Posts Tagged ‘greenhouse gas’

As reported by Juliet Eilperin, Washington Post Staff Writer:

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Stephen L. Johnson favored giving California some authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from cars and trucks … before he consulted with the White House and reversed course, congressional investigators said yesterday.

As the article describes:

An extensive congressional investigation into Johnson’s conduct relied on more than 27,000 pages of EPA documents; interviews with top EPA officials served as other sources of information. The results of the investigation were just announced.

According to the agency’s documents and depositions by staff members, EPA officials unanimously endorsed granting California the waiver, and Johnson initially agreed. EPA Associate Deputy Administrator Jason Burnett testified under oath that Johnson “was very interested in a full grant of the waiver’ in August and September of 2007 and later thought a partial grant of the waiver ‘was the best course of action.”

The White House claims it did not influence Johnson’s decision but has ordered Johnson not to answer questions about White House involvement in the process. Seemingly at odds with his refusal to allow California a waiver of the Clean Air Act that would have imposed more stringent emissions standards on cars and trucks, Johnson did admit to reporters that he considers CO2 to be a pollutant.

Groups including the California Air Resources Board and the Natural Defense Resources Council (NRDC) are poised to show courts how tainted Johnson’s decision was, and how it ignored internal EPA science and external scientific advisers. The NRDC and other advocacy groups will submit a brief to the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals in an attempt to overturn the EPA administrator’s decision.

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As reported in the related story here at,

A briefing prepared by the lead staff lawyer for EPA’s General Counsel stated: “After review of the docket and precedent, we don’t believe there are any good arguments against granting the waiver. All of the arguments … are likely to lose in court if we are sued.”

In fact, the EPA staff interviewed by the Committee were unable to identify any agency documents that argued in favor of denial prior to December 19, 2007, the day California’s petition was denied.

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It is nice to see that Air Products has discovered a way for removing mercury and acid rain components from coal-fired electrical plants and other coal-burning facilities. I wonder how practical this will be? Air Products is certainly a very capable and innovative company. From Yahoo News:

“Air Products is a world leader in the development of oxyfuel technology. World scale air separation units (ASU) are required for oxyfuel CO2 capture projects, and Air Products is a proven supplier of this scale of cryogenic air separation plants. Additionally, Air Products’ CO2 purification process uniquely removes sulphur oxides, nitrogen oxides, and mercury during the compression process. CO2 purification and compression is important for the transport and geological storage of CO2 capture projects. The CO2 purification and compression system must be designed to minimize power consumption while meeting the purity specifications for the CO2.”

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I would welcome any discussion of the merits of this system for cleaning up the products of burning coal. It purports to clean up much more than CO2 emissions. While there have been plenty of stories about how “clean coal” is a myth, I’d like to think that each case will be judged on its merits. So, what do people think? Thanks for reading.

© James K. Bashkin, 2008

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By Haider Rizvi, OneWorld US, Thu., Feb. 7, 2008.
Banks to consider climate before investing in coal: “Officials at Citibank, JPMorgan Chase, and Morgan Stanley pledged Monday that they would give priority to investment in clean energy businesses and put coal-fired electricity generation to “a rigorous review” process for financing.”

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power plant emissions (uncredited photo)

The above image is uncredited and was found on the site Environment Canada.

As reported by Reuters, the German utilities company RWE is the largest polluter in Europe. RWE has just announced plans to work with two other companies, Linde and BASF, to scrub CO2 (carbon dioxide) from emissions of its coal-burning operations. The coal is burned to generate electrical power and CO2 is the major product of burning any form of carbon or nearly any carbon derivative (either coal in an electricity plant or the hydrocarbon that fuels your car).

The scrubbing process for RWE has not been figured out yet, though Linde is a company that specializes in handling gases and BASF is a multifaceted chemical company, so the team seems powerful and experienced. However, according to the article, doubts have been expressed by others that the technology can be made practical on what would be a huge scale.

This CO2 scrubbing seems like a good thing if it can been made to happen. It is worth mentioning that scrubbing CO2 out of gas streams or air is pretty commonplace on a small scale, and there are a number of simple methods that work well. However, just because it can be done by young students in a science lab doesn’t mean that the process is trivial, especially when the scale is enormous.

In fact, the $25 million dollar “Virgin Earth Challenge” is aimed at another version of “the CO2 problem”: British businessman Richard Branson, in collaboration with Al Gore, announced this challenge to stimulate research and development aimed at removing CO2 from the earth’s atmosphere. If successful, this concept would be a remediation of our atmosphere, or a clean-up to try to reverse the process of global warming that is largely caused by burning fossil fuels.

You might wonder what happens to the CO2 when it is “scrubbed” (it can’t just disappear magically). Scrubbing of CO2 typically generates the carbonate ion, CO3(2-) by reaction with sodium hydroxide or lithium hydroxide. Calcium hydroxide is also used, for example in the re-breathing apparatus used by some underwater divers. If you follow the calcium hydroxide link in the previous sentence, you’ll be taken to “General Chemistry Online”, which has a discussion of the relative merits of these various hydroxides and a class of chemicals called amines, all of which undergo chemical reactions with CO2 (and can therefore remove it from the air). General Chemistry Online has a further link to a US Department of Energy (DOE) website that addresses CO2 sequestration, or scrubbing, except that the link is currently broken, so you might want to try here to see what DOE has to say. I have emailed author Fred Senese of Frostburg State University about the broken link.

The lithium hydroxide link in the previous paragraph takes you to a publicly-released US military document that refers to both deep-sea diving and removal of CO2 from the atmosphere in submarines.

What needs to be said, and Professor Senese addresses this nicely, is that lithium and sodium are caustic (sodium hydroxide is the ingredient in lye). Calcium hydroxide is a little less troublesome. However, the materials used in CO2 sequestration are typically harmful if simple (they can give you chemical burns). Realizing this might give you some more insight into why it isn’t a trivial thing to scrub tons of CO2 as it tries to exit a coal-fired electricity-generating plant. Bubbling gas through a saturated or concentrated sodium hydroxide solution, for example, will generate sodium carbonate. Boiling away the water (which requires a lot of heat) will give you solid sodium carbonate. I’m not sure where RWE plans to put all of the material generated by CO2 scrubbing, but I was under the impression that landfill space was rapidly being filled already (we’ll have to lok into this more!).

Some readers will be thinking- what about photosynthetic plants? We can discuss them, and related bacteria, at a later date.

© James K. Bashkin, 2007

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