO2 emissions from long-haul flights. I say “causes” because its not really obvious who to count the emissions against – NZ for being such a nice place that people want to come, or the home country of the people that go. Plane CO2 is the hardest to reduce (electric planes are obviously hopeless) and NZ is a long way away, so this may become a problem for them, in the unlikely event of peoples conciences getting the better of them.

Electric car emissions?

OK, who knows how electric car emissions compare to, say, diesel in terms of CO2/km? I mean pure battery electric, not hybrid. Obviously you have to assume some generating mix to produce the electricity, and the answer might vary for where you live: if you take France’s 70% nuclear electric then you get a different answer to our coal/oil/gas/electric mix.

But are there any decent numbers up anywhere?

[Update: the first commenter seems to have found the best ref, thanks. The answer is that EVs are a bit better but it does depend on what you’re burning to make lectric.

Note: the Times on friday had an article claiming that the UK was making a big mistake by investing in more diesel trains rather than electrification, because in trains the diff is a factor of two -W]

80% by 2050?

Inel points us to a report by the IPPR, WWF and RSPB claiming that we can cut our carbon emissions by 80% by 2050. My immeadiate reaction is doubt. Comparing their numbers with what I had from a previous post, I don’t see any reason to change my mind.

Inel, rather naughtily to my mind, simply posts the report without offering any comment, which is a cop-out.
Continue reading “80% by 2050?”

Biofuels, again

Another study weighing in against biofuels, this time by Nobel Prize winning Paul Crutzen. Yes, I said that just to wind up Maribo – read his take. I’ve long been skeptical (septical?) of the biofuels stuff, especially corn-based ethanol, which looks more like pork for farmers than a sensible policy. On the conventional view, CBE is at best marginally useful in reducing CO2 emissions (but in which case the same money would be far better off spent elsewhere) or actually harmful. In a sense, this doesn’t matter, because its driven by pork barrel politics not science, but I suppose we can hope to keep the science somewhere in the picture.

So the new argument is N2O release from agro-biofuel production negates global warming reduction by replacing fossil fuels and the argument is that “The relationship, on a global basis, between the amount of N fixed by chemical, biological or atmospheric processes entering the terrestrial biosphere, and the total emission of nitrous oxide (N2O), has been re-examined, using known global atmospheric removal rates and concentration growth of N2O as a proxy for overall emissions. The relationship, in both the pre-industrial period and in recent times, after taking into account the large-scale changes in synthetic N fertiliser production and deforestation, is consistent, showing an overall conversion factor of 3-5%. This factor is covered only in part by the ~1% of “direct” emissions from agricultural crop lands estimated by IPCC (2006), or the “indirect” emissions cited therein. This means that the extra N2O entering the atmosphere as a result of using N to produce crops for biofuels will also be correspondingly greater than that estimated just on the basis of IPCC (2006). When the extra N2O emission from biofuel production is calculated in “CO2-equivalent” global warming terms, and compared with the quasi-cooling effect of “saving” emissions of fossil fuel derived CO2, the outcome is that the production of commonly used biofuels, such as biodiesel from rapeseed and bioethanol from corn (maize), can contribute as much or more to global warming by N2O emissions than cooling by fossil fuel savings“. So this means (if correct) that only by considering N2O you get a net warming, let alone all the CO2 emissions in producing them. The difference, as Maribo points out, is their using 3-5% rather than 1%. C et al. know they are doing this, and think they are justified (e.g. response here).

Quite who is right is not clear to me; but this is only the “under review” copy of the paper so it will be interesting to see what changes occur during the review process. At the moment it looks to me as though C et al. aren’t giving any ground.

Peak Oil, again

World oil supplies are set to run out faster than expected, warn scientists but this turns out to be the usual suspects. Its in response to BP: BP’s Statistical Review of World Energy, published yesterday, appears to show that the world still has enough “proven” reserves to provide 40 years of consumption at current rates. The assessment, based on officially reported figures, has once again pushed back the estimate of when the world will run dry.

But the Peak Oil folk (well, Colin Campbell) say it’s quite a simple theory and one that any beer drinker understands. The glass starts full and ends empty and the faster you drink it the quicker it’s gone. Gosh, that was easy… but how about some numbers? (he also says When I was the boss of an oil company I would never tell the truth. It’s not part of the game – which leads me to wonder: is he telling the truth now?). The numbers: global production of oil is set to peak in the next four years before entering a steepening decline.

Um, well, who is right? Wiki says Economist Michael Lynch claims Campbell’s research data is sloppy. He points to the date of the coming peak, which was initially projected to occur by 1995, but has now been pushed back to 2007.[citation needed] However, Campbell and his supporters insist that when the peak occurs is not as important as the realization that the peak is coming.[citation needed]. Um. So maybe it won’t be the next 4 years after all.

[Update: hey, peak oil posts are popular, I must do more of them. Meanwhile, a reader writes: If oil is so abundant, why are we digging up bitumen and drilling several klicks below the Gulf of Mexico waters to sate our demand? to which I would reply: because oil is $60 a barrel and oil shale bitumen is economic at $30 (or whatever) a barrel.

On another note, I presume that there are people within the oil industry who really know what is going on. If there was a real scarcity of oil, it should be in the futures prices. OTOH the price went up from $10 to $60 without any great change in reserves, so trying to guess reserves from prices is tricky! -W]

[Another update: 2 people (plus a friend down the pub) picked me up on my economic illiteracy: I had assumed that futures prices would show a rise if future oil was going to be scarce. But D says it most clearly: You can always buy on the spot market and sell on the future market by paying the price of carry (cost of storage plus the opportunity cost of forgoing the best risk-free investment), therefore the future price can never exceed todays spot price plus the price of carry for the period in question. Which is pretty much what the futures prices seem to show… constant-ish at around $70. I assume its the “sett” column I should be reading? -W]

The ethanol program in Brazil

Having been rather negative about bio-fuels, I’ll be positive and mention The ethanol program in Brazil. And the abstract is: The number of automobiles in the world has been growing fast and today requires one quarter of the global petroleum consumption. This problem requires adequate solutions, one of which Brazil has achieved with the Sugarcane Ethanol Program. This paper presents the history of this program, from its launch in the 1970s to the today’s condition of full competitiveness in a free market. It also shows how it can be replicated to other countries, in order to replace 10 per cent of the world’s gasoline consumption.

It also has some stats on energy output/input ratios, showing sugar cane (10) far ahead of wood, corn or beet (various, centered around 2 ish).

[Apologies – the link I added is obviously some on-the-fly thing designed to stop people doing what i’ve done. So: the journal is http://www.iop.org/EJ/toc/1748-9326/1/1 and the article is down at the bottom – by José Goldemberg. I also notice that there is “Learning from the Brazilian biofuel experience” higher up -W]

[Update: since this post I’ve found/had recommended The Ethanol Illusion and http://i-r-squared.blogspot.com, both of which are rather less optimistic. The latter says the return on oil is 6 ish, which makes 10 for sugar seem very high -W]