Tag: geoengineering

With $4.5M of Pocket Change, Bill Gates Funds Geoengineering Research

By Smriti Rao | January 29, 2010 3:42 pm

Earth atmosphereIf climate-watchers found no solutions in December’s failed Climate Change Summit in Copenhagen, then they might be heartened by the fact that billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates thinks there needs to be a greater focus on researching technologies that can slow global warming.

ScienceInsider reports that the Microsoft founder had provided at least $4.5 million of his own money to be distributed over 3 years for the study of methods that could alter the stratosphere to reflect solar energy, techniques to filter carbon dioxide directly from the atmosphere, and brighten ocean clouds [ScienceInsider]. These and other geoengineering techniques have been hotly debated in the scientific world, with some critics arguing that tinkering with Earth’s natural systems could do more harm than good.

Methods that divert some incoming solar energy, like spraying reflective aerosols into the stratosphere or making clouds more reflective, have been deemed potentially effective but also risky; the abrupt halt of a large-scale project would result in sudden, extreme warming. On the other hand, techniques that reduce the amount of carbon dioxide already in the atmosphere are considered less risky, but they’re currently too expensive to implement widely.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Technology

To Save the Planet From Global Warming, Turn the Sahara Green

By Eliza Strickland | September 15, 2009 5:11 pm

eucalyptusA team of researchers has come up with a simple plan to halt global warming: All we need to do is turn both the Sahara and the Australian outback into vast, shady forests.

While that might sound so ambitious as to be absurd, the climate scientists say the project would be no more expensive or technologically challenging than some of the other geoengineering schemes that are currently under discussion. And researcher Leonard Ornstein says it would certainly get results. Ornstein says that if most of the Sahara and Australian outback were planted with fast-growing trees like eucalyptus, the forests could draw down about 8 billion tons of carbon a year–nearly as much as people emit from burning fossil fuels and forests today. As the forests matured, they could continue taking up this much carbon for decades [ScienceNOW Daily News].

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment

The Maldives Enlists New Fertilizer/Carbon Remover: Charred Coconuts

By Allison Bond | September 3, 2009 3:54 pm

MaldivesThe Republic of Maldives has big plans for discarded coconut shells: they can become both a fertilizer and a planet-cooler. The Maldivian government has announced plans to burn the shells and turn them into biochar, a form of high-carbon charcoal that takes a long time to decompose, and which can be used to nourish the soil. It’s one effort of many that the government of the Indian Ocean archipelago hopes will help it achieve carbon neutrality by the year 2020.

The “slow-cooked” organic waste project was launched through a partnership between the Maldives government and the British company Carbon Gold. The scheme would not only reduce organic garbage, it would also decrease dependence on imported fertilizer. Carbon Gold argues that the biochar is an effective way of removing CO2 from the atmosphere. The company says the fertiliser also improves soil fertility…. “Waste that would have rotted or been burnt before is now locked up and put very safely in the soil,” [BBC], says company cofounder Daniel Morrel. Researchers believe that biochar doesn’t break down (and therefore release its carbon) for hundreds of years.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment

If We Can't Stop Emitting CO2, What's Our Plan B?

By Eliza Strickland | September 1, 2009 6:54 pm

earth atmosphereIt would be funny if it weren’t so serious: While some skeptics are still ignoring the scientific evidence and insisting that global warming is a hoax, engineers and scientists are already looking for the best “plan B” that can help out humanity in the likely event that the world’s governments can’t agree to cut carbon dioxide emissions fast enough to prevent serious global consequences. Just last week Britain’s Institution of Mechanical Engineers released their picks for the most realistic geoengineering tactics, and now the Royal Society, Britain’s top science academy, has weighed in with its suggestions.

A 12-member working group of scientists, engineers, an economist, a social scientist, and a lawyer spent nearly a year examining technologies, such as fertilizing the oceans to suck down atmospheric carbon dioxide or orbiting giant mirrors to deflect sunlight [ScienceInsider]. The subsequent report (pdf) argues that many of the most-hyped geoengineering ideas are simply too risky, including the proposal to fertilize the ocean to create carbon-absorbing algae blooms. “Most of the things that have gone wrong in the past have happened when we’ve tampered with biological systems” [New Scientist], says John Shepherd, who chaired the report committee.

The report separates geoengineering tactics into two basic approaches: those that reflect sunlight back into space to cool down the planet, and those that remove the heat-trapping gas carbon dioxide from the air. Of the two strategies, the report concluded that those involving the removal of carbon dioxide were preferable, as they effectively return the climate system closer to its pre-industrial state. But the authors found that many of these options were currently too expensive to implement widely. This included “carbon capture and storage” methods, which require CO2 be captured directly from power plants and stored under the Earth’s surface [BBC News]. Yet carbon capture and storage projects have been touted as an important response to global warming by power plants and governments alike.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Feature, Technology

Fighting Global Warming: Artificial Trees and Slime-Covered Buildings

By Eliza Strickland | August 27, 2009 3:06 pm

artificial treesThe most practical and immediate steps we can take to slow global warming may be lining roadways with towering “artificial trees” and covering buildings with algae bioreactors, argues a new report from Britain’s Institution of Mechanical Engineers. The group believes that geoengineering (a broad term for climate-altering technologies) may be necessary to reduce carbon dioxide levels immediately, while governments continue to bicker about how to transition to a low-carbon future. “Geo-engineering is no silver bullet, it just buys us time,” said Tim Fox of the IME, who led the study [The Guardian].

Fox says the study (pdf) looked for techniques that could be rolled out with existing technology. The IME’s first suggestion is to construct hundreds of thousands of “artificial trees”, essentially building- or goalpost-sized structures through which the wind blows. As air passes through them, the “trees” extract CO2 from it for later sequestration [The Register]. The fake trees are intended to be much more efficient at absorbing CO2 than real, biological trees, with current designs estimated to remove one ton of CO2 from the air daily. But even if the devices could be made ten times more efficient, the study found that 100,000 fake trees would be required to absorb the CO2 emissions from all the cars and trucks in the United Kingdom.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Feature, Technology

Bill Gates Patents a Device Aimed at Halting Hurricanes

By Eliza Strickland | July 16, 2009 10:09 am

hurricane MobileFive patent applications for technology that aims to control the weather bear the signature of a man who knows how to think big: Microsoft founder Bill Gates. The applications made public by the U.S. Patent Office last week describe floating devices that could reduce the strength of hurricanes by drawing warm water from the ocean‘s surface and channeling it down to the depths through a long tube. A second tube would reverse the process and bring deep, cold water up to the surface.

The applications were filed by an entity called Searete, which is part of the company Intellectual Ventures that was founded by former Microsoft executives as an “invention business;” Bill Gates is an investor in the company. Gates is listed as one of the inventors on each hurricane-quelling patent application, along with scientists like the geoengineering expert Ken Caldeira. One of the patent applications describes how part or all of the cost of building and maintaining the hurricane-killer ships could be raised by selling insurance to coastal residents whose risk would be reduced by using the new system [New Orleans Times-Picayune]. 

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Technology

Carbon Capture and Storage Gets First Try-Outs Around the World

By Eliza Strickland | April 13, 2009 6:15 pm

smokestackIn large industrial experiments across the globe, factories and power plants are trying to capture the carbon dioxide that streams out of their flues in order to bury it deep underground. Researchers believe the greenhouse gas will stay put for thousands of years and therefore won’t contribute to global warming, but the costs and long-term effects of the procedure are still unclear. The experiments currently underway are expected to determine whether carbon capture and storage will allow nations to continue burning fossil fuels for energy without ill effects.

In France this month, the first retrofitted power plant will begin to use its new carbon capture and storage technology. The system used by the natural gas-burning power plant will transport and store 60,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide every year in the nearby depleted gas field at Rousse – once the biggest onshore natural gas field in Europe, but which is now almost empty [The Guardian]. The carbon dioxide will flow through existing pipelines that once brought natural gas to the power plant. While the first new power plant using carbon capture and storage opened last year in Germany, some environmentalists say that the French plant’s retrofit is an important example of how existing industries can be adapted to a future that requires clean energy.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment

Obama's Science Adviser Kicks Up a Fuss Over Geoengineering

By Eliza Strickland | April 10, 2009 2:47 pm

John HoldrenPresident Obama’s science adviser John Holdren has given his first round of interviews, and he immediately caused a ruckus by airing his thoughts on geoengineering–the large-scale climate hacks that could potentially slow or reverse global warming. Tinkering with Earth’s climate to chill runaway global warming — a radical idea once dismissed out of hand — is being discussed by the White House as a potential emergency option, the president’s new science adviser said…. “It’s got to be looked at,” he said. “We don’t have the luxury … of ruling any approach off the table” [AP].

However, the day after that Associated Press article appeared, Holdren came back to say that the article had misrepresented his statements. Dr. Holdren said that the Associated Press article implied incorrectly that this strategy for climate management was under serious consideration at the White House…. “Asked whether I had mentioned geo-engineering in any White House discussions, though, I said that I had. This is NOT the same thing as saying the White House is giving serious consideration to geo-engineering – which it isn’t — and I am disappointed that the headline and the text of the article suggest otherwise” [The New York Times blog], he wrote in an email to journalists and colleagues.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment

Iron-Dumping Experiment Is a Bust: It Feeds Crustaceans, Doesn't Trap Carbon

By Eliza Strickland | March 24, 2009 5:09 pm

iron fertilization boatA controversial geoengineering experiment that Greenpeace campaigned against (to little avail) has concluded, and researchers say their findings deal a major blow to the geoengineering technique known as ocean fertilization. As 80beats explained in January, the researchers dumped 20 tons of iron sulfate in the ocean near Antarctica in an effort to spur enormous blooms of phytoplankton, a type of algae; researchers theorized that when that plant life died and sank to the seabed it would lock away the carbon dioxide it had absorbed while growing. They hoped that widespread use of this technique could slow global warming.

While the iron did prove an algae bloom, researchers involved in the Lohafex project found that little biomass sunk down to the sea floor. Their results, announced in a press release, suggest that iron fertilisation could not have a major impact, at least in that region of the oceans. “There’s been hope that one could remove some of the excess carbon dioxide – put it back where it came from, in a sense, because the petroleum we’re burning was originally made by the algae,” said [researcher] Victor Smetacek…. “But our results show this is going to be a small amount, almost negligible” [BBC News]. Researchers also announced the surprising reason for that result: The plankton bloom wasn’t a carbon sequestration hot spot, instead it was an all-you-can-eat marine buffet.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment

Climate-Saving Sunshade Would Screw up Climate-Saving Solar Facilities

By Eliza Strickland | March 18, 2009 11:38 am

solar-thermalAs global warming‘s effects become evident researchers have turned to geoengineering schemes that could slow the warming process, like a global “sunshade” produced by spraying sulfur aerosols into the atmosphere to reflect sunlight back into space. But a new study points out an (obvious in retrospect) drawback of that idea: It would seriously reduce the effectiveness of some solar energy facilities, which proponents hope would reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and thus prevent further global warming.

Researchers from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration went back and examined data from 1991, when Mount Pinatubo erupted. The Philippine volcano ejected about 15 million metric tons of sulfur-dioxide–laden dust into the air, cooling the planet’s average temperature by about 0.6°C for nearly 2 years [ScienceNOW Daily News]. The researchers found that the eruption also reduced peak power output at a California solar-thermal plant by 20 percent. Solar thermal plants use arrays of mirrors to concentrate sunlight and turn it into a heat source for a conventional power plant; they are generally cheaper than traditional photovoltaic systems.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Technology
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