Iceland Carbon Dioxide Storage Project Locks Away Gas, and Fast

For years, scientists and others concerned about climate change have been talking about the need for carbon capture and sequestration. That is the term for removing carbon dioxide from, say, a coal-burning power plant’s smokestack and pumping it deep underground to keep it out of the atmosphere, where it would otherwise contribute to global warming. C.C.S., as the process is known, has had a spotty record so far. While there are some projects being designed or under construction, only one power plant, in Canada, currently captures and stores carbon on a commercial scale (and it has been having problems). Keeping a lot of CO2 out of the atmosphere would require a costly expansion of the technology to many more power plants and other industrial facilities. Among the concerns about sequestration is that carbon dioxide in gaseous or liquid form that is pumped underground might escape back to the atmosphere. So storage sites would have to be monitored, potentially for decades or centuries. But scientists at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University and other institutions have come up with a different way to store CO2 that might eliminate that problem. Their approach involves dissolving the gas with water and pumping the resulting mixture — soda water, essentially — down into certain kinds of rocks, where the CO2 reacts with the rock to form a mineral called calcite. By turning the gas into stone, scientists can lock it away permanently. One key to the approach is to find the right kind of rocks. Volcanic rocks called basalts are excellent for this process, because they are rich in calcium, magnesium and iron,...

The Value and Gaps in a Big San Francisco Clean-Energy Conclave

Around San Francisco through the rest of this week, government ministers, investors, engineers, climate campaigners and wonks of all stripes will be discussing ways to provide the energy necessary to sustain human progress without overheating the climate. This is a huge challenge (watch the late great Nobelist Richard Smalley) and a long march, no matter how much one shouts “urgency.” Are such meetings worth the carbon combustion it took for hundreds of participants to get to the Bay Area? Over all, I’d say yes, just as was the case last week with the United Nations Environment Assembly meeting on sustainable development that I attended in Nairobi. The value is less in proclamations and joint statement than in creating and sustaining conduits for sharing and shaping ideas, as I explained here in the Nairobi context. A “super wicked” problem like the climate/energy challenge will inevitably have no universal solution applicable everywhere. But discourse can clarify what works where – whether it’s a new financial instrument fostering solar panel deployment or a new battery design. So what’s happening in San Francisco? The main event is the seventh “Clean Energy Ministerial” – the latest in a series of annual intergovernmental meetings largely shaped by the Obama administration but built on a Bush-era template – the “major economies” meetings on energy and climate. The clean energy meeting brings together top energy officials and other representatives from 23 countries and the European Commission and attracts all manner of interested parties (some paying $10,000 a table to be at certain events). The top American official at the conference, secretary of energy Ernest Moniz, explained the strategy this way...

Biofuels Plant in Hawaii Is First to Be Certified as Sustainable

KEAAU, Hawaii — The trucks roll in and out of the plant at a business park nestled near papaya farms and a forest preserve on the Big Island here, an operation that transforms waste cooking oils, animal fats, fruit and seeds into biodiesel fuel, nearly 13,000 gallons a day. Owned by Pacific Biodiesel, an industry pioneer, the plant was designed with an eye toward conserving water and energy and avoiding environmental harm. But after about $20 million and four years of operation, a central question about the plant, and the industry as a whole, has persisted: Do biofuels ultimately reduce carbon emissions? “We’re worried that the efforts to ramp up our use of biofuels are actually doing a lot of damage and digging the climate hole deeper,” said Jonathan Lewis, a lawyer focused on climate change at the Clean Air Task Force. Now, the biodiesel industry’s backers say they have an answer, at least for this modest plant. The Sustainable Biodiesel Alliance, a nonprofit industry group, commissioned an audit of the plant’s sustainability by an independent company, and the result was yes. It was the first United States-based certification of sustainability granted for a biodiesel plant, according to the alliance. The certification is intended to help clean fuel producers distinguish themselves to customers seeking green products — a kind of Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval for the environmentally conscious. For biofuels, the environmental benefits of which have fallen under increasing scrutiny in recent years, that differentiation is ever more important, executives and advocates say. Photo A control room at Pacific Biodiesel’s Kea’au biodiesel refinery. Credit Kent Nishimura for The...

London has reached its yearly pollution limit in just 8 days

  At 7am on Friday, London officially breached the pollution limits set by the European Union for the entirety of 2016, making this the fifth year in a row that the city has significantly overshot the stipulated limits for toxic nitrogen-dioxide gas (NO2) pollution. The fact that London used up its yearly pollution limit in a week isn’t just bad news for the environment. Regularly inhaling NO2 pollution – much of which comes from diesel fuels – has been linked to respiratory and heart problems, and according to a report by King’s College London for the local mayor’s office, it contributed to 5,900 premature deaths in London in 2010. “This is exactly why we are taking the Government back to court,” said Alan Andrews, a lawyer for UK environmental law group, Client Earth. “Its failure to deal with illegal levels of air pollution, which causes thousands of early deaths in London every year, is a scandal.” Under EU law, various sites in London are given an hourly limit of 200 micrograms of NO2 per cubic metre of air, and they’re only permitted to breach those limits 18 times in a year. But, as Adam Vaughan at The Guardian reports, Putney High Street in West London breached its hourly limit for the 19th time on Friday morning, with Chelsea and Kensington following close behind. “Oxford Street has almost certainly also broken the limit already, having breached the hourly level a thousand times last year, but the monitoring station has malfunctioned,” Vaughan writes. Altogether, 291 square kilometres of London reached their annual limit for NO2 pollution in a week, which means some...

Eco housing: thinking outside the box

  In the wake of the Paris accord, perhaps 2016 will be the year when “green” is finally the new normal, in everything from lunch menus to homes. Yet top architects have for years been proving that eco-friendly does not have to mean unstylish. In a new book, New Eco Homes, Manel Gutiérrez identifies 22 of the best examples of eco-friendly domestic architecture from around the world.“There have been so many advances in sustainable strategies,” he says. “I wanted to write a book that showed them off.” Where once green features might have meant warped lines and unsightly concesssions, these homes are sleek and sophisticated. There is everything from futuristic Bond-villain villas to cantilevered barns in Suffolk and poolside studios in Brazil. What they have in common is a commitment to new materials, ever-better photovoltaic cells and ultra-efficient insulation. <!– [if IE 9]><![endif]–> <!– [if IE 9]><![endif]–> Facebook Twitter Pinterest Between the lines: Zeb pilot house in Kingston, Tasmania. Photograph: Bruce Damonte Not all of them are millionaire mansions set in acres of land, either. In among the sprawling single-storey houses are town houses in Hamburg or Ho Chi Minh City, tucked neatly into their urban environments. There are also plenty of examples beyond the traditional eco-centres of northern Europe and Australasia, as developing companies start to pick up the sustainability message. <!– [if IE 9]><![endif]–> <!– [if IE 9]><![endif]–> Facebook Twitter Pinterest Within these walls: house on the Morella River, Castelnovo di Sotto, Italy. Photograph: Kai-Uwe Inspiration, in short, for anyone thinking of making a greener start this year. “Investing in sustainable eco-housing means taking an economic return...

Air pollution: a dark cloud of filth poisons the world’s cities

The world has lost a third of its arable land due to erosion or pollution in the past 40 years, with potentially disastrous consequences as global demand for food soars, scientists have warned. New research has calculated that nearly 33% of the world’s adequate or high-quality food-producing land has been lost at a rate that far outstrips the pace of natural processes to replace diminished soil. The University of Sheffield’s Grantham Centre for Sustainable Futures, which undertook the study by analysing various pieces of research published over the past decade, said the loss was “catastrophic” and the trend close to being irretrievable without major changes to agricultural practices. The continual ploughing of fields, combined with heavy use of fertilizers, has degraded soils across the world, the research found, with erosion occurring at a pace of up to 100 times greater than the rate of soil formation. It takes around 500 years for just 2.5cm of topsoil to be created amid unimpeded ecological changes. “You think of the dust bowl of the 1930s in North America and then you realise we are moving towards that situation if we don’t do something,” said Duncan Cameron, professor of plant and soil biology at the University of Sheffield. “We are increasing the rate of loss and we are reducing soils to their bare mineral components,” he said. “We are creating soils that aren’t fit for anything except for holding a plant up. The soils are silting up river systems – if you look at the huge brown stain in the ocean where the Amazon deposits soil, you realise how much we are accelerating...