A Partial Solution to Climate Change
An increase in global temperature averages of 2°C (3.6°F) in the near future might seem impersonal or even insignificant to many of us. Even so, entire ecosystems of plants and animals are already confronting notable survival challenges as a direct result of this average uptick. In addition to the average temperature increase that is abruptly impacting entire regions of the world, we’re experiencing increasingly common temperature spikes during abiotic hours of the hottest summer days.
The 2015 heat index over large portions of the Middle East was within the scope of the highest ever recorded – 178°F (81°C) in Saudi Arabia (2003). Granted, a heat index is different than surface temperature or a temperature taken 4-5 feet off the ground, but temperatures this extreme can kill people and certainly entire flocks and herds of livestock during a heat wave, decimating entire agricultural systems within hours.
Equally of note, in January 2016 land temperatures in the Arctic spread across 4 million square miles were 5.8 degrees Celsius (10.4 degrees Fahrenheit) above average, with parts of the Arctic 23°F above normal.
The question of whether these winter temperature averages over Arctic land masses will globally translate to much higher regional temperatures closer to the equator remains to be seen. However, unlike the Arctic, over a third of a billion people live in the Middle East. With regional food and water insecurity on the rise, warming temperatures leading to extended drought are raising concern in the scientific community, as the lives of tens of millions of people are at stake. So how will these people adapt and where will they go as temperature spikes and the warming trend becomes more widespread?
It’s not difficult to add up all the oil, coal and natural gas being produced in the world and to broadly calculate how much carbon dioxide is released when these fossil fuels are burned. Of course we need fuel for our vehicles, trains, and ships (14% of 2010 global greenhouse gas emissions). We need fuel to produce heat for steel, other metals and construction materials (21%), to generate electricity (25%) and to heat our buildings and cook (6%). But the tally of carbon dioxide emitted directly from these carbon-based industries is now more than 80 million metric tonnes of the total 110 million metric tonnes being emitted each day.
Only 50-60% of this 110 million daily volume of carbon dioxide is absorbed into the world’s oceans and land ecosystems. The remaining 55-66 million metric tonnes per day results in an ever-increasing level of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere. Because demand for energy and fossil fuels is rising with the world’s growing population, the demand for electricity and fuel is unlikely to stabilize or decrease any time soon.
There are non-carbon dioxide emitting electrolysis and electrosynthesis solutions that will compete with commodities produced from major carbon dioxide industrial emitters, while at the same time profitably sequestering CO2 from our atmosphere.
A chemical engineering project currently in open source development, 4C-Adapt offers a potential paradigm shift in the industrial manufacturing sector that will markedly reduce global CO2 emissions. If implemented effectively and on a broad scale, 4C technology will sequester massive amounts of atmospheric carbon dioxide while parsimoniously competing with current emissions and products of the metal, cement and fertilizer industries. Even so, eliminating 10M tonnes of atmospheric CO2 each day represents only a partial solution to our changing climate when the scope of the challenge is taken into careful consideration.
The Only Numbers That Count
As snow falls, tiny amounts of air are trapped under each snowflake. Most of this air is squeezed out as the weight of more snow adds to an accumulation, but not all of it. Over thousands of years, layers of snow are squeezed into ice containing small bubbles of ancient air. Analyzing core samples from a glacier formed tens or even hundreds of thousands of years ago, a notable consistency of carbon dioxide concentrations (280 parts per million) becomes apparent. With a sharp increase in CO2 emissions that began during the Industrial Revolution and continues today, atmospheric CO2 concentrations now stand at over 400 ppm. This number is rising rapidly.
Of interest, there have been bumps of carbon dioxide increases above the 280 ppm average in the past. The earth experienced a sustained CO2 spike and warming over a period of 6,000 years, between 11,000 and 17,000 years ago when CO2 levels increased in the earth’s atmosphere by 80 ppm.
That said, today’s rate of increase is 200+ times faster, making a carbon dioxide increase of 100 ppm a realistic projection within our lifetimes. With continued emissions and an annual rate change of approximately 3-4 ppm, an increase to 500 ppm within 25-30 years is all but guaranteed.
Historical Methods of Limiting CO2 Emissions
Hundreds of new coal-fired generation facilities are being built or planned over the next decade, each with an average lifespan of approximately 25-30 years. In the United States today, 90% of the coal used produces 40% of our electricity. Similarly, with global commodities and industrial carbon dioxide emissions, more than a third of all carbon dioxide emissions come from burning coal. This total equals more than 30 million metric tonnes of carbon dioxide emitted per day.
Dissecting these enormous numbers into a fathomable narrative, consider an example of a coal-fired power plant that generates 300 megawatts of electricity per hour. Approximately one tonne of CO2 is produced every hour for each megawatt (MW-hr) of electricity sent to the grid and distributed to the consumer. Thus, 24 tonnes of CO2 are emitted into the atmosphere during that 24-hour period. But in this example the coal-fired power plant produces 300 times this amount per hour because it generates 300 megawatts per hour. So the final daily amount of CO2 being released from this medium-sized coal generation plant is 7,200 tonnes/day – or over 2.5 million tonnes per year.
Storage of these yearly tonnages is an issue that’s historically stumped the coal industry. Above-ground storage facilities can’t offer a solution due to volume, making underground storage the obvious alternative. This approach involves compressing gaseous CO2 into a liquid that is subsequently piped to subterranean storage area. The idea is that over time some; hopefully most of this CO2 will eventually chemically react to form types of minerals that permanently sequester carbon dioxide, in the form of stable carbonate minerals. However, spread over the course of centuries that would be required for significant volumes of carbonates to form, daily volume of carbon dioxide does little more than unnaturally magnify subterranean pressure.
It’s assumed that these pressurized underground vaults of CO2 are well engineered/safe, and that the vaults don’t create mini-earthquakes caused by cracks in layers of underground rock. This assumption is quickly being proven false with areas on both coasts and in the middle of the country demonstrating unexpected seismic events located considerable distances from current and past hydraulic fracking operations.
Another known method of removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere involves the chemical sodium hydroxide, commonly called lye. Lye immediately reacts with carbon dioxide to form bicarbonates and carbonates, specifically sodium bicarbonate and sodium carbonate – respectively called baking soda and washing soda.
There are 400+ patents in the US database that address different sequestering methods and processes that involve combining carbon dioxide and sodium hydroxide-lye. But, in practical terms, the primary problem with using lye to remove CO2 from our atmosphere is cost.
Even if one assumes the lye is free, this scenario presents a number of roadblocks due to the massive tonnages of CO2 that must be exposed or mixed with the lye. Using the 300 MW coal generation example mentioned previously, we end up with 2.5+ million tons per year of carbon dioxide that would need to be mixed with roughly equal tonnages of lye, in order to convert the CO2 into baking and washing soda. Although the same railroad cars that brought the coal to the generation facility could be used to bring the (dried) sodas back to the coal mine to be buried forever as permanently sequestered CO2 waste product, this method has yet to be considered.
And what about planting trees and letting them grow rather than cutting them down? There’s merit to this method and as many timber companies know, each of their trees over 30-40 years of age will generally absorb up to 50 lbs of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere each year. But even if 100 million fast-growing Douglas Fir trees were planted today and were instantly 30+ years old with the snap of a finger, roughly 2.5 million metric tonnes per YEAR of carbon dioxide would be absorbed from our atmosphere. Multiply that number of trees by 10 – a billion trees planted, instantly becoming 30+ years old – only 25 million metric tonnes of carbon dioxide would be absorbed annually. Sure, that’s a huge amount of carbon dioxide sequestered in the form of wood. But even 25 million metric tonnes is less than 1/3 of daily global industrial CO2 emissions.
Bottom line: Planting trees is a great idea but it takes decades before a forest of newly planted seedlings can significantly absorb large tonnages of CO2 from the air. And even if a billion trees were planted and instantly became 30+ years old, there just isn’t enough capacity to proactively address the amount of industrial CO2 emitted each day into our atmosphere.
Another consideration is the use of micronutrient iron and its importance to phytoplankton growth. In the 1980s it was suggested that the upcoming greenhouse effect might be reduced by adding relatively small amounts of soluble iron compounds to the world’s oceans as a fertilizer for stimulating phytoplankton. Diatoms are a major group of marine algae, and are among the most common types of phytoplankton.
Diatoms contain chlorophyll and absorb CO2 to form cellulose that binds silicates into a surrounding shell. Responsible for much of the earth’s oxygen, fossil beds of carbonate and silicate diatoms containing billions of cubic feet of ancient diatoms are now mined as diatomaceous earth and used to manufacture fine abrasives and insulating materials.
Two-plus decades of research suggests that iron deficiencies in large tracts of the world’s oceans do exist and when fertilized with iron do impact ocean ecosystems. In many of these research studies fertilizing these deficient tracts of water with iron stimulates algae/plankton growth in certain areas, but not others. However, increasing ocean acidity seems to be demineralizing the phytoplankton species having carbonate (diatom) shells, thereby limiting the overall permanent sequestration of carbon dioxide. Conversely, silicate diatoms with carbon-nutrient-containing oils and cellulose carbon-scaffolding the silicate matrix-shell remains largely unaffected, falling to the ocean floor in vast numbers. This is a phenomena referred to as “diatom snow” and point of interest in that diatom snow offers a major and natural method of sequestering marine carbon.
In 1991 and 1992 global atmospheric CO2 levels significantly declined in conjunction with a parallel pulsed increase in oxygen levels. A volcano caused this anomaly – Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines – where an estimated 40,000 tons of iron dust (and certainly silicates as well) fertilized the plant and diatom life of oceans worldwide. Regardless, fertilizing the world’s oceans to stimulate algae and plankton/diatom growth carries risk because there are always unknown side effects when dealing with massive changes in any environment.
This historical background sheds light on the scale of climate change today and the first step is to dramatically reduce the 80+ million tonnes of industrial carbon dioxide consistently emitted on a 24-hour cycle. It’s common sense to remove industrial sectors that belch billions of tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere each year before there is no choice but to consider geoengineering solutions that might work or may cause even greater problems. To tackle the global industrial CO2 emissions problem, we must develop alternative competitive industries and commodities that eliminate or reduce the impact of worldwide industrial polluting sectors.
A Paradigm Shift
4C-Adapt believes that the only way to profitably compete with the largest, centralized industrial commodities is through decentralized manufacturing of these same commodities using electrolysis and electrosynthesis technology. On a commodity cost basis to local customers, 4C-Adapt manufacturing technology aims to compete with established leaders in the coal, oil, and natural gas sectors while at the same time sequestering carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
The first step in accomplishing this goal is rooted in electricity generation. Fortunately, Denmark is already paving the way, meeting 42% of its energy needs with wind-generated power, whereas the United States generates 40% of its electrical needs from coal. Solar power and hydro power are other alternative methods that must be encouraged.
Nuclear power offers base-load electrical capacity and emits little to no carbon dioxide. A company backed by Bill Gates called TerraPower, LLC may offer a safe answer in the form of nuclear power, perhaps by the mid-2020s, although that remains to be seen.
Yet, with the Fukushima Daiichi disaster still fresh in our minds, public opinion against nuclear powered electrical generation is apparent and widespread. Fortunately, the United States is energy rich with wind power potential, positioning the Denmark model as a viable possibility in America. Despite numerous environmental benefits, however, wind and solar-generated power falls short supplying a consistent and readily available “base-load” of electrical current into the grid. With both wind and solar power, there is an “intermittency” issue associated with fluctuations of the wind or cloud cover. Intermittency must be addressed if base-load electrical generation from coal is to be replaced with zero carbon emission alternative energy sources.
Base-load power to the grid is, at the moment, provided primarily by hydro, nuclear and coal generation with the combined alternative energy sources of wind/solar/tidal/geothermal/etc., meeting less than 10% of America’s electrical needs.
Electrolysis and electrosynthesis technology offers a solution to the intermittency problem today. More importantly, electrolysis and electrosynthesis can be utilized to produce locally-made commodities capable of competing with the world’s worst industrial carbon dioxide polluters, while sequestering carbon dioxide. Moreover, there are numerous historical models that demonstrate how inexpensive electricity spawned aluminum metal production in the Bonneville-Columbia River basin, and even how magnesium could have been produced in equally massive capacities within the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) during and after WWII.
In 2004 Dr. J. D. Hultine partnered with Robert Graupner, PhD (Physics), MS (Chemistry) and James Van Vechten, PhD (Physics) for the express purpose of developing a nitrogen-based fuel that might compete with carbon-based fuels. 55 patent applications were submitted toward this goal over the next 11 years. Despite making considerable gains in research the group did not achieve their original goal – at least in the sense of finding a safe, transportable and cost effective fuel that could be manufactured for $1.50 or less per gasoline-gallon-equivalent.
This effort did produce a single pearl in the form of one particular patent application, filed in 2008 and deemed non-patentable by a European examiner. The application’s aim was to offer a viable method of sequestering carbon dioxide from the atmosphere while at the same time producing a hydrogen or nitrogen-based fuel in quantities sufficient to impact the rate and effects of climate change.
Although this patent application nicknamed “The Mining Option” was declined, the patent examiner stated that two of the three parameters for acceptance were allowed, those being that the application was “Unique” and “Industrially Applicable.” The third parameter deemed inapplicable centered on the lack of an “Inventive Step,” meaning all chemical engineering methods described were merely adaptations of known chemical engineering and Prior Art.
This is a true and solid point – one that the inventors saw as a major advantage. Using off-the-shelf electrolysis and electrosynthesis technologies to process massive quantities of the common mineral olivine allows for secondary functionality, permanently sequestering equally massive quantities of carbon dioxide from the earth’s atmosphere. Despite the clear potential of such an approach, lack of critical evidence prevented the project from moving forward. At that time, with the use of olivine as their manufacturing example, the inventors were unaware of several key facts, those being:
-The existence of 1,700 million tons of olivine reserves in the State of Washington and 200 million tons of olivine reserves within the Tennessee Valley Authority.
-That the basic premise of their “profitable method of sequestering carbon dioxide” was mostly (but not entirely) proven in a WWII sponsored TVA Olivine Pilot Plant, using known mining and electrolysis processing of the 1940’s. Today, this same information about the TVA olivine pilot plant lays out a “blueprint” in extensive detail that 4C-Adapt aims to improve upon.
Leveraging modern-day advances in electrolysis and electrosynthesis technology in confluence with details of the 1945 TVA pilot plant’s operative functionality, 4C-Adapt hopes to identify a proof-of-concept method for sequestering carbon dioxide from our atmosphere. Although this functionality remains to be proven, improved upon, or disproven, a strong argument can be made for constructing an updated ore processing pilot plant using low-cost electricity at prices currently offered to Google, Facebook and Apple data centers here in Oregon.
Ideally, this updated pilot plant will operate as a testing facility for a variety of ores, different concentrations of minerals within these ores, different combinations of electrolysis and electrosynthesis processes, and different industrial membranes used within these electrolysis processes, concurrently determining the costs and efficiencies of each of these samples.
4C-Adapt introduces a new method of electrical load-leveling with broad applications, using existing electrolysis and electrosynthesis manufacturing methods. With continued growth in the wind and solar energy sectors, 4C technology offers a reliable method of controlling grid fluctuations commonly associated with the natural intermittency of wind and solar power.
Hydrogen, oxygen, baking soda, washing soda, magnesium, iron, nickel, chromium, magnesium-based cement, fume silica and fertilizer are examples of commodities that 4C-Adapt can produce from the common mineral olivine, sequestering massive tonnages of atmospheric CO2 during the manufacturing process.
There are questions to answer before 4C-Adapt can be considered viable. The nonprofit project’s immediate focus is on vetting efficacy and applicability of the disruptive technology detailed above, ensuring that all data gleaned from research remains open-source and easily accessible for interested parties.
If 4C-Adapt’s approach proves to be applicable, the jobs created with the business of building real things and generating real growth for nations all over the world is certainly worth considering.