Scientists are building a system that could turn atmospheric CO2 into fuel

Scientists in Canada are developing an industrial carbon dioxide recycling plant that could one day suck CO2 out of the atmosphere and convert it into a zero-carbon e-diesel fuel. Developed by tech start-up Carbon Engineering and partly funded by Bill Gates, the system will essentially do the job of trees, but in places unable to host them, such as icy plains and deserts.

Just like these new solar cells that are designed to split water into a hydrogen fuel, the CO2 recycling plant will combine carbon dioxide with hydrogen split from water to form hydrocarbon fuel. The plan is to provide the technology that could one day produce environmentally friendly fuel to complement the renewable energy systems we have now. “How do you power global transportation in 20 years in a way that is carbon neutral?” Geoff Holmes, business development manager at Carbon Engineering, told Marc Gunther at The Guardian. “Cheap solar and wind are great at reducing emissions from the electricity. Then you are left with the transport sector. Carbon Engineering is one of a handful of companies around the world that are now set on coming up with ways to suck enough carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere to actually put a dent in the effects of climate change. There’s also the New York City-based start-up Global Thermostat, and Swiss-based Climeworks, which demonstrated earlier this year with Audi how its technology can capture carbon dioxide, and deliver it to German company Sunfire, where it was recycled into a zero-carbon diesel fuel

While Climeworks’ demonstration was impressive, what all three companies now need to do is figure out how to make their atmospheric carbon dioxide to fuel systems economically viable. And this won’t be easy. One problem they’re going to have to overcome is the high cost of heating their carbon dioxide to around 400 degrees Celsius so they can process it properly. Another problem is that few investors are interested in giving them money until they can prove that this is actually feasible.

As Gunther reports for The Guardian, governments and private investors aren’t interested in paying anyone to come up with ways to simply suck carbon dioxide out of the environment, no matter how beneficial to the environment it might be. Plus even if someone was interested, they’d better be willing to fork out the billions of dollars it’s going to take to build a system that could actually make a discernible difference to the world’s climate. These developers need to offer their investors something valuable in return, and the obvious answer is fuel.

co2-capture

Right now, Carbon Engineering’s planned system could only capture only about 450 tonnes of CO2 each year, which would barely cover the carbon emissions of 33 average Canadians, but they say this system could be scaled up to 20,000 times to make it more practical.

As the video explains below, direct air capture seems to be the only potentially feasible way to absorb carbon dioxide that’s already been emitted from small mobile sources such as cars, trucks, and planes, which make up 60 percent of carbon dioxide emissions today. The systems require 1,000 times less land than carbon-sucking trees, and can be installed on land, like desert plains, that isn’t worth cultivating or inhabiting.

“I believe we have reached a point where it is really paramount for substantive public research and development of direct air capture,” Klaus Lackner of Arizona State University’s Centre for Negative Carbon Emissions said at the American Physical Society meeting in the US earlier this year.

“Scientists are increasingly convinced that we are going to need large scale removal systems to fight climate change,” Noah Deich from the California-based Centre for Carbon Removal told The Guardian. “I’m excited about direct air capture. It could be a really important technology to add to the portfolio.”

Watch the video below to see how Carbon Engineering plans on doing it. It’s going to take a while before we see the captured carbon to fuel model become a viable solution, but that’s not stopping the likes of Carbon Engineering, Climeworks, and Global Thermostat. We’re excited to see what they come up with.

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Scientists are building a system that could turn atmospheric CO2 into fuel

Costa Rica achieved 99% renewable energy this year

costa rica

While it may often seem like we have a long way to go when it comes to global renewable energy generation, there are a few countries that are already closing in on being fully powered by renewables that give us hope that one day soon all countries will be able to boast the same results.

Costa Rica has shown the world what is possible this year by achieving 99 percent renewable energy generation. Michael wrote back in April that the country had not used any fossil fuels for electricity so far at that point in the year and, in fact, the Costa Rican Electricity Institute said in a statement that 285 days this year were fossil fuel-free.

Costa Rica is lucky to have a wealth of renewable energy sources to choose from. The bulk of its power generation comes from hydropower thanks to a large river system and heavy tropical rainfalls. The rest is made up of a mix of geothermal energy, which the country is also rich in, wind, biomass and solar power.

The institute said that even though 2015 was a very dry year, Costa Rica was still ahead of its renewable energy targets and goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2021. The country doesn’t just want to hit 100 percent renewable energy, but it also wants to clean up energy consumption in general like moving the transportation sector away from fossil fuels and becoming less dependent on hydropower by adding more geothermal energy plants and harnessing energy from other sources.

The citizens of the country have benefited from the cost of energy actually falling by 12% this year and the institute expects it to keep falling in the future.

The U.S. still has a long way to go before it will reach the same milestones, but renewable energy plants make up most of the new energy sources being added to the grid. It’s a larger country with a larger population, but we can still be inspired by Costa Rica and do our part to make sure renewable energy grows and prospers in the U.S.

Source: Costa Rica achieved 99% renewable energy this year

Costa Rica achieved 99% renewable energy this year

World Approves Historic ‘Paris Agreement’ to Address Climate Change

Negotiators from nearly 200 countries reached an agreement Saturday on what they say signifies the most important international pact to address climate change since the issue first emerged as a political priority decades ago.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, who headed up the United Nations conference, commonly known as COP 21, said the final deal successfully resolved points of contention that had taken negotiations into overtime and called the agreement “the best possible text.”

“We have come to a defining moment on a long journey that dates back decades,” said UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon before passage of the agreement. “The document with which you have just presented us is historic. It promises to set the world on a new path to a low emissions, climate-resilient future.”

The deal, known as the Paris Agreement, represents remarkable compromise after years of negotiations in which developing countries wrangled with their developed counterparts and failed to come to agreement on several key occasions. Supporters say the agreement will help define the energy landscape for the remainder of the century and signal to markets the beginning of the end of more than one hundred years of dependence on fossil fuels for economic growth

Observers had feared that a negotiated text could result in a lowest common denominator to meet the differing needs of all the parties present in Paris. But climate policy experts appeared largely satisfied with the draft adopted Saturday at the Le Bourget Airport just outside of Paris.

A strong long-term goal to reduce carbon emissions, provisions explaining how developing countries will receive financing for their efforts to adapt to climate change, and a transparency system to ensure that countries meet their promises to reduce greenhouse gas emissions were among those key goals. The text includes provisions addressing all those key points.

The agreement includes a long-term goal of holding global temperature rise “well below” 2°C (3.6°F) by 2100 and recognizes a maximum temperature rise of below 1.5°C (2.7°F) as an ideal goal. The 2°C target is needed to avoid the most devastating effects of climate change, according to climate scientists, but it would not be enough to save many of the world’s most vulnerable countries. Those nations, largely small Pacific Island countries, launched a large-scale push for the more aggressive 1.5°C target to be included in the agreement. The draft text also calls for “global peaking of greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible” and for the continued reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in the second half of this century as science allows.

Measures to finance efforts to fight climate change in the developing world had also been a key sticking point in negations. The agreement renews a commitment by developed countries to send $100 billion a year beginning in 2020 to developing countries to support their efforts to fight climate change. The deal describes the sum as a “floor,” which may presumably be increased.

The agreement also requires all participant countries to assess their efforts to reduce carbon emissions every five years and expand upon those efforts as they are capable. Some countries had previously expressed reluctance to promise to increase their goals so far in advance without knowing their economic situation.

The responsibilities of developed countries are distinguished from those of their developing counterparts throughout the text, a key demand of large developing countries like India and China that worried the agreement might require them to take actions that would slow their economic growth.

“It has all the core elements that the environmental community wanted,” said John Coequyt, the Sierra Club’s director of federal and international climate campaigns.

Source: World Approves Historic ‘Paris Agreement’ to Address Climate Change

World Approves Historic ‘Paris Agreement’ to Address Climate Change

Do You Live in a Climate Change Hotspot?

Spaceborne Carbon Counter Map

Nearly half of all human carbon dioxide emissions are absorbed by plants, and NASA is monitoring this absorption.

Carbon dioxide or CO2 emissions into our planet’s atmosphere is causing climate change — a major problem that humans need to tackle and adapt to.  It is leading to warmer atmospheric temperatures, warmer and more acidic oceans, rising sea-levels, and changing and extreme weather patterns.  Although nations across the globe have committed to reducing carbon emissions, emissions will not slow in the near future, and CO2concentrations will continue to rise.

An alarming fact is that CO2 concentrations are the highest they have been in 400,000 years, and we are on track to cross the CO2 threshold of 400 parts per million (ppm).  This threshold does not mean there is going to be a climate catastrophe, but it does signal the importance of fighting climate change and how government inaction has only lead to worsening global impacts.

Luckily for us, CO2 concentrations would be much higher if it were not for plants that absorb nearly half of all human emissions each year.  NASA is very interested in this part of the carbon system and is now monitoring and tracking the absorption of CO2 by the land and ocean.

“Some years, almost all of it stays in the atmosphere and some years almost none of it remains in the atmosphere.  So in those years it must be absorbed into the ocean and land,” said Mike Freilich, the head of NASA’s Earth Science Division.

 

NASA scientists have been tracking CO2 movement using models and satellites such as NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2).  “OCO-2 gathers 100,000 high quality measurements of CO2 across the globe daily,” said Annmarie Eldering, deputy project scientist of OCO-2.  The instruments used on the satellite are so sensitive that they can detect changes as small as 1 ppm over any location, allowing scientists to determine potential COhotspots.

For example, data from OCO-2 shows that there has been more CO2 over the tropical Pacific Ocean since the spring.  Scientists are unsure if this is related to our current El-Niño which is known for creating above average ocean and atmospheric temperatures, but the results are different from previously collected data.

Why is it so important to monitor and track this absorbed CO2?  Not only will it help scientists understand how the absorption of CO2 by plants may change with a changing climate, according to Lesley Ott, a NASA research who works on the carbon modeling, “The motivation of all of this is to make models better and predict how the carbon cycle is going to change over the coming years.”

The problem of climate change can no longer be ignored, and improved CO2 modeling will hopefully influence policymakers to make scientifically-informed decisions to protect our planet for generations to come.

Source: Do You Live in a Climate Change Hotspot?

Do You Live in a Climate Change Hotspot?

Scientists have found a (partial) explanation for the ‘blood rain’ in Spain

Rain showers can sometimes take a bizarre turn: in very rare cases, animals such as fish and frogs have been known to fall from the sky alongside water droplets, and around the world, people have experienced what’s known as blood rain, where the water has a peculiar red tinge.

Reports of blood rain have been recorded for centuries – back before humans knew any better, it was believed the sky was actually spitting out blood. Nowadays, we have the technology to analyse the composition of blood rain so we no longer have to jump to any crazy conclusions, but scientists are only just figuring out how and why it occurs. And now a new study has put forward an explanation for a recent incident in Zamora, a city in northwestern Spain.

The people of Zamora and several nearby villages noticed blood rain falling from the sky late last year: was it chemical pollution? Was it some kind of deliberate sabotage? Was it a sign from God? A concerned resident sent a sample of collected rainwater to scientists at Spain’s University of Salamanca to see if they could come up with any answers. And now the results are in.

The researchers say a freshwater green microalgae called Haematococcus pluvialis is to blame – this microalgae is capable of producing a red carotene pigment called astaxanthin when in a state of stress, perhaps caused by getting caught up in a rain-cloud.

That matches up with previous studies of blood rain, one of which found the microalgae  to be the cause of an incident in Kerala in India– different kinds of microalgae, but the same root cause.

AstaxanthinAstaxanthin in H. pluvialis. Credit: Frank Fox/Wikimedia

What’s less clear is how these microalgae spores are travelling. H. pluvialis is not native to Zamora or any of the neighbouring regions, and before the Kerala incident, T. annulata was thought to only exist in Austria – a long way from India. So now the researchers have to figure out exactly how these mysterious microorganisms are making their way across the globe.

Hitching a ride on global wind currents would be a good bet, but so far researchers have been unable to find any concrete proof of this. The researchers identified a prevailing current that could’ve carried the microalgae out from North America to Spain, but have yet to pinpoint the exact source. Their work has been published in the Spanish Royal Society of Natural History Journal.

In the meantime, there’s no cause for panic if you’re caught in a blood rain shower: H. pluvialis is non-toxic and is often used as a food source for salmon and trout to give them a more pinkish hue. Indeed, motorcycle company Yamaha recently used the microalgae to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from its factories.

blood prainsBlood rain puddle from Zamora. Credit: Joaquín Pérez

Source: Scientists have found a (partial) explanation for the ‘blood rain’ in Spain

Scientists have found a (partial) explanation for the ‘blood rain’ in Spain

THIS OCTOBER SMASHED TEMPERATURE RECORDS AROUND THE WORLD

October

 

A map of temperature anomalies during October. Red shows the biggest deviation from the standard (temperatures recorded between 1951 and 1980).

If you’ve been wondering why your coats stayed in the closet and your heater remained off for the first part of fall, wonder no more. This October was the warmest on record. Ever.

Last month beat out all the other Octobers to get the title of hottest Octobersince record-keeping began in the late 1800’s. It was also the highest deviation from ‘normal’ global temperatures. Those temperatures were recorded between 1951 and 1980, and are averaged to get a general baseline. The data comes from NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, which looks at temperature changes over long periods of time (decades as opposed to days).

If it sounds like a familiar story, that’s because it is. Last winter was one of the warmest on record, even with all the snow. 2014 and 2012 were also record-breaking years, and with the addition of October to its already hot lineup, 2015 is likely to surpass both.

Extreme heat is now 4 times more likely than it was before the industrial revolution, and that shows no signs of stopping.

Source: THIS OCTOBER SMASHED TEMPERATURE RECORDS AROUND THE WORLD

THIS OCTOBER SMASHED TEMPERATURE RECORDS AROUND THE WORLD

First map of Earth’s hidden groundwater reserves shows we’re using them too quickly

Modern-groundwater-map-printx_1024.jpgAn international team of hydrologists has come up with the best estimate yet for Earth’s total supply of groundwater, saying that nearly 23 million cubic kilometers of groundwater is contained in hidden reserves under the surface of the planet. And while that might sound like a lot, it’s not enough to sustain us if we keep consuming it as fast as we are right now.

The study suggests that less than 6 percent of groundwater in the upper 2 kilometers of the Earth’s landmass is renewable within a human lifetime. That statistic is concerning, not only because the uppermost water is what we can access for drinking, but also because the lengthy renewal cycle is slower than our consumption habits.

“This has never been known before,” said lead researcher Tom Gleeson of the University of Victoria in Canada. “We already know that water levels in lots of aquifers are dropping. We’re using our groundwater resources too fast – faster than they’re being renewed.”

To come up with their global groundwater map, the researchers compiled multiple data-sets, including data from almost a million watersheds and more than 40,000 groundwater models. Of the nearly 23 million cubic kilometers of total groundwater on the planet, approximately 0.35 million cubic kilometers is younger than 50 years old.

The distinction between young and old groundwater is important. Young (or modern) groundwater lies closer to the surface and is more likely to be drinkable. In comparison, older groundwater – which can date as far back as millions of years – lies deeper in Earth’s landmass, and may contain arsenic or uranium. It’s often stagnant and saltier than seawater, and as such, is only usually suitable for agricultural or industrial purposes.

Young groundwater’s proximity to the surface means it’s easier for us to access it and also easier to renew with fresh rainwater – but it’s also more readily exposed to human contamination and more vulnerable to environmental risks like climate change.

The researchers’ map reveals that most of Earth’s groundwater reserves are stored in tropical and mountain regions, including the Amazon Basin, the Congo, Indonesia, and in North and Central America. Arid regions, as one might presume to be the case, don’t have as much water underground.

“Intuitively, we expect drier areas to have less modern groundwater and more humid areas to have more, but before this study, all we had was intuition,“ said one of the team, Kevin Befus, who is now with the United States Geological Survey. ”Now, we have a quantitative estimate that we compared to geochemical observations.”

The researchers hope their findings, published in Nature Geoscience, will help water managers, policy developers, and scientists to better manage Earth’s remaining groundwater in more sustainable ways. In the meantime, Gleeson will be leading a new study, designed to track depletion rates on a global scale.

“Since we now know how much groundwater is being depleted and how much there is, we will be able to estimate how long until we run out,” he said.

Source: First map of Earth’s hidden groundwater reserves shows we’re using them too quickly

First map of Earth’s hidden groundwater reserves shows we’re using them too quickly