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Carbon Capture: 'Only Realistic and Affordable Way to Dramatically Reduce Emissions'
Governments may no longer be investing in the capture of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. But a new study says that doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea.
It argues that the world just needs to think harder and spend more to make the technology work because, to contain climate change, it may prove the only realistic and affordable way to dramatically reduce carbon emissions.
Many governments appear to agree and include carbon capture and storage in their plans to keep the world from dangerous climate change. But, at the same time, many are abandoning the trials that are needed to make it work.
In a world addicted to fossil fuel energy, but threatened with catastrophic climate change driven by the greenhouse gas emissions from those same fossil fuels, he said that one effective answer would be to capture the carbon dioxide before it gets into the atmosphere and then store it.
He wrote that the only way to find out how to do this is to spend billions on a range of possible attempts at carbon capture and storage (CCS) and then choose the best one.
“If we are serious about meeting aggressive national or global emissions, the only way to do it affordably is with CCS,” Reiner said. “But, since 2008, we have seen a decline in interest in CCS, which has essentially been in lock step with our declining interest in doing anything serious about climate change.”
Just before the UN climate change summit in Paris last December, the UK government cancelled a £1 billion competition to support large-scale demonstration projects. Since 2008, other projects have been cancelled in the U.S., Canada, Australia and Europe.
But oil companies have for two decades been testing the approach on a small scale and energy scientists have been working on imaginative solutions to what promises to become a global crisis in which the same energy technologies that fuel global economic growth also threaten to change the global climate and impoverish billions of people.
While every aspect of carbon capture and storage poses puzzles—such as whether power-generating stations make the capture efficiently and where the gas could be safely stored—chemists have dreams of actually exploiting captured carbon dioxide to create new wealth and drive economies in cleaner, greener directions.
But research costs money. Solar and wind power can be tested on a small scale. To make CCS work, engineers and scientists and power-generating agencies have to think big. One single demonstration plant could cost $1 billion.
“Scaling up any new technology is difficult, but it’s that much harder if you’re working in billion-dollar chunks,” Reiner said. “At 10 million or even 100 million dollars, you will be able to find ways to fund the research and development. But being really serious about CCS and making it work means allocating large sums at a time when national budgets are still under stress after the global financial crisis.”
The other problem is that any project can fail—even one that costs a billion dollars.
“The nature of demonstration is that you work out the kinks, find out what works and what doesn’t,” Reiner added. “It’s what’s done in science or in research and development all the time: you expect that nine out of 10 ideas won’t work, that nine of 10 oil wells you drill won’t turn up anything, that nine of 10 new drug candidates will fail.
Funding or Mandates
“Whereas firms will make ample returns on a major oil discovery or a blockbuster drug, to make up for the many failures along the way, that is clearly not the case for CCS, so the answer is almost certainly government funding or mandates,” Reiner explained.
In his study, he concluded that “the initial rationales for demonstration have not been revisited in the face of changing circumstances.” But the problem CCS was intended to address has not gone away either.
He wants to see a global portfolio of new projects to share risk and possible rewards. “If we are not going to get CCS to happen, it’s hard to imagine getting the dramatic emissions reductions we need to limit global warming to 2C—or 3C for that matter,” he said.
“However, there’s an inherent tension in developing CCS—it is not a single technology but a whole suite and if there are six CCS paths we can go down, it’s almost impossible to know, sitting where we are now, which is the right path.
“Somewhat ironically, we have to be willing to invest in these high-cost gambles or we will never be able to deliver an affordable, low-carbon energy system,” Reiner said.
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A powerful volcano on Monday rocked an uninhabited island frequented by tourists about 30 miles off New Zealand's coast. Authorities have confirmed that five people died. They expect that number to rise as some are missing and police officials issued a statement that flights around the islands revealed "no signs of life had been seen at any point,", as The Guardian reported.
"Based on the information we have, we do not believe there are any survivors on the island," the police said in their official statement. "Police is working urgently to confirm the exact number of those who have died, further to the five confirmed deceased already."
The eruption happened on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island, an islet jutting out of the Bay of Plenty, off the country's North Island. The island is privately owned and is typically visited for day-trips by thousands of tourists every year, according to The New York Times.
My god, White Island volcano in New Zealand erupted today for first time since 2001. My family and I had gotten off it 20 minutes before, were waiting at our boat about to leave when we saw it. Boat ride home tending to people our boat rescued was indescribable. #whiteisland pic.twitter.com/QJwWi12Tvt— Michael Schade (@sch) December 9, 2019
Michael Schade / Twitter
At the time of the eruption on Monday, about 50 passengers from the Ovation of Seas were on the island, including more than 30 who were part of a Royal Caribbean cruise trip, according to CNN. Twenty-three people, including the five dead, were evacuated from the island.
The eruption occurred at 2:11 pm local time on Monday, as footage from a crater camera owned and operated by GeoNet, New Zealand's geological hazards agency, shows. The camera also shows dozens of people walking near the rim as white smoke billows just before the eruption, according to Reuters.
Police were unable to reach the island because searing white ash posed imminent danger to rescue workers, said John Tims, New Zealand's deputy police commissioner, as he stood next to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in a press conference, as The New York Times reported. Tims said rescue workers would assess the safety of approaching the island on Tuesday morning. "We know the urgency to go back to the island," he told reporters.
"The physical environment is unsafe for us to return to the island," Tims added, as CNN reported. "It's important that we consider the health and safety of rescuers, so we're taking advice from experts going forward."
Authorities have had no communication with anyone on the island. They are frantically working to identify how many people remain and who they are, according to CNN.
Geologists said the eruption is not unexpected and some questioned why the island is open to tourism.
"The volcano has been restless for a few weeks, resulting in the raising of the alert level, so that this eruption is not really a surprise," said Bill McGuire, emeritus professor of geophysical and climate hazards at University College London, as The Guardian reported.
"White Island has been a disaster waiting to happen for many years," said Raymond Cas, emeritus professor at Monash University's school of earth, atmosphere and environment, as The Guardian reported. "Having visited it twice, I have always felt that it was too dangerous to allow the daily tour groups that visit the uninhabited island volcano by boat and helicopter."
The prime minister arrived Monday night in Whakatane, the town closest to the eruption, where day boats visiting the island are docked. Whakatane has a large Maori population.
Ardern met with local council leaders on Monday. She is scheduled to meet with search and rescue teams and will speak to the media at 7 a.m. local time (1 p.m. EST), after drones survey the island, as CNN reported.
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