Stories tagged CO2


Lisa Jackson: The head of the EPA met with House Republicans recently to discuss carbon regulation.
Lisa Jackson: The head of the EPA met with House Republicans recently to discuss carbon regulation.Courtesy EPA
I'm assuming that you aren't at home watching dense legal proceedings related to the regulation of molecules in our atmosphere. So here's the timeline of a recent important story.

  1. Humans figure out how to turn things (engines, turbines) by burning coal and petroleum. This makes like life a whole lot better in lots of ways.
  2. Scientists figure out that, all that burning is causing some problems. When we burn that stuff, we put carbon in the atmosphere and that's disrupting the natural climate system leading to all kinds of problems.
  3. Some different humans hear about this science and think we should pass a law. This law should put some limits on how much carbon we put into the atmosphere.
  4. The humans in the Republican controlled House don't like this idea, because they think these limits would cripple the economy. Oh, and some of them don't even believe the scientists. Since these Republicans are in charge right now, no new law.
  5. The humans over at the Environmental Protection Agency, who are mostly scientists, notice that they should already be regulating all this carbon, because of an existing law, the Clean Air Act.
  6. The Supreme Court agrees
  7. The House Republicans, disagree and call a hearing with the head of the EPA.
  8. Who knows what's next...

OK, you're up to date. Unfortunately the media is framing this issue in military terms. "The coming battle." "EPA and Republicans spar over climate change." "EPA blocks Republican rocket launcher with sweet ion science shield." Yeah, I made that last one up. But we don't need battles, we need conversations and action.

My point is that this issue is a great opportunity to have a discussion about how science is used in our public policy decisions. Do you think the EPA is too focused on the scientific findings related to climate change? Are they ignoring the economic impacts? Are you frustrated with some of the Republican views that outright deny the scientific findings on what's causing climate disruption? Are they ignoring real facts? Could this issue be alleviated by better science education?

This is us
This is usCourtesy jadensmommy
Seriously, America, you really don't know much about how climate works. Like, most of us get an F when it comes to climate. Check it out: 52 Percent of Americans Flunk Climate 101. And here's a .pdf of the quiz. Test yourself, and tell us in the comments how you did!


What if I told you University of Minnesota geology and geophysics professor, Martin Saar, says geothermal energy can be made even greener through carbon sequestration?!

You’d probably say, “Huh?? Hold on, what is geothermal energy anyway, and how does it work?”

Geothermal is heat from deep inside the earth. Because heat is a form of energy, it can be captured and used to heat buildings or make electricity. There are three basic ways geothermal power plants work:

  1. Dry steam plants: Uses high-pressured hot steam to turn generator turbines. Think “steam to turbines.”
  2. Flash steam plants: Uses high-pressure hot water to create steam to turn generator turbines. Think “water to steam to turbines.”
  3. Binary cycle power plants: Uses high-pressure hot water to heat another liquid, which then turns to steam and turns the generator turbines. Think “water to other liquid to steam to turbines.”

(Click here for great diagrams of each of these geothermal energy production methods.)

“And what about carbon sequestration too? What’s that and how does it work?”
Carbon Sequestration: This nifty diagram illustrates both terrestrial and geologic carbon sequestration pathways.  Bonus!
Carbon Sequestration: This nifty diagram illustrates both terrestrial and geologic carbon sequestration pathways. Bonus!Courtesy Department of Energy

Carbon sequestration includes carbon (usually in the form of carbon dioxide, CO2) capture, separation, transportation, and storage or reuse. Plants, which “breathe” CO2, naturally sequester carbon, but people have found ways to do it artificially too. When fossil fuels are burned to power your car or heat your home, they emit CO2, a greenhouse gas partially responsible for global climate change. It is possible to capture those emissions, separate the bad CO2, and transport it somewhere for storage or beneficial reuse. CO2 can be stored in under the Earth’s surface or, according to Martin Saar’s research, used in geothermal energy production.

Alright. We’re back to Professor Saar’s research. Ready to know just how he plans to sequester carbon in geothermal energy production?

It’s a simple idea, really, now that you know about geothermal energy and carbon sequestration. Prof. Saar says geothermal energy can be made even greener by replacing water with CO2 as the medium carrying heat from deep within the earth to the surface for electricity generation. In this way, waste CO2 can be sequestered and put to beneficial use! As a bonus, CO2 is even more efficient than water at transferring heat.

But don’t take my word for it. Come hear Professor Martin Saar’s lecture, CO2 – Use It Or Lose It!, yourself during the Institute on the Environment’s Frontiers on the Environment lecture series, Wednesday, October 27, 2010 from noon-1pm.

Frontiers in the Environment is free and open to the public with no registration required! The lectures are held in the Institute on the Environment’s Seminar Room (Rm. 380) of the Vocational-Technical Education Building on the St. Paul campus (map).


Cleaner coal: The Mountaineer Power Plant is the first in the world to capture some of the carbon dioxide it emits from burning 3.5 million tons of coal yearly and sequester it two and a half kilometers underground.
Cleaner coal: The Mountaineer Power Plant is the first in the world to capture some of the carbon dioxide it emits from burning 3.5 million tons of coal yearly and sequester it two and a half kilometers underground.Courtesy rmcgervey

Carbon dioxide removed from power plant exhaust and pumped underground

In addition to other environmental technology add-ons that strip out the fly ash, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides, the Mountaineer Power Plant in West Virginia now also uses a carbon-capture unit built by Alstom. Dubbed the "chilled ammonia" process, baker's ammonia is used to strip carbon dioxide from the cooled flue gas and then, by reheating the resulting ammonium bicarbonate, captures that carbon dioxide, compresses it into a liquid, and

pumps it 2,375 meters straight down into the Rose Run sandstone, a 35-meter-thick layer with a nine-meter-thick band of porous rock suitable for storage. (or...) into Copper Ridge dolomite, which has much thinner strata for possible storage, more than 2,450 meters down. Thick bands of shale and limestone that lie on top ensure that the carbon dioxide does not escape back to the surface. Scientific American

Only 1.5% but first in the world

Only about 1.5 percent of the carbon dioxide billowing from its stack is being captured now. Scaling up the process to capture 20% of the CO2 will cost at least $700 million. The removal of carbon dioxide will add abouts 4 cents more to the current cost of Mountaineer electricity (roughly 5 cents per kWh). This chilled-ammonia technology should be available commercially by 2015.

Learn more:
Slide show of Mountaineer Power carbon sequestering technology.
First Look at Carbon Capture and Storage in a West Virginia Coal-Fired Power Plant Scientific American


This jump is brought to you by: Joy.
This jump is brought to you by: Joy.Courtesy tbonzzz_6
Get your bells out, everybody, and ring them! The Chevy Volt is here! (In a year.)

GM released new details today about its new gas and electric hybrid car, the Chevy Volt. Using a plug-in battery (as opposed to current, unmodified hybrid cars, which recharge only via the gas engine), GM claims that the Volt should be able to achieve approximately 320 miles to the gallon during city driving. Estimates haven’t been completed for combined city and highway driving, by officials are confident that fuel economy will remain in the triple digits.

The car should have a range of about 40 miles, using its battery alone, at which point the gas engine would kick in. Nearly 80% of Americans, however, commute less than 40 miles each day, so most of the expended energy could come from the electrical grid (the car will plug into a standard outlet), instead of from gasoline.

GM’s chief executive calls the Volt a “game changer.”

Finally, a game-changing American car. Not like those sissy Prius drivers, making smug environmental statements by purchasing impractically expensive vehicles. Sure, the Volt will be entering the game about 9 years late, but it does so with the confidence that every environmentally conscious working-class American with $40,000 to drop on a sweet new car will… wait, what?

What about the rest of GM’s 2010 lineup? They’re cutting more than half of their 30+ mpg cars? But a few Volts on the road should bring that fleet average up, right?

And GM is pushing for environmental responsibility in other areas, at least, right? Oh, they’re pulling out of a partnership that collects toxic mercury from their old scrapped cars?

Well, it was a nice thought. And it’s comforting to hear someone say something like “game changer” now and again.

Weeellllll... it looks like the volt may be kind of an unremarkable car after all. Despite their claims last year that it would get something like 230 miles to the gallon, auto trade magazines are test driving it now, and saying it actually gets mileage in the 30 - 40 mpg range. That's less than a Prius. But don't worry, it's still super expensive. Huh. I mean, I couldn't design a "game-changing" car, but, then again, I never said I would. It turns out, too, that even though GM insisted that it wasn't really a hybrid car, and that the gasoline powered engine would only drive a generator for the battery... that's all not true. The gas engine does charge the battery, but it also will drive the wheels. Prove me wrong, Chevy (or commenters), but is this actually a crappy idea, and not a significant step towards changing our energy use?


Did you know that the web page that you are staring at right now can produce as much CO2 as an SUV? Well, not science buzz itself but, the internet as a whole is a major contributer to the greenhouse gas, equaling the amount produced by the entire aviation industry. When you think about it, its not as amazing of a fact as it first appears to be. Just imagine the amount of electricity that is used to power all of the computers used in businesses and homes. Add to that the real culprit, all of the servers in data centers that store pictures, videos, and websites.

The data centers run 24/7Data Center
Data CenterCourtesy Gregory Maxwell
saving and processing information for internet users around the world. The amount of energy needed to run the servers is large but that is not the only consumer of electricity. The cooling systems for the rows and rows of buzzing machines eat electrons like popcorn. All of this electricity needs to come from somewhere and that is where the CO2 comes into play. Its the coal burning plants that add the gases to the environment.

Making more energy efficient cooling systems, better software, and using recycled water are some of the steps companies have made to create a greener internet. Although it is hard to measure how much CO2 each internet action adds and a direct comparison to cars is not available, this is something to think about when watching the latest youtube video. Its not only your computer you're powering.


Pacaya-Samiria NR, Amazon
Pacaya-Samiria NR, AmazonCourtesy Mark Goble
Scientists know that the Amazon rainforest can help to slow down climate change. The trees not only take in carbon dioxide and release oxygen, but they also are made of carbon. All living things are made of carbon, and when these things die that carbon is released.

There was an unusually severe drought in 2005, which gave scientists a preview of the Amazon's future climate. Scientists think the rainforest will see hotter and more intense dry seasons with climate change. When Oliver Phillips a professor at the University of Leeds, looked at the effects of the drought, he found that it caused carbon losses in the rainforest. This is bad for us, because we rely on the Amazon to take in carbon dioxide, not release it!

In most years the Amazon absorbs almost 2 billion tons of carbon dioxide. In 2005, the trees did not absorb that much carbon dioxide, but the forest lost more than 3 billion tons. The losses were caused by all the trees that died in the drought. The impact of the drought, 5 billion extra tons of carbon dioxide is more than the annual emissions of Europe and Japan put together.


Carbon Dioxide glass: source: Wikipedia  This diamond anvil is used to create pressures of several hundred thousand atmospheres.
Carbon Dioxide glass: source: Wikipedia This diamond anvil is used to create pressures of several hundred thousand atmospheres.
Carbon, silicon and germanium are the first three members of group IV of the periodic table of elements. Why then is CO2 a gas whereas SiO2 and GeO2 form a solid, glass like substance?
Mario Santoro and colleagues from the European Laboratory for Non-linear Spectroscopy and INFM recenttly discovered such a form of solid carbon dioxide.

"The new material, which was made by applying extreme pressures to normal solid carbon dioxide, resembles window glass on the atomic scale. Dubbed amorphous carbonia, the substance could be important for understanding the interiors of gas-giant planets in which carbon dioxide is squeezed at high pressures." (Nature 441 857)

"Another important implication is that mixtures of a-carbonia and a-silica could, in principle be used to make new amorphous glasses that would be very hard and stiff and likely stable at room temperature," adds Santoro. "Small amounts of these new glasses could be of interest for technology applications like hard and resistant coatings for micro-electronics, for example." PhysicsWeb

Turning carbon dioxide into glass form might even be a solution to stop its greenhouse effect.

Abstract of paper from Nature
Editor's Summary; Nature