Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Could salmon at costco be the best hope for the coal industry?


As some form of carbon fee or price takes hold, many believe that carbon capture and sequestration
(which SOME think is the same as "clean coal") is the best hope to continue the coal industry,
and delay the shutdown of coal-fired powerplants which now provide half
of our electricity. But it basically does not compute. A mere $30 per ton carbon price is not nearly enough to pay for what is $60-$100 per ton in the real world. That's why the folks who really want to do CCS
want a complex system of "free allowances" (unlike the President, who has called for no free allowances),
in order to provide the kind of double-payment needed to fund that kind of technology.

But in the meantime... what might happen at a mere $20-30 per ton? It would be worth finding out,
before we too far overboard. We should be open to the possibility that a lot
may happen, even without those kinds of side payments to selected "winners."

Among the obvious new alternatives... are the technologies exemplified by two California companies, Calera and Aurora, who have come to the Senate several times to testify, with well-deserved blessings from Senator Boxer. (Calera has links to Stanford, and Aurora to Berkeley, but they are basically neighbors.)

Calera is relatively straightforward. They convert CO2 in flue gas to building materials, and expect they could
profitably dispose of about half the flue gas from coal plants in the US if carbon prices are in the range $20-30. Conservatively.

But Aurora is a bit trickier. They use algae to convert CO2 to hydrocarbons, which can be used as a barrel-for-barrel substitute for crude oil. There has been growing (legitimate) enthusiasm about algae for fuel,
not only for CO2 reduction but for energy security. But the fine points are important.

One fine point I did not know about... only about 35-40% of the CO2 gets into biocrude.
That's a fine point that got missed in the House Act; I thought the House Act gave fair (if grumbly) accounting to algae fuel, but apparently not. It seems that about 60% goes to...

fish food. High-protein stuff. It sounds as if this could be used to support a higher level of aquaculture,
such as the salmon fish farming which leads to relatively low salmon prices at Costco and other places.

And so... I just now checked page 581 of HR 2998, the House Act (just prior to the last minute additions).
It does offer people a choice -- either to cover ALL the CO2 input to the algae (which would be unfair I claim),
or to cover just the CO2 associated with combustion of the fuel produced from algae (which would be fair, and much much less). The point is that fish, unlike cars, are not mobile emitters of CO2 to the atmosphere.

In fact, if EPA were consistent... if it somehow charges "land use penalties" for biofuel production "which encourages people to grow more corn and emit more CO2 in other nations," perhaps it should
offer land-use payments to these fish farmers, who reduce fish sequestration in other nations.
But realistically, maybe all these land use leakage measures should be politely dropped at this time.

Another interesting aspect is that Aurora is using open ponds, unlike some of their competitors,
who use bioreactors. In effect, they are inputting solar energy through the back door, to enhance the fuel.
That's basically a good thing... but it tends to push them towards sunny climates, like Florida, not
cloudy areas where it's more expensive. HOWEVER, that implies a kind of natural complementarity
between Aurora and Calera; Calera could fill in in regions where Aurora is less viable. The bioreactors
may or may not be less far along... but we should be prepared to see more from them as times goes on,
if a decent level of R&D is carried out.

Of course, there are a lot of potential benefits to such technologies all over the world.
China, for example, could use a new low-cost supply of building materials and of protein food.
But I doubt that the Asia-Pacific Partnership will be stressing this kind of technology,
or that these companies would accept the very limited guarantees that companies like
GE have accepted in APPA.


After this posting, someone said that salmon form fish farms has unacceptable levels of PCB.
"Stop buying that stuff from Costco or you will be poisoned." I wonder what Costco would say about that. I don't plan to change... yet. BUt I may ask. HOWEVER: where would PCBs come from? From impure fish food? (I doubt they have old leaky transformers in fishponds.)
If so, this new organic fish food might solve the problem...

No comments:

Post a Comment