Unusual Ways of Helping the Environment

Unusual Things to Help the Environment

Have a party! Keeping a house at a comfortable temperature on days of extreme temperature takes a moderate amount of energy. If instead of having three houses that each contained two people you had one house with six people and two houses with the heater or air-conditioner turned off then the energy use would be reduced.

In winter a house with a large party may not need any heating. Each adult dissipates an average of 100W of heat [1]. 30 adults will dissipate about 3KW – equivalent to an electric heater used for heating a room, in my experience it’s not uncommon to open windows during a winter party to cool the house down.

In summer it’s often impossible to use an air-conditioner for a medium size party. A medium size air-conditioner can remove 3KW of heat so if there are 20 people plus some cooking or 30 people without any cooking then the house will be cooler if the windows are left open.

The most energy efficient parties would be family events, as they generally involve moving all the people from several houses into a single house.

I have previously written about the benefits of using water evaporation to assist a car air-conditioner (which reduces a/c use as well as making the car cooler) and of using ice to cool a room to avoid buying a larger a/c [2].

Please try and think of the most unusual ways of helping the environment and let me know by comments or by a post on your own blog. Overall it’s most effective to use more fuel efficient cars, set your home thermostat to a temperature which is closer to the outside temperature, and to recycle as much as possible and reduce needless consumption. But if you are interested in science then it’s more fun to discover unusual ways of doing things even if they don’t do as much good overall.

Having twice-yearly “Environment Parties” on the hottest day of summer and the coldest day of winter would also be a good way of spreading the idea that we need to do something about environmental problems.

Giving Away Hardware

For the last few years I have been actively seeking free hardware to give to members of my local LUG. Whenever a friend or business associate mentions that they are upgrading or replacing computers I enquire what they plan to do with the old ones and request that the old gear be given to me if there are no other plans for it. There is a moderate amount of hardware that I use for my own purposes, but the free hardware that is available is often in excess of my requirements and also sometimes just unsuitable for my use (I am happy to install a second-hand IBM or HP machine for a client but I won’t install a white-box machine).

One organisation that I sometimes give computers to is Computerbank [1]. The purpose of Computerbank is to take donations of old machines, fix them and install Linux, and then sell them for extremely low prices to people who can’t afford new machines. It’s been a while since I gave them any computers because for a long time the minimum specs on machines that they were willing to accept were higher than the machines that I obtained.

Generally I offer my old hardware to the mailing list of Linux Users of Victoria [2]. I offer not only working systems but also broken systems and other things that might be useless to most people – but are greatly desired by the small minority who can use them. One member of that list wants PC power supplies for repairing other electronic devices, so I collect batches of machines that are broken but appear to have working PSUs and give them to him. I once received a box of free two-button mice. I offered them to LUV members expecting that many people would want one or two for test machines. No-one wanted them for use as mice but one guy wanted all of them to use their sensors in robotics projects.

One thing that impresses me is the community spirit demonstrated. Often I will offer some free machines and the first response will be something like “I’d like to take that machine apart for the bits, but if someone wants a complete system please give it to them instead”. There aren’t many occasions when you see someone suggesting that they may not be the most deserving recipient for something that is free!

My aims in this effort are to help random Linux users in my area, and to help the environment by reducing the amount of land-fill. My efforts aren’t going to make a significant impact on the environmental situation, but they do make a significant impact on the availability of hardware for members of the Linux community – which seems to be of particular interest to people who want cheap machines for their children or grand-children.

I encourage other people to do similar things.

One thing that impressed me was the organisation of used hardware gifts at LCA. Near the start of the conference hardware was given away to anyone who put their hand up. At the end of the conference more hardware was given away (I expect it was mostly by delegates who lived locally). It would be good if this idea (which worked so well) was spread to other conferences.

Organic Food in Melbourne

Yesterday when walking down Flinders St I noticed that a new store has opened up selling organic food. It’s Flinders Organics and the address is 260 Flinders St Melbourne VIC 3000 (just across the road from Flinders St Station, not far from the Swanston St intersection). I bought some fruit, some Green and Black organic hot-chocolate powder (recently I’ve been making hot chocolate with Green and Black dark chocolate – the milk needs to be heated a lot and some stirring is needed – it is easier with powder) and some fruit juice. The fruit juice was good, one litre for about $4.50 which is significantly cheaper than any of the juice-bars which offer freshly squeezed juice (but not organic). Being sold in a bottle that can be re-sealed meant that I could carry it around the city and drink some whenever I was thirsty.

People who are attending LCA might want to keep this in mind, both for food that they want to prepare themselves (EG making sandwiches in their hotel room) and for take-away stuff such as bottled juice. The location is almost within walking distance of the conference.

Low Power – They Just Don’t get it

For a while I’ve been reading the Lenovo blog Inside The Box [1], even though I plan to keep my current laptop for a while [2] (and therefore not buy another Thinkpad for a few years) I am interested in the technology for it’s own sake and read the blog.

A recent post concerns a new desktop machine billed as “our greenest desktop ever” [3]. The post has some interesting information on recycling plastic etc, and the fact that the machine in question is physically small (a volume of 4.5L and no PCI expansion slots) means that less petro-chemicals are used in manufacture (and some of the resins used are recycled). However the electricity use is 47W when idle!!!

On my documents blog I have a post about the power use of computers I own(ed) [4] which includes my current Thinkpad (idles at 23W) and an IBM P3 desktop system which idles at 38W. Both machines in question were manufactured before Lenovo bought Thinkpad and IBM’s desktop PC business (so they technically aren’t Lenovo machines) and they weren’t manufactured with recycled resins. But the claim that the new machine is the greenest ever is at best misguided and could be regarded as deceptive.

I think that the machine is quite decent, but it’s obvious that they can do a lot better. There’s no reason that a low-power desktop machine (which uses some laptop technology) should take more than twice the power of what was a high-end laptop a few years ago. Also comparing power use with P3 machines (which are still quite useful now, my IBM P3 desktop runs 24*7 as a server) is quite relevant – and we should keep in mind that before the Pentium was released no system which an individual could afford had anything other than a simple heat-sink to cool it’s CPU.

This is largely a failing of Intel and AMD to make power efficient CPUs and chipsets. It’s also unfortunate that asymmetric multi-processing has not been implemented in recent times. A system with a 64bit CPU core of P3 performance as well as some Opteron class cores that could be suspended independently would be very good for power use with correct OS support. For example when reading documents and email my system will spend most of it’s time idling (apart from when I use Firefox which is a CPU hog) and the CPU use will be minimal for scrolling – a P3 performing core would be more than adequate for that task (which comprises a significant portion of my computer use). Then when I launch a CPU intensive task (composing a blog post in WordPress or compiling) the more powerful CPU cores could start.

It would be good if Intel would release a Pentium-M CPU (32bit) with the latest technology (smaller tracks on the silicon means less power use as well as higher clock speeds). A Pentium-M running at 2GHz produced with the latest Intel fabrication technology would probably use significantly less power than the 1.7GHz Pentium-M that is in my Thinkpad. Put that in a desktop machine and you would have all the compute power you need for most tasks other than playing games and running vista and you could get an idle power less than 23W.

The new Lenovo machine in question does sound like a nice machine, I wouldn’t mind having one for testing and running demos. But the claims made about it seem poorly justified if you know the history.

Fluorescent vs Incandescent lights

Glen Turner writes about silly people who think that fluorescent lights don’t save energy over their lifetime [1].

A compact fluorescent light (one that is designed for the same socket as an incandescent globe) is not the most efficient light source, the Luminous Efficiency page on Wikipedia [2] lists a CFL as having an efficiency of between 6.6% and 8.8% while fluorescent tubes can be up to 15.2% efficient and low pressure sodium lamps are 27% efficient! But given that low pressure sodium lights are unsuitable for most uses due to being monochromatic and having a long warm-up time and the fact that fluorescent tubes are often not suitable due to design an 8.8% efficiency is pretty good. LEDs can give up to 10.2% (and prototypes offer 22%) but don’t seem to be available in a convenient and reliable manner (they are expensive and the ones I’ve tried have been unreliable).

When comparing fluorescent with incandescent one factor to consider is the power used. While high-temperature incandescent lights are quoted as having 5.1% efficiency and a 100W 110V tungsten incandescent globe is quoted as having 2.6% efficiency a 40W 110V globe will only have 1.9%. If you want to save energy then you probably don’t want to use 100W globes, using less light is the first way of saving energy on lighting! So the efficiency of incandescent lights used for the comparison should probably be closer to 1.9% than 2.6%.

Now the theoretical performance won’t always match what you get when you buy globes. There is some variation of quality between manufacturers and there are at least two distinct “colours” of fluorescent lights (one is about 5800K – similar to our sun, the other is something over 8000K – blue-white), I expect some difference in efficiency between lights of different colour range.

I see CFL lights marketed as being 5 times more efficient than incandescent lights, my observation is that they appear to be about 4 times more efficient (IE I replace a 40W incandescent with a 10W CFL or a 60W incandescent with a 14W CFL). Glen claims that an 8W CFL can replace a 60W incandescent globe, the only possibility of getting a factor of 7 or more efficiency improvement (according to the data on the Wikipedia page) would be to replace some 5W incandescent globes with CFL. In my experience (converting two houses that I lived in to CFL and the conversions of some friends) such an efficiency benefit is not possible on direct electricity use.

However in a hot climate any waste heat needs to be removed with an air-conditioner. So when a 60W incandescent light is replaced by a 14W CFL there is 46W of waste heat removed, with an ideal efficiency of a heat-pump it would take 15W to remove that heat from a building (and possibly more if it’s a large building). So in summer we are not comparing 60W to 14W, it’s more like 75W to 14W.

The issue of economics that Glen raises is more complex than it seems because governments often give companies significant discounts on electricity costs, EG in Australia aluminium refineries are subsidies heavily so they pay much less than home users. So hypothetically it could be possible to manufacture a device made entirely of aluminium which saves electricity (and therefore money for the user) but not enough to cover the electricity used in aluminium refining. However when we consider the margins of the various middle-men it seems quite unlikely that such a hypothetical situation could actually happen.

As for the issue of mercury in fluorescent lights there are two things to consider. One is that it is possible to recycle mercury (in Australia at least), the other is that coal fired power plants have a lot of mercury in their smoke…

A Better Design for Child Seats

The current method of carrying young children (less than 4-6 years old) in cars is to have a special car seat fitted in the back seat. This has several significant problems:

  • It takes significant space in the back seat. The child seat is going to add at least 10cm to the length required in the back seat and often drives the purchase of larger cars (including SUV and 4WD vehicles that are known for being unsafe – especially for children). Having child passengers in a car is a great distraction for the driver, driving a large vehicle increases the difficulty in avoiding accidents – especially when parking.
  • The seat belts of the rear seats are used as part of the mechanism of attaching the child seat to the car. Seat belts are designed to stretch in a crash. It’s recommended that after a crash all seat belts that were used to secure people or objects be replaced as they will have stretched. Seat-belts that don’t stretch will cause more serious injuries. It seems likely to me that a seat belt used to tightly secure a child seat for a long period of time will stretch without a collision. Therefore if an older child is seated where they (or another child) used to have a child-seat then they may be at greater risk in the case of a collision.
  • Child seats should be fitted by specially trained experts if they are to be safe. The majority of seats are not correctly fitted and put children at needless risk (the cost of getting an expert to do the installation is small).

Some car companies are offering child “booster seats” that are an optional attachment to the rear seat (I first noticed this when reviewing the specs of the latest version of the car I drive – the VW Passat [1]). This is a good idea, but it doesn’t go far enough.

The best thing to do would be to provide a selection of back-seat assemblies as factory fitted options which have built-in baby and child seats. The combinations that would be most desired are:

  1. Standard car back-seat for three adults (or two adults for a small car).
  2. A regular seat (for an adult) at the road side of the car combined with a baby (backward facing) seat at the kerb side.
  3. A regular seat (for an adult) at the road side with a young child (forward facing) seat at the kerb side.
  4. A baby seat at the road side with a young child seat at the kerb side.
  5. Two young child seats.

It would be quite possible to have all five of these options available from the factory. Of course there are corner cases that this doesn’t cover such as twins or parents who have two children so close together that they need two baby seats. For those cases option 2 combined with one of the current off-the-shelf baby seats would do. The number of different supported options would need to be kept reasonably small to reduce manufacture cost and to allow a reasonable market for second-hand seats.

One thing to note is that it’s recommended that the first forward-facing seat a child uses is smaller than the later one. Having options for three different built-in baby/child seats (rear-facing and two sizes of forward-facing) would significantly expand the number of combinations (and thus the expense). I suspect that the safety benefits of having an ideal method of securing a forward-facing child seat would compensate for the disadvantage of having it be too large for the child when they are first placed in it.

Another possibility would be to replace the rear seat with a more solid bench with bolt holes for baby and child seats. Securing a child or baby seat to a hard surface with bolts would be a much less technically demanding task than using a seat belt (and thus could be done correctly without expert assistance). Child and baby seats would have to be redesigned for this (I suspect that the safety of them relies on being attached to a soft surface), but after that I expect that safety would improve. For this option the rear seat could bold on to a hard surface that’s suitable for attaching child/baby seats so it would simply be a matter of removing the rear seat and installing the child/baby seat(s). The most common car design in Australia includes a 60/40 split rear seat (meaning that if you have a large item to store in the boot/trunk then you can fold down 40% or 60% of the back of the rear seat to allow the luggage to extend into the passenger compartment). This split could be extended to allow removing the base of the rear seat for 60% or 40% to bolt on child/baby seats.

Once a car model had been designed for replacing the rear seat there would be other options available. For example replacing the rear seat with luggage storage space. While almost all cars allow folding down the backs of the rear seats to store extra luggage the option of removing seats that you don’t need to give even more space is not common at all (I’ve only seen it advertised as a feature in vehicles with 6 or more seats).

I expect that if this idea was implemented it would allow a small car such as a Toyota Corolla to give an equal or greater amount of usable space for children in the rear as a larger vehicle such as a Toyota Camry. While better options for luggage storage would allow people who don’t have children to use a small car while still being able to carry the luggage that they desire. This would allow considerable savings on car purchase prices and fuel use. I expect that a reduction in fuel use world-wide could be achieved by removing the pressure on parents to buy large cars!

The poor support for child seats in cars is really surprising. One of the features that could be introduced is both top and bottom mounts for such seats. There is apparently a standard for this, some (not all) cars support it, but most baby seats apparently don’t. So baby and child seats are secured at the top (to a hook that’s bolted securely to the car frame and which was designed specifically for the purpose) and at the bottom to the seat-belt which was never designed for such things.

It’s a pity that some of the money spent on supposedly protecting children from drugs couldn’t be spent on making cars safer for them. The government is in the best position to force car manufacturers to improve their safety features while parents are in the best position to teach children about the dangers of drugs.

War is Bad for the Environment

I just read a nutty post claiming that Neo-Conservatism is good for the environment [1].

The first bogus claim is that Saddam had WMD and war was required because he was a despot. The fact is that the Iraqi government was always repressive, there are many factions in Iraq that don’t like each other and a repressive government is the only way to keep such groups in a united country. The current civil war in Iraq and the effective secession of Kurdistan (which currently seems to be involved in an undeclared border war with Turkey) demonstrates this. Saddam was always a despot, but he did improve the living conditions of most Iraqis – the best way to avoid a revolution is to convince the majority of the population that things will get worse if there is change. I suggest reading the Wikipedia page about Saddam Hussein [2].

The best information on Fourth Generation Warfare (4GW) seems to be on the conservative military analysis site Defense and the National Interest [7]. It covers all the issues related to invading other countries from a conservative point of view. Note that Neo-Conservatives are not Conservatives, the real Conservatives hate the Neo-Cons more than anyone else does.

The amusing statement is made that “apologists claim it was one of the most advanced Arab nations” and then a link is provided to information on Saudi Arabian censorship. It’s worth reading the wikipedia page about the history of Saudi Arabia [3], among other interesting facts “the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers built the country’s television and broadcast facilities and oversaw the development of its defense industry” (does the US army share responsibility for the censorship?). It’s widely regarded that if the US military support was removed then the Saudi government would be overthrown. Referring to Saudi Arabia hardly seems like something you want to do if trying to justify occupying other middle-eastern states.

An unsubstantiated claim is made that under-developed countries produce excess pollution due to inefficient technology. Unlike some people I try to get some facts before posting so I looked up the wikipedia page on CO2 emissions per capita [4]. It seems that the highest ranking first-world country is Luxembourg at #4, the next is the US at #10. The countries on the list that rank higher than the US have a combined population of about 11,000,000 while the US population is 302,000,000 – some quite mental arithmetic suggests that the US produces about 20 times more CO2 than the top 9 countries on the list combined! It doesn’t seem that having the highest technology is helping the US protect the environment, I guess that they just use it to build bigger cars. The next thing I noticed is the countries that are at the bottom of the list – they are the world’s poorest countries. It seems that countries without much money just can’t afford to burn lots of oil, while countries with lots of money can. No real surprises there.

The lowest ranking on the list for a country that is unlikely to be regarded as being in abject poverty is India at position #133. The next lowest is Turkey at position #98 followed by China at #91.

As a final point of reference Switzerland is at position #69 a produces just under 27% the CO2 that the US does (on a per-capita basis). According to the CIA World Fact Book Switzerland has an infant mortality rate of 4.28/1000 and a life expectancy of 80.62 [5], while the US has an infant mortality rate of 6.37/1000 and a life expectancy of 78 [6]. I believe that the infant mortality rate and the life expectancy are the two factors that are most representative of quality of life as they are the easiest factors for measuring the overall health of the population. Being healthy is one of the most important factors in quality of life. It seems to me that by all objective measures the Swiss are doing better than the people of the US, yet they produce less pollution and never invade other countries.

Probably the most ridiculous statement in the post is “see rapidly dwindling resources wasted on jihad and revolution“. A revolution (locals using force to create a new government) takes little resources and most actions that a more simple-minded analysis might call “jihad” takes almost none. Sending an invasion force to the other side of the world and supporting an occupying army for years does however use significant resources, consider that the Hummvee is the least fuel-efficient vehicle on American roads in terms of work done (trucks and buses use more fuel but carry large amounts of cargo or many people), but it’s also the most fuel-efficient vehicle used by the US army in Iraq.

There is the possibility that Jaldhar was attempting satire. If so then I suggest that satire be kept separate from serious web content to avoid confusion about where the satire ends. But if you want some satire about oil then I suggest consulting theonion.com.

Before someone accuses me of being impolite, over a year ago the best estimate for the death toll from the occupation of Iraq was 655,000 [8]. Current extrapolations from the previous medical research suggest that the death toll has now exceeded 1,000,000. Regardless of whether the original post was intended as satire or not, I’m not laughing and I don’t feel the need to be polite to someone who makes excuses for such loss of life.

Finally as a positive suggestion towards the environment (and any other issue that you may want to discuss), I suggest analysing the issues before writing about them and not blindly trusting other people. When you write a post make objective claims with references to back them up. When you read a post consider the points that are made and the references that are cited. Do the references support the claims? Are there other interpretations of the evidence? Are the reference sites reputable?

Eating Corpses

Davyd Madeley writes about vegetarianism for the environment [1] which is listed in Wikipedia as Environmental Vegetarianism [2]. He links to an article on the Huffington Post [3]. The Huffington Post article in turn links to an article on GoVeg.com about global warming [4].

Mass-produced meat is not only bad for the environment but there are also health issues related to meat consumption (due to bad practices in mass farming, combining the meat of thousands of animals into mince thus increasing the spread of bad meat, and the fact that most people in first-world countries consume significantly more meat than anyone did at any time in history).

One thing that doesn’t get mentioned in these posts is the fact that farming is not required to produce meat. In fact the meat that is most healthy (due to lack of carcinogenic chemicals and free-range feeding) and has the strongest flavour (which may be a good or bad thing depending on whether you actually like the flavour of meat) is from wild animals. If you don’t like the taste of meat (which seems to be the case when people don’t like game meat) then why eat it at all?

In Australia large numbers of kangaroos are killed because they eat grass more efficiently than cattle (they have evolved over tens of thousands of years to survive in Australian conditions unlike cattle). There are also a number of foreign animals that have run wild in Australia and are considered vermin, this includes rabbit, pig, buffalo, deer and camel (all of which are tasty).

Even among native animals there are often times when a cull is needed. If some good seasons allow the population to increase then when there is a bad season the population has to reduce and it’s often better for them to be culled (thus providing plenty of food for the surviving animals) than for all of them to starve.

There is a game meat wholesaler I’ve visited a few times that sells buffalo, rabbit, pig, camel, crocodile, possum, emu, kangaroo, and some other animals. All of the meat is from wild animals (apart from rabbit and pig none of those animals can be domesticated). I’m sure that every region has such a wholesaler that will sell to interested individuals if you know where to look (it seems impossible to buy any game meat other than kangaroo retail in Australia).

Finally one thing that offends me is people who eat meat but are not prepared to kill the animal. If you aren’t prepared to kill it then you shouldn’t pay someone else to do so on your behalf! Claiming that “the animal was going to be killed anyway” is a pitiful excuse that is only suitable for children. It’s acceptable for children to eat meat without thinking about where it came from. But adults should be able to deal with the fact that eating meat means killing animals – or become vegetarian if they can’t cope with it.

The book 3001 The Final Odyssey pioneered the term “corpse food” for eating meat. I believe that the term is accurate and should be used. If you can’t stomach eating corpses then there are many good vegetarian options available.

There are many vegetarians in the Linux community. As these issues are getting discussed a lot recently maybe it would be good to have the vegetarians choose some good vegetarian restaurants to have Linux meetings on occasion. Davyd got a bit of negative feedback on his post, maybe if he invited a bunch of his local Linux people to have dinner at a vegetarian restaurant and they enjoyed the food then the reaction to such ideas would be more positive.

George Monbiot’s Solution to Emissions Trading

I previously posted about Interesting Ideas from George Monbiot, one of which was to establish individual emissions trading.

Gyros Geier disagrees with this and cites the current emission trading schemes as evidence. There are several fundamental differences between George’s idea and the current implementations of emission trading.

The biggest flaw in current emission trading schemes is that the emission credits are assigned to the worst polluters. George is proposing that an equal amount be assigned to all citizens. Assigning credits to the worst polluters is another form of Rent Seeking by the polluting industries. The way to solve these problems through emission trading is to start by fairly assigning the credits (and what better way than to equally distribute them among all citizens) and to then reduce the amounts assigned over time.

Gyros claims that emission trading which allows people who use little emissions to get large credits will cause people to have resources used in their name which they would not otherwise use. The solution to this is to assign to each citizen in a country a set of credits that is equal to the use by someone on the median income. Note specifically that setting credits equal to average use is not the right thing to do, the vast majority of the population produce significantly less emissions than average. The result of such a policy would be that people who produce median emissions (and most of whom would be close to the median income) would reduce their emissions as much as possible so that they could sell the credits, they would even have an incentive to spend money to reduce their emissions (for example by installing better insulation in their home) as it would be an investment. Then people who produce more emissions than the median would be forced to buy credits to support their extravagant lifestyle. This would give a significant reduction in emissions (the median income is about half the average income and I presume that the emissions produced are in line with income).

Gyros also makes the startling claim that emissions trading increases emissions. I can’t imagine that being possible, in fact I can’t imagine how the coal industry could do more damage to the environment if they tried.

Finally, taking a positive approach to blogging is a really good idea. I welcome discussion with people who want to claim that my ideas (and the ideas that I quote) are bad, but if you are going to do this please describe something that you consider to be better.

Carbon Geo-Sequestration

My post about Why Hydrogen Powered Cars Will Never Work has received a record number of comments. Some of them suggested that carbon geo-sequestration (storing carbon-dioxide at high pressure under-ground) is the solution to the climate change problem. The idea is that you can mix natural gas or coal gas with steam at high temperature to give carbon-dioxide and hydrogen. Then the carbon dioxide gets stored under-ground while the hydrogen is used for relatively clean fuel.

Beyond Zero Emissions has produced a media release about the fallacies expressed in the FutureGen document promoting so-called “clean-coal”, the best content is in their PDF document titled FutureGen Conceptual Design Retort. Note that I did some research to support the preparation of the retort, I am not referencing them to support my arguments but as background information.

One overwhealming problem with geo-sequestration for coal based power plants is that it is significantly more expensive than the current coal-fired power plant design. Currently the price difference between coal power and wind power is quite small and there are several technologies that are almost ready for production which will decrease the cost of wind power, it is expected that before so-called “clean coal” becomes viable (they are planning for the first production plants to go live in 2022) the cost of renewable energy will be lower than the current cost of coal power. There is no reasonable possibility of “clean coal” being cheaper than renewable energy.

The underground reservoirs that could be used for storing CO2 currently contain brine, which can contain toxic metals and radioactive substances (according to the Bureau of Land and Water Quality in the US). If toxic and radioactive substances need to be pumped out to make room for CO2 then it’s hardly a clean process!

The US Geological Survey has an interesting page about volcanic gas. Apparently it’s not uncommon for small animals to be killed when CO2 forms pools in low lying areas. If (when?) CO2 escapes from geo-sequestration the same might happen with humans. They also have a page about CO2 killing trees at Mammoth Mountain! Before I read this I never realised that plants could be killed by excessive CO2. Apparently tree roots need oxygen and CO2 in the ground will kill them. The release of 300 tons of CO2 per day killed 100 acres of trees. The FutureGen trial power plant is designed to support sequestration of over 1,000,000 tons of CO2 per year (that is over 2,700 tons per day). If it leaked at 1/9 that rate then damage comparable to Mammoth Mountain would be the result. Note that the FutureGen trial plant will be a fraction of the size of a real coal power station so an escape of significantly less than 1/9 of the CO2 from a real sequestration plant would have such a bad result. It’s interesting to note that tents and basements are documented as CO2 risks, so I guess we have to avoid camping in areas near power plants!

What would happen if a large geo-sequestration project had a sudden failure? IE if the reservoir broke and all the CO2 erupted suddenly? We already have an answer to this question because such things have happened in the past. In 1986 in Cameroon 1.2 cubic kilometers of CO2 gas was released from a volcanic lake, that is 2,400,000 tons (or just over two years of output from the proposed FutureGen plant). It killed over 2000 people. What might happen if 10 years of output from a commercial scale coal power plant was suddenly released into the atmosphere?

As far as I know there has been no research on de-sequestration of CO2. If a reservoir is discovered to be unstable after 20,000,000 tons of CO2 have been stored in it, what will we do?

Geo-sequestration of CO2 makes nuclear power plants seem safe by comparison.