Archive for the ‘carbon emissions’ Category

How much carbon does our lumber sequester?

July 7th, 2019
Image of a the harvest of cut down trees.

Enlarge (credit: US BLM)

Carbon sequestration is generally thought of as locking carbon out of the atmosphere semi-permanently by incorporating it into rocks or forests that are then preserved. But there's a large cache of carbon in a form that's not especially permanent: the wood we use in our buildings and other structures. Some of that lumber has been in place for hundreds of years, while other bits of wood are used temporarily and then burnt or left to decay, which rapidly releases their sequestered carbon back into the atmosphere.

So it shouldn't surprise you that figuring out how much carbon ends up sequestered through our use of wood products is not a simple task. Undaunted, Craig Johnston and Volker Radeloff of the University of Wisconsin, Madison, have decided to tackle it. By viewing that carbon as a pool that's being drained and filled at the same time, they find that the total sequestered carbon is tiny—and subject to rapid changes based on political and economic factors.

Into the woods

The secret to tracking this pile of carbon is to recognize that we're never going to have a full inventory of lumber that was put in place a century or more ago. But that lumber is going to be an ever-shrinking portion of the material that was put in place more recently. Thus, if we can track the production of lumber (and other wood products) over the decades for which we have good data (1960 and beyond), then we have a decent sense of the total inputs to this sequestered carbon.

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Posted in carbon emissions, climate change, forestry, lumber, science, wood | Comments (0)

Analysis says we need to stop building fossil fuel plants now

July 2nd, 2019
Wind turbines near a coal plant.

Enlarge / Wind turbines spin as steam rises from the cooling towers of the Jäenschwalde coal-fired power plant in the distance. (credit: Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

Most of the world's nations have agreed to limit warming to 2°C, with a stretch goal of keeping things below 1.5°C. Since we have a good sense of how carbon dioxide drives that warming, it's possible to estimate how much more CO2 we can add to the atmosphere before those goals are exceeded. People have referred to that limit as a "carbon budget." The budget is useful, because it allows us to evaluate different ways of keeping below it. If cars are electrified by 2030, for example, it might give us more time to figure out how to handle air travel.

Now, a group of researchers has compared that carbon budget to the existing sources of emissions from fossil fuels, including power plants, industrial sources, and more. The analysis finds that we already have enough carbon-emitting power plants to push up against the limits of the carbon budget, and the number of plants in the planning stages might cause us to shoot right past it.

Running the numbers

To figure out how we're doing on the carbon budget, the researchers totaled up all the major sources of emissions, including industrial sources, cars and trucks, and power-generation plants. The annual emissions from each of these was then projected forward, accounting for things like the typical lifespan of each, their annual use (miles for cars, capacity factor for power plants, etc.), and the emissions associated with that use. You can view these as emissions we're committed to, as they'll happen unless we retire hardware before its usable lifetime is up.

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Posted in carbon emissions, climate change, Energy, Policy, science | Comments (0)

Elon Musk’s private jet appears to make frivolous flights, per Washington Post

January 30th, 2019
The same plane Musk often uses.

Enlarge / A Gulfstream G650ER executive jet sits on display on the second day of the 14th Dubai Air Show. Musk, too, owns a Gulfstream G650ER. (credit: Jasper Juinen/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Flight data obtained by The Washington Post shows that Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has a private jet that logged about 150,000 miles in 2018. While many billionaires have private jets, Musk's jet stands out in the number of trips it made and miles it logged, the Post reports.

Perhaps most egregious, the plane logged a number of 20-mile trips, repositioning from the south side of Los Angeles to the north side. "Tesla said Musk never used the plane to fly between different spots in Los Angeles," the Post reports. Instead, the jet would make the 20-mile repositioning flights to meet the CEO at a closer airport.

Flying is an extremely carbon-intensive activity, made worse when only a few people are transported rather than many are on a commercial jet. According to the Post, the 150,000 miles that Musk's jet flew represents roughly 250 flights. Although it's not always clear that Musk was aboard every flight, the CEO's private jet made 100 more flights than the private jet of Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon (and owner of The Washington Post).

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Posted in carbon emissions, cars, spacex, Tesla | Comments (0)

Coal will remain part of the US grid until 2050, federal energy projections say

January 26th, 2019
Dumptruck full of coal drives through strip mining area.

Enlarge / GILLETTE, Wyo.: A truck loaded with coal is viewed from the Eagle Butte Coal Mine Overlook which is operated by Alpha Coal. The area is a large producer of coal. Gillette uses the moniker of "The Energy Capital of the Nation." (credit: Matt McClain/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

On Thursday, the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) released its 2019 Annual Energy Outlook (AEO), which contains projections about trends in energy—from the amount of fossil fuels produced and sold, to the growth of renewable energy—out to 2050.

This year, against the backdrop of recent warnings from top scientists about the urgency of climate action, the EIA's projections don't look great. Coal, one of the most carbon-emitting sources of energy, is still projected to provide 17 percent of the United States' electricity in 2050, and that's assuming that no carbon-capture technology has been made mandatory. Natural gas—a fossil fuel that is less carbon-emitting than coal but still a problem for climate change—will increase its share of US electricity production from 34 percent to 39 percent.

These projections are from the EIA's "reference case," which omits any predictions about unplanned policy changes. But they do contain assumptions about how technology will change and the economy will grow. In the EIA's own words (PDF), "The AEO2019 Reference case represents EIA's best assessment of how US and world energy markets will operate through 2050, based on many key assumptions. For instance, the Reference-case projection assumes improvement in known energy production, delivery, and consumption technology trends."

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Posted in annual energy outlook, Biz & IT, carbon emissions, coal, Energy, natural gas, Policy, renewables | Comments (0)

Natural gas is now getting in the way; US carbon emissions increase by 3.4%

January 8th, 2019
PINEDALE, WY - MAY 3: A natural gas facility stands on the Pinedale Anticline, on May 3, 2018 in Pinedale, Wyoming. (Photo by Melanie Stetson Freeman/The Christian Science Monitor via Getty Images)

Enlarge / PINEDALE, WY - MAY 3: A natural gas facility stands on the Pinedale Anticline, on May 3, 2018 in Pinedale, Wyoming. (Photo by Melanie Stetson Freeman/The Christian Science Monitor via Getty Images) (credit: Getty Images)

"The US was already off track in meeting its Paris Agreement targets. The gap is even wider headed into 2019."

That's the dire news from Rhodium Group, a research firm that released preliminary estimates of US carbon emissions in 2018. Though the Trump administration said it would exit the Paris Agreement in 2017, the US is still bound by the agreement to submit progress reports until 2020. But the administration has justified regulatory rollbacks since then, claiming that regulation from the US government is unnecessary because emissions were trending downward anyway.

But it appears that emissions have increased 3.4 percent in 2018 across the US economy, the second-largest annual increase in 20 years, according to Rhodium Group's preliminary data. (2010, when the US started recovering from the recession, was the largest annual increase in the last two decades.)

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Posted in carbon emissions, electricity, Energy, Policy, power sector, science, Transportation | Comments (0)