While there is still no clear roadmap for dealing with climate change, we should have optimism about all the effort being invested in ways to reverse or adapt to it. Proposed solutions include technologies that range from how to remove and store CO2 from the environment and from emissions at conventional power plants, to chemical or material alterations of the atmosphere, to changing the soft technologies of how and where we live and farm.
Examples of experimental technologies currently being trialed are efforts underway at The Technology Centre at Mongstad (TCM) Norway. A collaboration between the Norwegian government, the state owned oil company Gassnova, Statoil, Shell and the South African company, Sasol, the TCM will test CO2 capture on two types of common power plant and refinery emissions. The plant’s description states that it will test the technologies on emissions from “the existing catalytic cracker facility at the Mongstad Refinery and the other is emissions from the gas-fired combined heat and power plant (CHP), which is under construction.”
The plant will test an amine technology from Aker Solutions and a chilled ammonia technology from Alstom. Both technologies focus on taking exhaust emissions and filtering them through a chemical solvent that separates the CO2 and provides for future storage. Both processes work on emissions from a variety of existing plants and energy sources such as coal, gas, etc. Both technologies are explained in more depth at sites that are linked below.
The planning, which was begun in 2006, has finally culminated in actual construction of the facility. A link below leads to a film that depicts what is being built. The Norwegian government has opened the facility to the world and invited all companies to use it to test their alternative technologies to clean up emissions of existing refineries and power plants. While initial results of both technologies are positive, the question will be whether either or both are proven to be economic as well. If these technologies work and are economic, they will significantly extend the useful life of conventional plants.
In another development reported in Nature Materials on June 3, 2012, scientists in the UK announced creation of an “interpenetrated metal-organic framework” which represents “a new class of dynamic material that undergoes pronounced framework phase transition on desolvation.” The material, referred to as NOTT-202, works like a sponge which absorbs gases when under high pressure. Essentially, “These complex molecules (of NOTT-202) can be made to join together in frameworks that leave gaps suitable for capturing gases.” As the pressure is reduced, CO2 remains captured while other gases are released. The breakthrough of this new material is its selectivity for CO2 and its potential suitability for long term storage.
This approach of seeking technologies to remove CO2 from the atmosphere or emissions is, in the opinion of many scientists, the best way to immediately fight climate change. It is one of seven ideas (Air Capture of CO2) which were described in a 2009 report to the UK’s Royal Society and which have been cited in reports by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences in 2010 and by the Washington-based Bipartisan Policy Center in 2011.
The report included other ideas such as Cloud Seeding (seeding clouds with a spray of salty ocean water or a water attracting powder) to create small micro-droplets of moisture that reflect sunlight away from the planet’s surface, Aerosols in the Atmosphere which involves releasing tiny particles in the stratosphere to reflect sunlight back into space, and a proposal to create Sun Space Shields which reflect the sun’s radiation away from Earth. Speeding up Weathering suggests we try to take advantage of silicate rocks which degrade in the weather leaving their silicate free to react chemically with CO2, storing it as carbonate rock. Making the Desert Shiny is a plan to cover deserts with reflective polyethylene-aluminum sheets to boost the Earth’s reflection of radiation. The final proposal was for Ocean Fertilization or seeding ocean waters with nutrients to encourage the growth of algae which represents a natural sponge to soak up CO2. As the algae dies its dead organic matter sinks to the ocean bottom, effectively storing more carbon dioxide in the ocean.
When these proposals are rated against their impact, affordability, timeliness, and safety, Air Capture of CO2 received lower marks on affordability and timeliness than putting Aerosols in the Atmosphere but was given the highest rating as a safe option. Atmospheric Aerosols was given the most risky rating. Presumably, it is on this basis that Air Capture of CO2 has received the most attention.
Finally, from those looking at the softer technologies of how and where we live and farm come suggestions of inevitable steps we must anticipate over the next several decades. These thoughts include building new “Waterworld” Homes that are floating structures, constructing Underground Cities to shelter populations from the harsher extremes of climate, and creating Floating Farms to help feed the world’s burgeoning population. Other thoughts are of Smart Energy power grids that are flexible enough to juggle the mix of old and new energy sources but still capable of sending energy where it is needed. Some have considered the creation of Vertical Farms with many levels of planted crops reaching skyward or even underground. Finally, there is much interest in Climate Adapted Crops or genetically engineering crops that can resist droughts, floods, heat, cold, and salt. This is an area that big chemical companies see for future profit and where they are seeking patent protection (a reported 1,633 patents as of 2010 as reported by the ETC Group).
All of these efforts reinforce our underlying optimism that humanity will react to that which threatens us, will respond and adapt. Our only hope is that our efforts are soon enough and comprehensive enough to avoid the more wrenching changes and threats many fear as a result of runaway climate change.
Use the following links to access more information:
For a video on the Mongstad facility use: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UBnvd_omYXM