Costing CO2 abatement - renewables, geothermal and biochar
However an Ontario, Canada Government commissioned analysis has revealed that when you take environmental and human mortality impacts into account the â€œtrue costâ€ of coal burning-based power was 4-5 times greater than the â€œmarket costâ€ â€“ this making the best renewables and geothermal much cheaper than the â€œtrue costâ€ of coal burning-based power (see â€œOntario study identifies social costs of coal-fired power plantsâ€).
Another way of seeing this is that it can be estimated (from arithmetic projection from the Canada study) that about 5,000 Australians die every year from the effects of deadly pollutants from coal burning (heavy metals, carbon monoxide, radioactivity, soot, nitrogen oxides, sulphur dioxide) i.e. Australia sacrifices 5,000 lives each year on the altar of heavily-subsidized coal burning-based power (see â€œHow many people die from Carbon Burning and Climate Change each year?â€).
For the Text and Power Point Slide Presentation of a superb recent public lecture by Dr Peter Seligman (Bionic Ear engineer, Cochlear and Monash University, Melbourne, Australia) entitled "The Bang for Buck Approach to CO2 Abatement" here is the link on the Yarra Valley Climate Action Group website. This link gives the Text of a public lecture by Dr Peter Seligman; for the extremely effective Power Point Presentation accompanying this lecture scroll down to see the Attachment at the end of the lecture text. Dr Seligman discussed where you can invest your money most effectively to reduce your Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions (e.g. roof top solar PV, solar/gas hot water, wind farms etc) - some of our favourite solutions do not bear up under his analysis. [in the following summary of his analysis, I have included but personally discounted nuclear power because, in addition to major security issues and costs, nuclear power introduction in a carbon-based economy carries a huge CO2 pollution component in the overall fuel cycle from the mining and processing to waste disposal and de-commissioning (see â€œThe truth about greenhouse and nuclear powerâ€)].
Thus, according to Dr Seligman the â€œcost of energy abatement including the cost of energy savedâ€ in units of â€œA$/tonne CO2â€ ranged from a marvellous -$500 (Mornington, WA remote area solar PV), -$141 (Compact fluorescent lamp used 24 hrs/day continuously), -$139 (large geothermal), -$139 (IRIS sealed nuclear reactor), -$134 (Georgia USA nuclear power), -$130 (Portland wind farm), -$121 (Birdsville geothermal), -$118 (Hepburn Co-op wind farm), $111 (Cloncurry thermal solar), $93 (LED fluorescent tube replacement), $92 (Mildura power solar power) and -$90 (domestic gas/solar hot water service, HWS) to the very costly +$7 (Gorgon CO2 injection project), +$30 (Carbon Capture and Sequestration, CCS Otway basin trial), +$36 (More efficient fridge), + $269 (hybrid car extra cost), $417 (Fairview coal bed methane), +$458 (Rooftop grid connect solar PV system), +$682 (Solar/gas HWS holiday house, 10% occupation) and +$2,000 (shredding money). [i would discount the nuclear option for the reasons given above].
Not considered in Dr Seligmanâ€™s excellent analysis is conversion to biochar (charcoal) of waste biomass (from crop straw, grasslands and forest waste biomass), this product being useful in CO2 abatement through return of carbon to the soil and also through helping create â€œterra pretaâ€ soil with increased fertility (see â€œBiocharâ€ and â€œForest biomass-derived Biochar can profitably reduce global warming and bushfire riskâ€). [Other improved agricultural practices such as minimum tillage cropping are also significant ].
Biochar expert Professor Johannes Lehmann of Cornell University calculates that it is realistically possible to fix 9.5 billion tonnes of carbon per year using biochar, noting that global annual production of carbon from fossil fuels is 8.5 billion tonnes (see: Alok Jha, "Biocharâ€™ goes industrial with giant microwaves to lock carbon in charcoal", Guardian (13 March 2009) and Johannes Lehmann, Biochar for mitigating climate change: "carbon sequestration in the blackâ€).
In an Australian context, Crucible Carbon is developing high efficiency, low O2 pyrolysis technology for the mass production of biochar. According to Inside Waste Weekly: â€œManaging director Matthew Warnken says â€¦ potential carbon abatement of 100-200 million tonnes annually is â€œextremely reasonable and would be very achievableâ€â€¦ first commercial demonstration plant, with construction to begin at a site in regional NSW early next year. That plant will process around 20,000-40,000 tonnes of feedstock annually, producing electricity and a biochar product that would be used to improve degraded soils â€¦ assuming realistic prices for the value of the biochar and energy outputs of the plant, a value of A$20-30 per tonne of carbon sequestered would allow commercial biochar plants to be built with a three-year payback periodâ€ (see Opposition throws support behind biochar, Inside Waste Weekly (27 January 2009)).
Professor Lovelock FRS has given a recent assessment in which he discards nuclear (â€œIt is a way for the UK to solve its energy problems, but it is not a global cure for climate change. It is too late for emissions reduction measuresâ€) and plumps for biochar, stating: â€œâ€œThere is one way we could save ourselves and that is through the massive burial of charcoal. It would mean farmers turning all their agricultural waste - which contains carbon that the plants have spent the summer sequestering - into non-biodegradable charcoal, and burying it in the soil. Then you can start shifting really hefty quantities of carbon out of the system and pull the CO2 down quite fast â€¦ The biosphere pumps out 550 gigatonnes [550 billion tonnes] of carbon [carbon dioxide, CO2] yearly; we put in only 30 gigatonnes [CO2]. Ninety-nine per cent of the carbon that is fixed by plants is released back into the atmosphere within a year or so by consumers like bacteria, nematodes and worms. What we can do is cheat those consumers by getting farmers to burn their crop waste at very low oxygen levels to turn it into charcoal, which the farmer then ploughs into the field. A little CO2 is released but the bulk of it gets converted to carbon. You get a few per cent of biofuel as a by-product of the combustion process, which the farmer can sell. This scheme would need no subsidy: the farmer would make a profit. This is the one thing we can do that will make a difference, but I bet they won't do itâ€ (see Gaia Vince (2009), â€œOne last chance to save mankindâ€œ, New Scientist, 23 January 2009: and http://biocharfund.com/.../20c02.pdf).
The World is running out of time but there is still hope that reason, science and rational risk management will prevail.