Showing posts with label sequestration. Show all posts
Showing posts with label sequestration. Show all posts

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Olivine weathering to capture CO2 and counter climate change

Professor Schuiling in front of a huge and very impressive olivine massif in Oman

Olivine weathering to capture CO₂ and counter climate change - by R.D. Schuiling


CO₂ is emitted in large quantities as a consequence of our burning of fossil fuels. It has several unpleasant consequences, because it will probably cause climate change, and there are several reports that high levels of CO₂ in offices and schools may impair the quality of thinking of the people that work there. Although higher levels of it in the atmosphere may also have some beneficial effects on vegetation, it should be considered as a possibly dangerous pollutant.


Many new technologies are proposed to remove CO₂ from the atmosphere, but strangely enough the only process that has always removed the excess of CO₂ emitted by volcanoes since the origin of the Earth is barely considered. It is the weathering of minerals by which almost all the CO₂ that was emitted during the past by volcanoes was transported as bicarbonate solutions to the oceans where it was sustainably stored as carbonate rocks (limestones and dolomites).
Mg₂(SiO₄)  + 4 CO₂ + 4 H₂O 2 Mg2+ + 4 HCO3- + H₄(SiO₂)

These rocks contain about 1 million times more CO than the oceans, the atmosphere and the biosphere combined. It has provided a livable atmosphere, in contrast with Venus, where weathering was impossible due to the lack of liquid water. At present the CO levels in the atmosphere are rising, because the anthropogenic emission of CO is so large that this weathering process cannot keep pace with it. I propose to use a process of enhanced weathering to regain a new balance between input and output. In order to make this cost-effective, my examples will all represent a combination of CO capture with another beneficial effect, by which the total effect is cheaper, and may occasionally even lead to a positive financial result.

Ten cost-effective applications of olivine weathering:
  1. Increasing rice production by spreading olivine grains in paddies
  2. Olivine spreading on acid soils instead of liming
  3. Biogas production with additional methane production
  4. Solution of the sick-building syndrome of schools and offices
  5. The use of the surf as a huge ball-mill
  6. Diatom cultivation for the production of biodiesel
  7. Phytomining of nickel from olivine-rich soils
  8. Olivine hills to produce healthy mineral water
  9. Quenching forest fires with a serpentine slurry
  10. Tackling natural emissions in Milos, Greece

1. Increasing rice production by spreading olivine grains in paddies

Rice, like the other “wet grasses” like bamboo and reed needs silica. This is made available by spreading olivine grains over the paddies. It is very easy to measure the effects, by sampling the irrigation water where it enters the paddy, and sample it again where the water leaves the paddy containing olivine. The difference between the two analyses represents the effect of the weathering of the olivine. Rice production is negatively affected by acid conditions (1), and the weathering of olivine makes conditions more alkaline. As rice cultivation occupies 146 million hectares, spreading these annually with 4 ton of olivine per hectare also represents a sizable capture of CO. The increase of rice production can be measured by spreading for example 1, 3 and 10 ton of olivine over 3 paddies, and compare rice production with the production of a similar paddy without olivine spreading.

2. Olivine spreading on acid soils instead of liming

The approach as sketched above for rice can be extended to other acid agricultural soils as well. Normally acid soils are remediated by liming, but olivine spreading can do the same, and captures CO at the same time, whereas liming has a penalty for its CO emissions on account of the mining, milling and transporting of lime. Tests at the Agricultural University of Wageningen (2) have shown that olivine application increases productivity. The costs of adding lime or olivine will be rather similar, and soil scientists should decide whether a mixture of the two produces a better soil than using only one of the two.

3. Biogas production with additional methane production

Increasing methane production in biogas installations. In the normal operation of biodigesters, the produced gas contains roughly 2/3 methane, 1/3 CO and traces of HS. Before this gas can be added to the national gas lines, the CO content must be drastically reduced by rather expensive operations, and the HS must be removed. Tests with digesters have shown that the addition of fine-grained olivine has 3 important effects. It creates more alkaline conditions, which make that a larger part of the CO is already taken up as bicarbonate in the digestate, and does not have to be removed by expensive technologies. The second effect is that the traces of HS react with the iron content of the olivine and forms solid iron sulfide particles (olivine is a mixed crystal of Mg(SiO) and Fe₂(SiO₄). The third effect was somewhat unexpected. The methane production increases by the following reaction:

6 Fe₂(SiO₄) + CO₂ + 14 H₂O  Fe₃O₄ + CH₄ + 6 H₄(SiO₂)

The methane reaction is catalyzed by the tiny magnetite crystals that form in this reaction. In view of the important role of iron in the olivine, it may be worthwhile to look for olivine deposits with a higher Fe-content than the usual olivine. This application will reduce the costs of the digestion, and increase its production.

4. Solution of the sick-building syndrome of schools and offices

It was recently found by research groups in Berkeley and Harvard (3,4) that the high CO content of the internal atmosphere of these buildings (rising to 1500 to 1600 ppm in the afternoon compared to 400 ppm in the atmosphere outside) impaired the quality of thinking of the inmates. To avoid this, one can open doors and windows, but in temperate climates this causes serious increases in energy costs, and will often cause dust and noise problems. One can prevent this by installing a so-called CATO-reactor (Clean Air Through Olivine). This is a trough-like basin filled with an emulsion of fine olivine grains. Along the bottom a perforated pipe is installed, through which the internal atmosphere of the building is transported under a slight overpressure. The air bubbles pass through the olivine emulsion, and the CO is converted to bicarbonate in solution. This set-up has the additional advantage that it will also trap allergenic particles or pollen, which will make life easier for people who suffer from asthma or hay fever.

5. The use of the surf as a huge ball-mill

The surf as the largest ball-mill on Earth. Milling of olivine (around 2 US$/ton for milling olivine to 100 micron) is a cost that can be avoided if nature provides a zero cost alternative. We have carried out experiments with angular coarse olivine grit in a simulated very modest surf (5). After a few days the grains were rounded and polished grains (Fig. 1). Tiny micron-sized slivers were knocked off by collisions and abrasion. These slivers weathered in a few days.

Fig 1: The surf turns angular coarse olivine grit into rounded and polished grains in a few days
Depositing coarse olivine grit directly on beaches in the surf may well become the cheapest large-scale way to capture CO and restore the pH of the oceans.

6. Diatom cultivation for the production of biodiesel

Diatom cultivation for biodiesel production. Biofuels are produced at fairly large scale from oil palms, sorghum, maize and the like. This production occupies large tracts of land, which are withdrawn from the world food production. They consume large volumes of irrigation water, and use expensive fertilizer. Moreover not seldomly reservations for threatened animals, like the orang outan are used for these plantations. Enough reasons to look for different solutions. Diatoms (silica algae) are rich in organic material from which biodiesel can be produced. They are called silica algae, because their exoskeleton is made of silica. They can multiply fast, provided that they have enough silica. This can be provided by the weathering of olivine. One can think of the following solution for diatom cultivation. Create a lagoon along the beach, by surrounding a piece of the sea in front of this beach by a dam. Construct a connection through this dam, through which water can flow into the lagoon at high tide, and flow out of the lagoon at ebb tide. Cover the beach with half a meter thick layer of olivine grains between the high tide line and the low tide line. This beach will alternatively be wetted and drained, by which the silica-rich water will flow into the lagoon, and feed the diatoms. The dead diatoms must be harvested, dried and transported to the biodiesel plant . The diatom production in the lagoon can be boosted by installing an underwater led lighting, which makes that the photosynthesis of the diatoms can continue through the night.

7. Phytomining of nickel from olivine-rich soils

Phytomining of nickel. Olivine contains more nickel than most rocks, but still much lower than nickel ores. There are a number of plant species that have the strange habit that they can extract nickel very well from the soils on olivine rock and store it in their tissues . When you harvest these plants at the end of the growing season, dry them and burn them, the plant ash often contains around 10% of nickel, more than the richest nickel ore. Mining is an energy-intensive affair and has a high CO emission. Moreover the mining and the metal extraction from the ore cause a lot of pollution. This makes it tempting to see if you can use these nickel hyperaccumulator plants to do the job of mining without large CO emissions (6). Figure 2 shows the flowering Alyssum plants (a well-known nickel hyperaccumulator plant) on the tailings of an asbestos mine in Cyprus.

Fig 2: Yellow blossomed Alyssum nickel hyperaccumulator plants grow on tailings of former asbestos mine on Cyprus
8. Olivine hills to produce healthy mineral water

Olivine hills to produce healthy mineral water. When olivine weathers, it turns the water into a healthy magnesium bicarbonate water. According to the FAO such waters are active against cardiovascular diseases. This makes it interesting to see if we can produce similar mineral waters in places where there is no olivine in the subsoil. This is possible by the use of olivine hills (7). These can be constructed as follows. First make an impermeable layer on the soil in the form of a very flat slightly inclined gutter. Cover this with a hill of olivine grains of several meter thickness. Add soil over this hill, and plant it with shrubs and grasses. Soils are much richer in CO than the atmosphere. This is caused by the decay of dead plant material which produces CO in the soil, as well as the breathing of animals living in this soil. When it rains, the water will first encounter this CO-rich soil atmosphere, equilibrate with it and become aggressive. This CO-rich water will then move into the olivine layer, and react with it, producing a healthy magnesium bicarbonate water. This will trickle through the olivine layer until it meets the impermeable base, where it will slowly trickle to the lowest point of the gutter, where it will be released through a tap, where visitors can collect some of this water and drink it.

9. Quenching forest fires with a serpentine slurry

Quenching forest fires with a serpentine slurry. Forest fires cause the largest emission of CO after the emission by burning fossil fuels (8). Large forest fires lead to a number of deaths. Both from the public health side as from the CO emission side it would be helpful if we found a better way to quench forest fires rapidly. The following seems to be a promising way to achieve this. Serpentine is the hydrated form of olivine, it is similar to clay minerals. It is well-known that baking clays to make bricks consume a lot of energy. This is an unpleasant property, except where it is important to remove as much heat as possible, like in forest fires. We carried out a number of tests to see whether spreading serpentine slurries over fires would be a more effective way to quench fires than just water. This turned out to be very clearly the case, but not for the reason we thought. Test fires were extinguished in a few seconds when serpentine slurries were sprinkled over them, but the removal of excess heat was only a minor factor in the success. When serpentine slurries are spread over burning wood, the serpentine immediately dissociates, and forms a thin amorphous layer on the burning material. Oxygen can no longer come in contact with the burning wood, and inflammable gases from the burning wood can no longer escape. Test fires were quenched in a few seconds. As serpentinites are very common rocks, it should be easy to introduce this way of quenching to combat forest fires. It is hoped that this will be introduced by the fire brigades in many countries that suffer from forest fires, and thus save unnecessary deaths and destruction of properties. The amorphous product of the serpentine after it has reacted in the fire reacts quite fast with the first rains, faster than olivine, and thus compensates part of the CO₂ that was emitted by the fire.

10. Tackling natural emissions in Milos, Greece

CO₂ levels in the atmosphere are rising, because we are burning in a few hundred years the fossil fuels (coal, oil, gas) that have taken hundreds of millions of years to form. This will probably cause a climate change, with disastrous world problems, because the ice in Greenland and Antarctica will melt and cause a serious sealevel rise. It is important, therefore, to capture as much CO₂ as possible and store it in a safe and sustainable manner.

It makes no difference for the climate if we capture anthropogenic CO₂ or natural CO₂ emissions, because all CO₂ molecules are identical. The anthropogenic emissions are much more voluminous, but natural emissions are easier to capture. An excellent example is found on and around the island of Milos, where annually 2.2 million tons of hot CO₂ are emitted from a surface area of about 35 km². The village of Paleochori is the center of this CO₂ emission. Most of the CO₂ emission is by bubbles rising out of the shallow seafloor, but CO₂ is also emitted on land. When you try to dig a hole in the beach with your hands, you have to stop when the hole is elbow-deep, otherwise you burn your hands. The bubbles are so hot, that a local restaurant in Paleochori is even using it for its “volcanic cooking”. They have buried a box in the beach sand, in which they cook a lamb every morning. Delicious to have a juicy lamb for lunch on the terrace of that restaurant, while you look out over the blue Aegean.

It becomes important for the world to capture as much CO₂ as possible. When you apply this to the CO₂ emissions at Milos, one could do the following. First find a place where the most CO₂ bubbles rise from the shallow sea floor. Then make a small artificial island by covering this point with a hill of olivine sand as well as larger olivine pieces. Of course, when bubbles of CO₂ rise in the sea, they will assume the same temperature as the sea water, but if they rise in an olivine hill they will cause the temperature inside that olivine hill to rise, because now the hot bubbles release their heat to the surrounding olivine grains. This situation will lead to a small convection system. The warm water inside the hill will start to rise, and cold seawater will be sucked in the hill from the sides. If one constructs a shallow pit on top of the island, it will fill with warm water.

Would it not be an exotic temptation for tourists, to lie even in winter in a warm bath on top of a small island, and look out over a cool blue sea? They will feel even better if they know that these delicious sensations are a small part of our efforts to save the world from climate change, and the seas from acidification. The reaction of the olivine with water + CO₂ is exothermic, so that provides some additional heat for the water in the bath.

Additional information:

As said, the weathering reaction of olivine with water and CO2 is as follows:
Mg₂(SiO₄)  + 4 CO₂ + 4 H₂O  2 Mg2+ + 4 HCO3- + H₄(SiO₂)

This means that the greenhouse gas CO₂ is converted to a bicarbonate solution, so it is no longer affecting the climate.

Some possible sources of olivine in Greece

Olivine is a very common mineral. The tailings of a magnesite company in northern Greece contain close to ten million tons of crushed olivine. A port is not too far from the location of that magnesite mine. Nearer by, on the island of Naxos, there are quite a few places with olivine rocks at the surface, where the material could be obtained by a small open pit digging operation. Apart from the proposal as a touristic attraction, Greece can present it as one of their attempts to sustainably capture the greenhouse gas CO₂.


Removal of CO₂ from the atmosphere can be combined in a number of ways with other positive effects, which makes such operations considerably more cost-effective.

  1. Breemen, N. van (1976) Genesis and solution chemistry of acid sulfate soils in Thailand. PhD thesis. Agricultural University of Wageningen, 263 pp.
  2. Ten Berge, H.F.M., van der Meer, H.G., Steenhuizen, J.W., Goedhart, P.W., Knops, P. Verhagen, J. (2012) Olivine weathering in Soil, and its Effects on Growth and Nutrient Uptake in Ryegrass (Lolium perenne L.). A Pot Experiment. PLOS\one, 7(8): e42098.
  3. Savchuk, K. (2016) Your brain on Carbon dioxide: Research finds low levels of indoor CO impair thinking. California Magazine/summer 2016.
  4. Allen, J.G., Macnaughton, P., Satish, U., Spengler, J.D. (2015) Association of cognitive function scores with carbon dioxide, ventilation, and volatile organic compound exposure in office workers: a controlled exposure study of green and conventional office environments. Env. Health Perspectives, October 2015.
  5. Schuiling, R.D. and de Boer, P.L. (2011) Rolling stones, fast weathering of olivine in shallow seas for cost-effective CO capture and mitigation of global warming and ocean acidification. Earth Syst. Dynam. Discuss., 2, 551-568. doi:10.5194/esdd-2-551.
  6. Schuiling, R.D. (2013) Farming nickel from non-ore deposits, combined with CO sequestration. Natural Science 5, no 4, 445-448.
  7. Schuiling, R.D. and Praagman, E. (2011) Olivine Hills, mineral water against climate change. Chapter 122 in Engineering Earth: the impact of megaengineering projects. Pp 2201-2206. Ed.Stanley Brunn, Springer.
  8. Schuiling, R.D. (2015) Serpentinite slurries against Forest Fires. Open J. Forestry, 5, 255-259.

Further publications

• Olivine against climate change and ocean acidification, by R. D. Schuiling and Oliver Tickell (2011)

• Climate change and the KISS principle, by R.D. Schuiling, O. Tickell and S.A. Wilson (2011) Mineralogical Magazine, 75(3) 1826

• Six Commercially Viable Ways to Remove CO2 from the Atmosphere and/or Reduce CO2 Emissions, by R.D. Schuiling and Poppe L. de Boer (2013) Environmental Sciences Europe, 25, 35.

• Climate Change and CO₂ Removal from the Atmosphere, by Roelof Dirk Schuiling (2014)

• Olivine Weathering against Climate Change, by Roelof Dirk Schuiling (2017)


• Policies

• Combining Policy and Technology

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Act now on methane

by Malcolm Light

  This is an extract. The full paper including figures and tables is at:

Methane concentrations in the Arctic are higher than elsewhere in the world, as shown on figure 1. below (NASA image).

Methane is entering the atmosphere at high latitudes and spreading across the globe from there.

What is causing methane to be released in large quantities in the Arctic?

The Gulf Stream, pictured on figure 3. below, is warming up more than usual due to global warming. Specifically, pollution clouds pouring eastwards from the coast of Canada and the United States are the main culprit in heating up the Gulf Stream.

Figure 3. The Gulf Stream
In July 2013, water off the coast of North America reached 'Record Warmest' temperatures and proceeded to travel along the Gulf Stream to the Arctic Ocean, where it is now warming up the seabed. Figure 4. below further shows that above-average temperatures were recorded in July 2013 along the entire path of the Gulf Stream into the Arctic Ocean. 
Figure 4. NOAA: part of the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of North America reached record warmest temperatures in July 2013
The mean speed of the Gulf Stream is 4 miles per hour (6.4 km/hour or 1.78 metres/second), but the water slows down as it travels north. In the much wider North Atlantic Current, which is its north eastern extension, the current flows 3.5 times slower (about 0.51 metres/second), while the West Spitzbergen Current (WSC on figure 5. below) flows at about 0.35 metres/second (5 times slower).

The West Spitzbergen Current dives under the Arctic ice pack west of Svalbard, continuing as the Yermak Branch (YB on above map) into the Nansen Basin, while the Norwegian Current runs along the southern continental shelf of the Arctic Ocean, its hottest core zone at 300 metres depth destabilizing the methane hydrates en route to where the Eurasian Basin meets the Laptev Sea, a region of extreme methane hydrate destabilization and methane emissions. Figure 6. below, from an earlier post by Malcolm Light, shows how warm water flows into the Arctic Ocean and warms up methane hydrates and free gas held in sediments under the Arctic Ocean.

Sediments underneath the Arctic Ocean hold vast amounts of methane. Just one part of the Arctic Ocean alone, the East Siberian Arctic Shelf (ESAS, see figure 7. below), holds up to 1700 Gt of methane. A sudden release of just 3% of this amount could add over 50 Gt of methane to the atmosphere, and experts consider such an amount to be ready for release at any time.

Figure 7.
As above figure 7. shows, the total methane burden in the atmosphere now is 5 Gt. The 3 Gt that has been added since the 1750s accounts for almost half of all global warming. The amount of carbon stored in hydrates globally was in 1992 estimated to be 10,000 Gt (USGS), while a more recent estimate gives a figure of 63,400 Gt (Klauda & Sandler, 2005). The ESAS alone holds up to 1700 Gt of methane in the form of methane hydrates and free gas contained in sediments, of which 50 Gt is ready for abrupt release at any time, and Whiteman et al. calculate that an extra 50 Gt of methane would cause $60 trillion in damage. By comparison, the size of the world economy in 2012 was about $70 trillion. 

Smaller releases of methane in the Arctic come with the same risk; their huge local warming impact threatens to further destabilize sediments under the Arctic Ocean and trigger further methane releases, as illustrated by figure 8. below.
Figure 8.
Figure 9. below, from an earlier post by Malcolm Light, shows that, besides the shallow methane hydrate regions in the ESAS, the Arctic Ocean slope and deep water regions contain giant volumes of methane hydrate deposits (methane frozen within the ice).
If only a few percent of this methane hydrate becomes destabilized, it will release enough methane into the atmosphere to cause a Permian Age-type massive extinction event. Recent methane emission maps show that, besides the emissions from the ESAS, huge amounts of methane are being released from other parts of the Arctic Ocean.

We now know that the subsea methane hydrate is destabilizing at a fast-increasing pace and the pattern of destabilization indicates that it is mainly caused by the increasingly hot "Gulf Stream" waters entering the Arctic west of Svalbard and through the Barents Sea. These "Gulf Stream" waters do a complete circuit in the Arctic, even under a complete floating ice cover, and will destabilize the methane hydrates they come in contact with before making an exit along the edges of Greenland. Methane is now also emerging from the waters of the Greenland coastline, where the southward-bound "Gulf Stream" waters exit the Arctic Ocean along the edges of Greenland.

Historically, methane has caused delayed temperature anomalies of some 20°C, according to ice core analysis data, i.e. much higher than anomalies caused by carbon dioxide. Methane has a very high warming potential compared to carbon dioxide. Over a decade, methane's global warming potential is more than 100 times as much as carbon dioxide, while methane's local warming potential can be more than 1000 times as much. As a result, giant zones of circulating warm air in the Arctic have temperature anomalies in excess of 20°C.

Figure 10. [ click on image to enlarge ]
These hot clouds, resulting from many feedbacks including this Arctic atmospheric methane build-up, show that methane's delayed temperature anomaly of 20°C has already caught up in the Arctic and is going to progressively spread around the world resulting in runaway global warming.

Figure 11. [ click on image to enlarge ]
Above figure 11. (by Sam Carana) and figure 12. below (by Malcolm Light) indicate that the critical mean atmospheric temperature anomaly of 8°C will be reached between 2035 and 2050. At this temperature we can expect total deglaciation and extinction, according IPCC AR4 (2007).

By 2012, the mean atmospheric temperature had increased by some 0.8°C by human induced global warming. This year however Australia has seen an anomalous 0.22°C temperature increase. The new Australian temperature gradient implies that in ten years the atmosphere will be 2.2°C hotter and in 30 to 40 years, 6.6 to 8.8°C hotter which is consistent with the Arctic methane emission temperature increase curves of Carana and Light.

The reason for this sudden temperature increase in Australia this year is due to the fast building pall of methane in the Northern Hemisphere caused by global warming and destabilization of the subsea Arctic methane hydrates and the Arctic surface methane hydrate permafrosts.

At the moment, the entire Arctic is covered by a widespread methane cloud, but it is very concentrated (> 1950 ppb) over the Eurasian Basin and Laptev Sea where the subsea methane hydrates are being destabilized at increasing rates by heated Atlantic (Gulf Stream) waters. The area of the Eurasian Basin is similar to that of the East Siberian Arctic Shelf (ESAS) where Shakova et al. (1999) have shown that some 50 billion tons of methane could be released at any moment during the next 50 years from destabilization of subsea ESAS methane hydrates.

Figure 13.  Methane over the Arctic Ocean on December 3, 2013        [ click on image to enlarge ]
At the moment, water saturated with methane is traveling underneath the ice carried by exit currents and emerging at locations where the sea ice is still less than one meter thick, such as in Baffin Bay and in Hudson Bay, as also shown on the animation below.

[ this animation is a 1.5MB file and may take some time to fully load ]
This massive volume of methane entering the atmosphere will produce catastrophic consequences for the global climate system. Furthermore global warming is now destabilizing methane hydrates in the Eurasian Basin even more than on the ESAS. The release of an additional 50 billion tons of methane or more from the Eurasian Basin over the next 50 years will further compound the catastrophe represented by the destabilization of methane hydrates on the ESAS. Essentially we have passed the methane hydrate tipping point and are now accelerating into extinction as the methane hydrate "Clathrate Gun" has begun firing increasingly large volleys of methane into the Arctic atmosphere.

The growth of the mean atmospheric temperature using the curves on figure 12 indicate that the mean atmospheric temperature anomaly will exceed 1.5°C in 15 years and 2°C in 20 years, at which time storm systems will be very extreme with droughts, flooding, sea level rise and the loss of Pacific islands. When the mean atmospheric temperature anomaly reaches 8°C some 39 years in the future, there will be total deglaciation and a major extinction event that will culminate in a Permian-type extinction of all life on Earth.

If we do not stop the massive increases of Arctic methane emissions into the atmosphere the oceans will begin to boil off by 2080, when the mean temperature anomaly exceeds 115 to 120°C and the temperatures will be like those on Venus by 2100 (see figure 12).

The present end of the financial crisis and recovery of the U.S. economy will take us down the same fossil fuel driven road to catastrophe that the U.S. has followed before, when they refused to sign the original Kyoto Protocols. Unless the United States and Canada reduce their extreme carbon footprints (per unit population), they will end up being found guilty of ecocide and genocide, as the number of countries destroyed by the catastrophic weather systems continues to increase.

The United States and Canada seek to expand their economies by increasingly frenetic extraction of fossil fuels, using the most environmentally destructive methods possible (fracking and shale oil), while the population's total addiction to inefficient gas transport is leading our planet into suicide. We are like maniacal lemmings leaping to their deaths over a global warming cliff. What a final and futile legacy it will be for the leader of the free world to be remembered only in the log of some passing alien ship recording the loss of the Earth’s atmosphere and hydrosphere after 2080 due to human greed and absolute energy ineptitude.

The U.S. Government and Canada must ban all environmentally destructive methods of fossil fuel extraction such as fracking, extracting shale oil and coal and widespread construction of the now found to be faulty hydrocarbon pipeline systems. All Federal Government subsidies to fossil fuel corporations, for fossil fuel discovery and extraction must be immediately eliminated and the money spent solely on renewable energy development, which will provide many jobs to the unemployed. All long and short range (high consumption) fossil fuel-powered transport must be electrified or converted to hydrogen and where the range is too large, electric vehicles (including electric trains and ships) must be used instead of fossil fuel-powered trucks or aviation means of transport. All the major work for this conversion (including railway construction) can provide a new and growing set of jobs for the unemployed. Nuclear power stations must continue to be used and should be converted to the safe thorium energy system until the transition is complete.

The U.S. has to put itself on a war footing, but rather than fighting other military forces, it should recall its military forces from various places across the world and set them to work on the massive shift to renewable energy that the country needs to undertake if it wishes to survive the fast approaching catastrophe. The threat now comes from Mother Nature, who has infinite power at her disposal and intends to take no prisoners when she will strike back hard over a very short, absolutely brutal, 30-to-40-year period which has already begun. I cannot emphasise more, how serious humanity’s predicament is and what we should try to do to prevent our certain final destruction and extinction in 30 to 40 years if we continue down the present path we are following.

Figure 14. 
Above action plan (figure 14.) includes efforts to move to a sustainable economy (part 1.) and efforts to reflect and divert heat away from the Arctic (part 2.). Furthermore, it includes action on methane escaping from hydrates in the Arctic (part 3.), as described at the Arctic methane management page. Two types of methane management are further discussed below.

Arctic Methane Permanent Storage

In the ANGELS Proposal, subsea Arctic methane is extracted, stored and sold as LNG for distribution as fuel, to produce fertilizer, etc. Permanent storage underground, however, is more preferable.
Figure 15. 
As described by Sam Carana in an earlier post, Prof. Kenneth Yanda, at the University of California, Irvine, has shown that methane can be stored in propane - methane hydrates that are stable at temperatures of ca 15°C and low pressure (25 pounds per square inch - 1.66 atmospheres), very close to the ambient temperature and pressure conditions.

Figure 16. 
Figure 17. Methane capture in zeolite SBN. Blue represents
adsorption sites, which are optimal for methane (CH4)
uptake. Each site is connected to three other sites (yellow
arrow) at optimal interaction distance.  Credit: LLNL News
Hydrates can be produced that contain larger cages for other gases and smaller cages for methane.

Methane can be converted into propane and other gases with UV light and the final goal would be long-term storage of these gases in the form of hydrates in deep waters such as those north of Alaska, suggests Sam Carana, adding that carbon dioxide can also then be sequestered in the hydrates, after its removal from the atmosphere.

Unlike carbon dioxide, methane is completely non-polar and reacts very weakly with most materials.

Three zeolite types (SBN, ZON and FER) have been found to absorb methane at high to moderate rates (Figure 17, from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) and UC Berkley, 2013).

These materials can help limit escape of fugutive gases from extraction, transport and distribution of methane.

Lucy and Alamo Projects

The Lucy project seeks to decompose methane in the atmosphere.

In a new modified version of the Lucy Project, hydroxyls can also be generated by a polarized 13.56 MHZ beam intersecting the sea surface over the region where a massive methane torch (plume) is entering the atmosphere, so that the additional hydroxyl will react with the rising methane breaking a large part of it down. The polarized 13.56 MHZ radio waves will decompose atmospheric humidity, mist, fog, ocean spray, and the surface of the waves themselves in the Arctic Ocean into nascent hydrogen and hydroxyl (figure 18).

The newly determined atmospheric temperature gradient indicates that the mean global atmospheric temperature will reach 1.5°C in 15 years and 2°C in 20 years (Figure 14). Consequently we only have 15 years to get an efficient methane destruction radio - laser system designed, tested and installed (Lucy and Alamo (HAARP) Projects, figure 18) before the accelerating methane eruptions take us into uncontrollable runaway global warming. This will give a leeway of 5 years before the critical 2°C temperature anomaly will have been exceeded and we will be looking at catastrophic storm systems, a fast rate of sea level rise and coastal zone flooding with its extremely deleterious effects on world populations and global stability.

Figure 18.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Methane sequestration in hydrates

Could natural gas should be regarded as "clean energy", or as a "bridge fuel" on the road to a clean energy society? This is questioned by a Cornell University study that concludes that emissions caused by natural gas can be even worse than emissions by coal and diesel oil, especially when looked at over a relatively short period (image below).

Robert Howarth et al. - Methane and the greenhouse-gas footprint of naturalgas from shale formations
Not surprisingly, many people call for a ban on drilling in the Arctic, where factors such as remoteness, low temperatures of the water, presence of sea ice, shallowness of seas, long sea currents and lack of bacteria and hydroxyl combine to further increase environmental concerns about spills, leakage and fugitive gases.

Such factors should also make drilling in the Arctic more expensive. At first glance, one would therefore think that over time, in a world shifting to genuinely clean energy such as produced by solar panels and wind turbines, such more expensive "unconventional" sources of fuel will never become economic anyway. Many were therefore caught by surprise when the Energy Department announced the completion of a "successful field trial of methane hydrate production technologies". The announcement adds that a mixture of carbon dioxide and nitrogen was injected to promote the production of natural gas, and that ongoing analyses will be needed to determine the efficiency of simultaneous carbon dioxide storage in the reservoirs.

Indeed, there are concerns about the stability of the sequestered carbon dioxide (i.e. about possible leakage of carbon dioxide over the years), while there are also concerns about emissions caused in the process of producing this carbon dioxide in the first place. A concern voiced by Holly Moeller in a recent post is that any carbon dioxide sequestered as part of the methane extraction process will quickly be replaced through burning of the extracted methane. One should consider that methane in hydrates is highly compressed -- when taken out of the hydrate, it expands some 170 times in volume. And of course, there are also concerns about fugitive releases during capture and leakage during transport and distribution of the methane.

Ironically, environmental concerns can lead both to calls for bans on drilling and to calls for capture of methane in the Arctic. Large amounts of methane are present in undersea sediments in the Arctic. There are indications that much methane is on the verge of abrupt release any time now, due to rising temperatures worsened by the risk of hydrate destabilization due to seismic activity. Some therefore argue that drilling could risk destabilizing the hydrates. Others, on the other hand, argue that to reduce the risks of large methane releases, preemptive action is needed to remove methane from such locations.

In the ANGELS proposal methane is extracted, stored and sold as LNG, for distribution as fuel. There are a number of alternative proposals, each with their advantages and disadvantages. One alternative is to store captured methane in hydrates. Methane hydrates only remain stable within a limited range of  temperatures and pressures, i.e. between 290 and 5,076 psi (2-35 MPa). A group at the University of California - Irvine, led by Prof. Kenneth Yanda, does important research on hydrates. The group proposes to produce hydrates stabilized partly by other gases such as propane, to makes it possible for the hydrates to remain stable at a relatively low pressure of 25 psi (0.172 MPa). Hydrates can be produced that contain larger cages for other gases, as well as smaller cages for occupancy by methane. The group produced propane-methane hydrates that can be stable at temperatures of up to 288 K (14.85 degrees Celsius) and can fill up to 50% of the cages. In other words, such hydrates can store a combination of propane and methane at near ambient temperature and pressure conditions.

Further research is needed, such as into the possibility of converting methane into propane and other gases using UV light. The eventual goal could be long-term storage of such gases in the form of hydrates. In conclusion, rather than using the methane captured in the Arctic as fuel, it could be relocated to places where it can be expected to remain stored long-term, in the form of hydrates, e.g. in the deeper waters north of Alaska.

This may also lead to smart ways of sequestration of carbon removed from the atmosphere. Indeed, when considering places to sequester excess carbon, why not look at where nature stores most carbon, i.e. in hydrates? The amount of carbon stored naturally in hydrates is huge -- the 1992 image below illustrates this well, even though it's dated and estimates have changed a bit since.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Blowing Hot Air: The Methane Hydrate Delusion

Earlier posted May 10, 2012, at Science 2.0 Seeing Green. Posted with the author's permission.  
By Holly Moeller  

Last week, word came from Prudhoe Bay that sent chills through me as surely as if I’d been standing in the Alaskan North Slope drilling outpost myself. The United States Department of Energy – in collaboration with energy giant ConocoPhillips and the Japanese nationalized minerals corporation – reported success from a month-long test extraction of methane gas tucked into an icy lattice below the permafrost.

These methane hydrates – also called methane clathrates, after the particular crystalline structure of the ice matrix – are found in cold regions (like the Arctic, where low temperatures keep the permafrost soil layer frozen year-round) and off continental shelves (where pressure from a thick blanket of water stabilizes the compressed gas).

Though testing to reveal the full extent and nature of these gas deposits has only just begun, methane hydrates are already making headlines as the next big energy source.

The US Geological Survey estimates that there’s twice as much burnable carbon hiding in hydrates as in all other known fossil fuel deposits worldwide. And since methane gas burns hot and clean – giving off 33% more energy per carbon dioxide molecule emitted as petroleum, without the nasty nitrogen and sulfur oxides that come from coal – ears around the world have perked up.

In 2006, China pledged $100 million to hydrate exploration. In 2008, Japan and Canada completed a six-day test drill in the Mackenzie Basin. And now that this year’s test results are looking good, Secretary of Energy Steven Chu says that domestic gas prices could drop 30% by 2025.

As an added bonus, methane extraction traps CO2. The latest technology pumps the most notorious greenhouse gas into the ground, where it replaces methane in the ice matrix. The displaced methane is then pumped to the surface and – in the DoE’s (and, undoubtedly, ConocoPhillips’) vision – down pipelines to heat homes in the Lower 48.

Plus, argue supporters, climate change projections indicate that rising temperatures may release much of that methane anyway. If the permafrost thaws or the ocean warms, vast tracts of icy clathrates could melt, outgassing methane – which has 20 times the warming potential of CO2 – into the atmosphere, further accelerating climate change. This is one of the most feared positive feedback loops known to climate scientists.

So wouldn’t it be nice if we could turn some of that methane into carbon dioxide ahead of time?

I don’t think so.

Burning fossil fuels – oil, coal, and natural gas – put us into our tenuous climatic position in the first place. Any CO2 we sequester during methane hydrate extraction will quickly be replaced through burning of the extracted methane. And the CO2 trap is only temporary: warmer polar temperatures will free it as surely as the presently trapped methane scientists are so concerned about.

Add to this the issue of scale. Given that commercialization of methane hydrate extraction is still a political pipe dream, we’re unlikely to process any significant portion of the 320 quadrillion cubic feet of methane scattered in hydrates around the country.

Now to don our economic hats. Increased supply and decreased costs only drive up demand. Say we can, as the DoE promises, double our natural gas supply and effect dramatic price cuts by using only 1% of domestically available methane hydrates. This quick fix of another carbon-based fuel will only delay our ultimate sustainability reckoning.

Methane hydrates, no matter how vast their supply seems, are just another nonrenewable resource. A boom in gas production will add years – maybe decades – to the difficult but necessary transition to renewable energy sources. And in the meantime, we’ll be doing plenty of damage to our environment both globally – through additional greenhouse gas emissions – and locally – by drilling in sensitive ecosystems.

In the last decade, we’ve fought plenty of environmental battles over how and where to drill for oil. We’ve seen the consequences – Deepwater Horizon and the Gulf of Mexico 2010 spill, for example – of pushing our technological limits towards harder and harder to reach deposits.

And now we want to grasp at something even more risky, at mineral formations that, when destabilized, cause explosions and landslides.

I’m afraid that the laws of economics – especially in a country that will invest $6.5 million this year alone (plus an additional $5 million, pending Congressional approval) on methane hydrate recover research – will once again favor Sarah Palin’s mantra, “Drill, baby, drill.” Because as surely as methane is trapped within its lattice of ice, we’ve trapped ourselves in a spiderweb of fossil fuel dependency. Unlike methane, however, it seems even climate change can’t force us out.

Editor's notes:  
- Methane's global warming potential (GWP) is more than 130 times that of carbon dioxide over a period of ten years, as described in the post Methane in the Arctic.
- The Energy Department's announcement can be viewed at: