Posted by pfairley on October 18, 2012
Natural gas has no odor, but you can smell a leak thanks to the addition of an odorific mercaptam compound. Do carbon dioxide and other similarly odorless greenhouse gases (GHGs) require some analogous device to make their presence known and thus prompt evasive action? Yes, and for these ubiquitous gases, it will be a visual cue indicating the source and quantity of GHGs.
Consider the software unveiled this month by researchers at Arizona State University, which estimates GHG emissions in cities at the level of individual road segments and buildings. According to their report in the journal Environmental Science and Technology, the system mines public databases for broader statistics on energy use, local air pollution and traffic flows, then feeds those to traffic simulators and a building-by-building energy-consumption models. The result is high-resolution maps that present GHG emissions in a format that’s both useful to policymakers and comprehensible to the public.
“Cities have had little information with which to guide reductions in greenhouse gas emissions – and you can’t reduce what you can’t measure,” says Kevin Gurney, a senior scientist with ASU’s Global Institute of Sustainability. “We can provide cities with a complete, three-dimensional picture of where, when and how carbon dioxide emissions are occurring.”
So far, maps for Indianapolis are complete and work is ongoing for Los Angeles and Phoenix. Ultimately they hope to map CO2 emissions for all major cities across the United States.
ASU’s effort to pinpoint emissions is part of a broader trend that I profiled in July for Earthzine, an online Earth observation journal, earlier this year. I noted a forerunner to ASU’s software that has been operating for several years in Finland, where environmental consulting firm Benviroc’s CO2-raportti news portal presents weekly estimates of Finland’s emissions by province and, increasingly, by city.
There are also more sophisticated systems that attempt to directly observe rather than estimate localized GHG emissions. Last year, for example, researchers at the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology used ground station detection data to model how much trifluoromethane (a gas whose 100-year warming impact is 15,000-times greater than that of CO2) were being released from each country in Western Europe. Their findings differed substantially from the emissions levels reported to the UN by several countries; Italy’s reports appear to be 10 times too low, likely due to undeclared emissions from a refrigerants factory near Milan.
Such top-down reporting thus does more than simply raise consciousness about sources and causes of GHGs. It provides an independent means of verifying GHG emissions, something that could be critical to reignite diplomatic efforts to control and ultimate drive down GHGs. As ASU’s Gurney puts it: “These results may also help overcome current barriers to the United States joining an international climate change treaty.”
This post was created for Energywise, IEEE Spectrum’s blog on green power, cars and climate
Posted in Climate Change, Earth observation, Emissions, Renewable Energy | Tagged: Arizona State University, ASU, Climate Change, Earthzine, emissions modeling, Environmental Science & Technology, ES&T | Leave a Comment »
Posted by pfairley on July 19, 2012
Last year Swiss researchers demonstrated that European countries release more of the potent greenhouse gas trifluoromethane than they report. It was just the latest in a growing number of case studies showing that polluters and governments might be under-estimating their climate change impact, but it served to highlight the science and technology that can reveal such cheating Read the rest of this entry »
Posted in Climate Science, Emissions, Climate Change, Earth observation, Climate Communication | Tagged: Climate Change, Earthzine, emissions verification | Leave a Comment »
Posted by pfairley on October 7, 2010
Heckled and booed off the stage at a series of public meetings earlier this month, Quebec’s salesman-in-chief for a novel energy development withdrew from the fight this week – citing the advice of worried doctors but vowing to rejoin the fight. The inspiration for André Caillé’s intemperate welcome was not a coal-fired power plant or a pipeline full of heavy oil from Alberta’s tarsands, but what until recently was considered the green fossil fuel: methane. Read the rest of this entry »
Posted in Carbon capture & storage, Emissions, Hydropower, Natural gas, Sequestration, Shale gas | Tagged: fracking, Natural gas, Quebec | Leave a Comment »
Posted by pfairley on December 10, 2008
Click image to see IEA's Tanaka on CCS at Poznan
International climate change negotiators gathered in Poznan, Poland to draft a follow-on to the Kyoto protocol appear to have rejected the talks’ most controversial proposal: giving a big boost to carbon capture and storage (CCS), whereby carbon dioxide produced by coal-fired power plants is trapped deep underground. The proposal was to award carbon credits to developing countries that installed CCS equipment — credits that they could then sell to industrialized nations or companies — but this morning opponents successfully tabled the proposal until next June, according to climate policy blog Climatico.
Countries pushing the credits-for-CCS proposal included Japan, Norway, Australia and Canada. All are major coal consumers eyeing CCS to meet their own greenhouse gas reduction targets and/or oil and gas producers that could dual-purpose captured CO2 for enhanced oil recovery. Japan and Canada also figure among the nations furthest behind in meeting emissions cuts mandated by the Kyoto protocol, and could be big buyers of CCS-generated carbon credits.
International Energy Agency executive director Nobuo Tanaka had also added his support (see video). Tanaka calls credits a means of accelerating development of capture and sequestration technologies, which the IEA sees as crucial to control emissions in countries such as China that will remain heavily dependent on coal for decades to come. “These technologies need all the financial help they can get,” says Tanaka.
But the idea remained red-hot among the climate activists swarming Poznan this week as it unites a controversial technology with an already controversial program. They see carbon sequestration as a potentially risky technology that could delay the transition from coal to solar, wind and other forms of renewable energy. Meanwhile the UN’s Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), which manages the awarding of carbon credits to developing nations, attracts scorn from those who see carbon trading as a numbers game by which countries will avoid making real emissions cuts.
Many question whether emissions cuts certified for millions of dollars worth of credits under the CDM wouldn’t have occurred anyway — whether they offer ‘additionality’ in the UN lingo flowing in Poland this week.
The UN acknowledged possible problems after spot-checking a leading CDM certification firm and identifying a series of “non-conformities” in its auditing practices. The firm, DNV Certification AS, was suspended but insists it is addressing the concerns identified to regain its accreditation.
Poznan’s ministerial-level talks start tomorrow and should wrap up Friday. Unless they pop CCS back onto the agenda the credits proposal will be stalled until next June’s followup meeting in Bonn. That meeting is a prelude to the big game that will define global energy policy: final negotiations and, if all goes as planned, the signing of a ‘Kyoto II’ treaty in Copenhagen next December.
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This post was created for the Technology Review Editors Blog: Insights, opinions and analysis of the latest in emerging technologies
Posted in Carbon capture & storage, Carbon trading, Coal, Emissions, Energy Economics & Policy, Energy politics | Tagged: carbon capture, CCS, Climatico, Coal, energy, poznan, unfccc | Leave a Comment »
Posted by pfairley on September 26, 2008
Climate change skeptics obsess about the immense uncertainties that plague climate modeling. It’s not, however, all a matter of mysterious physics and chemistry. Human behavior — in this case our boundless capacity to ignore grave danger — poses the greatest challenge. No order of scientific progress nailing down the links that regulate Earth’s climate will enable certain projections of climate change over the next century because it is human behavior that controls the most powerful element: emissions of greenhouse gases such as CO2 and methane.
Today scientists with the international Global Carbon Project are releasing an updated accounting of CO2 emissions, and they far exceed the best guesses of human behavior by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). ”Emissions in 2007 were at the high end of’ those used for climate projections in the last [IPCC] report,” says Global Carbon Project participant Corinne Le Quéré, an environmental chemist at the University of East Anglia.
Emissions from burning fossil fuels and cement manufacturing — the largest sources of anthropogenic CO2 — continue to increase rapidly (see graph above); in 2007 they were now 38% higher than in 1990. In total, emissions drove up the atmospheric concentration of CO2 by 2.2 parts per million last year, compared with 1.8 ppm in 2006. At the end of 2007 CO2 was at 383 ppm — the highest concentration during the last 650,000 years and probably during the last 20 million years according to the Global Carbon Project.
At the same time the oceans, which in past acted as a buffer to absorb excess CO2, are saturating. Le Quéré, who coauthored a report last year in Science that the Antarctic Ocean had already saturated, calls it a dangerous combination: “If this trend continues and the natural sinks weaken, we are on track towards the highest projections of climate change.”
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Posted in Cement, Climate Science, Climate skeptics, Emissions, Energy models | Tagged: Cement, Corinne Le Quéré, Global Carbon Project, IPCC | Leave a Comment »