Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Perspective

In writing my last post, I began thinking about how important perspective can be in our view of a given topic. Some instances:
  • if you came from a planet that had never burned fossil fuels (or from our planet but 300 years ago) you'd probably find the whole notion of burning fossil fuels on the scale we do to be abhorrent, what with the pollution, oil spills, global warming etc. However, we are accustomed to it, so it doesn't bother (most of) us.
  • If you're used to your hydrocarbons coming nice and easily from a Saudi field (where the method of extraction is pretty much stick a hole in the ground, let the light, sweet crude oil flow up with hardly any effort at all) then things like shale gas, hydrofracking and tar sands seem crazy.
  • However, if someone is considering burning coal from underneath your feet (UCG, see my previous post), suddenly shale gas doesn't seem so bad after all.
During my PhD I worked on Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS). In this process, CO2 is captured from coal power plants and pumped to appropriate sedimentary basins where it is injected into deep lying saline aquifers, preventing CO2 emissions which cause global warming. Some people think this is a crazy idea - why don't we just not burn the coal in the first place, and use renewable energy instead? Here's Greenpeace on the matter.

However, a sense of perspective can be achieved by considering the work of some colleagues of mine who are working on a project called 'SPICE' - Stratospheric Particle Injection for Climate Engineering. We are currently looking at the possibility of constructing a huge pipeline into the stratosphere, through which we can pump sulphate particles that will help absorb the sun's rays and reduce global warming to manageable levels. When you consider that plan B is a 25km space-pipe injecting sulphate into the stratosphere, wouldn't it be a better idea to start burying CO2 emitted from power plants now, rather than hoping that we will switch to renewable energy at some unspecified point in the future. Perspective people......

3 comments:

  1. But we're already switching to renewable energy now... CCS is quite some distance off. Not that we shouldn't have CCS! We need it, but the reality is that renewables are moving faster than CCS.

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    1. Oooh, my first ever comment. Thank you anonymous - good to know somebody's out there.....

      I suspect that we're broadly singing off the same hymn sheet: it's not about doing either CCS or renewables, it's about doing both CCS and renewables as soon as possible.

      However, from a technical point of view I would disagree that CCS is some distance off - given the appropriate political and economical drivers, CCS could happen tomorrow (have a look at Weyburn or Sleipner - given an economic driver, CCS happens with barely a hitch). I must admit I'm not sure exactly what the situation is with wind power, but it seems to me that at present it gets a lot more support, both financial and political, than CCS.

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