Sunday, November 4, 2007

My run of luck ends

I was 4/4 for letters to major newspapers over the last couple of years. (Finding these is left as a Googling exercise for the reader). This time I have had a go at Dr Karl, and my letter has passed into limbo.

In this article in the Sydney Morning Herald on Friday, Dr Karl is quoted as claiming that Sydney produces a cubic kilometer of carbon dioxide every day, and that this makes carbon capture technologies ‘impossible’. Ignoring the dictum that the first person to mention the Nazis in an argument loses, he cites ‘clean coal’ as an example of Goebbels’ ‘big lie’.

Back in May we were told that Australians produce ‘more than five’ tonnes of carbon per capita per annum. That is, more than 18 tonnes of carbon dioxide per capita per annum.

This other site indicates that total Australian greenhouse gas emissions are of the order of 600 million tonnes of carbon dioxide per annum.

Thus, we can guess at 20-30 tonnes of carbon dioxide per capita per annum in Australia.

This gives 80-120 million tonnes of carbon dioxide per annum in Sydney.

This is 1.8-2.7 trillion moles of carbon dioxide.

Which is 40-60 trillion (1012) litres of carbon dioxide at atmospheric pressure.

Which is admittedly a lot.

There are a trillion litres in a cubic kilometre.

So, we have 40-60 cubic kilometres of uncompressed carbon dioxide per annum. That is more like one a week, not one a day.

Week, day, whatever. Near enough is good enough, as my uncle who builds space probes for NASA says.

The article claims that Sydney would produce a cubic kilometre of ‘compressed’ carbon dioxide per day. I don’t think Dr Karl would have said this, because it sounds too silly.

One mole of carbon dioxide at atmospheric pressure will occupy 22.4 litres. By pV= nRT, if we put it under a pressure of 100 atmospheres, it will occupy near enough to 1% of that. I don’t know what sort of pressure is appropriate for the zeroth-order ‘pumping it into empty oil and gas reservoirs’ sort of carbon capture technology. But I do know that the grail of this sort of thing is converting carbon dioxide into a solid.

One mole of carbon dioxide converted into, say, calcium carbonate, will occupy 37 cubic centimetres.

So, rather than ‘one cubic kilometre per day’ we have 0.10-0.15 cubic kilometres per day, which could be theoretically converted into 0.0002-0.0003 cubic kilometres of calcium carbonate per day. That would be about 20 times as much as the solid waste currently produced by Sydney per day. So it is still a lot. But, for the love of God, calling it a ‘big lie’ is a bit rich.

Here is how I ended my letter:

‘The fact that many different people are working on many different strategies to solve a problem should be a source of optimism and joy. That a group called the Climate Change Coalition would malign the motives of researchers pursuing carbon sequestration technologies is depressing, to say the least.’


Dr. Clam said...

It seems he was claiming a cubic kilometre for Australia in January, and was taken down then. A cubic kilometre of uncompressed carbon dioxide does seem a pretty fair estimate for the whole country.

Dr. Clam said...

Hang on, the file is called 'Feb07', but it's dated November 2nd... so it must be a response to Friday's comments...

Marco said...

I have to interject that the two latest (shiny new) coal power stations in Australia were described in the news as "environmentally friendly with full emissions sequestration technology". I discovered later, that the "sequestration" they were talking about was all emissions except for the CO2. In some ways this is a devious deception of the naive, without even coming close to lying or being bad for the world.

Dr. Clam said...

It almost makes one want to throw in one's lot with the 'Climate Change Coalition'. Day by day, year by year, I never feel like I am getting smarter or more honest, but the world keeps getting dumber and more mendacious. Is this just me? Or is our society in a terminal state of moral deliquescence?

Marco said...

Scott Adams said it best when he suggested Stupidity will be harnessed for energy. He envisioned a traditional treadmill power generator, with free lottery tickets for an hour's treading. Politics relies heavily on naivety, and it is a wonder that any smart policy can come from it. However it is survival of the fittest political systems in a world of competing nation states. At least stupidity can be a safe and reliable form of political energy, as it is for the engine of commerce.