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Climate Hustle

2018 SkS Weekly Climate Change & Global Warming News Roundup #7

Posted on 17 February 2018 by John Hartz

A chronological listing of news articles posted on the Skeptical Science Facebook page during the past week. 

Editor's Pick

Vast bioenergy plantations could stave off climate change—and radically reshape the planet

Poplar Tree Plantation in Oregon

A poplar tree farm in Oregon is a fast-growing bioenergy source.

On a sunny day this past October, three dozen people file into a modest, mint-green classroom at Montana State University (MSU) in Bozeman to glimpse a vision of the future. Some are scientists, but most are people with some connection to the land: extension agents who work with farmers, and environmentalists representing organizations such as The Nature Conservancy. They all know that climate change will reshape the region in the coming decades, but that's not what they've come to discuss. They are here to talk about the equally profound impacts of trying to stop it.

Paul Stoy, an ecologist at MSU, paces in front of whiteboards in a powder blue shirt and jeans as he describes how a landscape already dominated by agriculture could be transformed yet again by a different green revolution: vast plantations of crops, sown to sop up carbon dioxide (CO2) from the sky. "We have this new energy economy that's necessary to avoid dangerous climate change, but how is that going to look on the ground?" he asks.

In 2015, the Paris climate agreement established a goal of limiting global warming to "well below" 2°C. In the most recent report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, researchers surveyed possible road maps for reaching that goal and found something unsettling. In most model scenarios, simply cutting emissions isn't enough. To limit warming, humanity also needs negative emissions technologies (NETs) that, by the end of the century, would remove more CO2from the atmosphere than humans emit. The technologies would buy time for society to rein in carbon emissions, says Naomi Vaughan, a climate change scientist at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, U.K. "They allow you to emit more CO2 and take it back at a later date."

Vast bioenergy plantations could stave off climate change—and radically reshape the planet by Julia Rosen, Science, Feb 15, 2018


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Comments 1 to 5:

  1. BECCS has its merits, but there just probably isn't enough land to scale it up massively. Biofuels would have to take priority over BECCS, as they are the only realistically potential way of dealing with aircraft emissions.

    The article also gave no indictation of whether there are enough geological formations suitable for storing such massive quantities of CO2 from plantations the size of India. Storing emissions like this also looks expensive to me.

    However BECCS has one advantage not mentioned. Wind and solar have intermittency problems, and BECCS could resolve those perfectly if it was perhaps 10% - 20% of electricity generation. The land areas required to do this might be realistic in scale, and you are getting at least some absorption of atmospheric carbon. So maybe BECCS is destined to be part of an overall mix of negative emissions technologies and systems.

    Sequestering soil carbon seems an attractive option to me, because its just a change of technology using existing land, and doesn't require additional land or huge changes in crops. Its almost purely a question of convincing 570 million farmers. But a lot of farmers already use no till or reduced till farming, and regenerative farming has a range of benefits in addition to the climate issue. Its a huge scaling up challenge in terms of education, but at least there are no hard land limits like BECCS, and there are no obvious downsides.

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  2. On second thoughts, electricity generated by wood pellets and the like probably wouldn't respond fast enough to help with wind intermmitency issues, power outages or sudden peak load situations?

    Humanity is sure in the deep end over climate issues, and making sense of solutions. However we have quite a range of possible negative emissions systems, and promoting all of them equally may be the best option right now, and they will add together.

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  3. I thought the article was long on words and short, to the point of non-existence, on cost and the benefits to farmers and electricity consumers.

    The problem with “BECCS”, as with coal-fired electricity generation, is the essential element involving sequestration and secure storage of CO2. This requires capture of the CO2 produced at the combustion point. Technology enables about 80% of it to be captured. It then has to be compressed into a liquid so that it can be transported by pipeline to a burial destination. That destination has to be located at a site where the liquid CO2 can be pumped into geological strata able to hold it securely for millennia.

    This process has been trialled and found so expensive that it increases the cost of electricity by over 50% and, as noted above, still results in some CO2 emissions.

    The question not asked in the article is: Why would any sane financier invest in wood-fired electricity generation fitted with carbon capture and storage when solar and wind generators with energy storage have a lower capital cost and can sell the electricity they generate much cheaper – and do so without producing, let alone emitting CO2?

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  4. Riduna, I must admit my instinctive reaction to BECCS isn't positive, so I need to see some convincing defence of the idea.

    However while BECCS makes electricity twice as expensive it is also drawing down atmospheric CO2. It would be interesing to know how much value this adds in dollar terms somehow?

    I agree no generating company is going to choose BECCS at this stage, unless they are amazingly green orientated. The only way to really implement BECCS is government command and control, or government subsidies that make it attractive enough. Neither are wrong in principle imho, however BECCS would need to prove itself robustly first.

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  5. nigelj

    we need to be in accrord halfnium

    could we rely on the grey econonmy here. I was renovating a house and had a tonne of timber to dipose, I'm ashamed to say I had the choice of paying $50 for the authorites to dispose or find an alterntive. we had a bonfire one summers night. thinking that this saved me money the next tonne we dumped it at the front of the house, spread the word that there was free firewood it took 2 weeks for he heap to just vanish.

    Burning wood in power stations is probay less efficient than wood burning stoves n the home. They convege the population into foragers 

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