NJ Paper Covers Energy, Climate Change

Marty Hoffert forwarded pointers to last Sunday's Newark Star Ledger, with an interesting series of brief articles by Kevin Coughlin, tackling a range of energy and climate change issues, including a humorous quasi-interview with Marty and his son Eric. 

Perhaps the most troubling in tone is the interview with Mark Mills, co-author of "The Bottomless Well", a book that at least on the surface seems to downplay energy worries, pointing out technological fixes of various sorts. The authors there and elsewhere emphasize heavy oils as an unconventional oil source, and reliance on coal and nuclear power. On the other hand Mills has some rather good points about the increasing dominance of electric power in the economy, over transportation fuels, and the relative lack of contribution from oil to electricity. If oil isn't really so important, maybe the urgency of the "peak oil" folks is a bit misplaced. The global warming issues have their own urgency though, which Mills seems to downplay, and from the article they seem to underestimate likely growth in demand (do we really have hundreds of years worth of coal, including likely demand growth?)

The article on carbon sequestration is one of the more penetrating. Is this really a safe technology, or are we brewing more trouble for ourselves down the road? The use of CO2 burial to force more oil out of old wells soudns interesting though. Is it at all cost effective? Coughlin discusses in detail both CO2 pumping into oceans and a burial project being tested at the Petroleum Technology Research Center in Weyburn, Saskatchewan.

A brief overview of global warming and some of the major players doesn't add too much. An entrepreneurial project looking at capturing CO2 from the atmosphere receives a little more attention - Allen Wright seems to be leading the project at Global Research Technologies.

Coal gasification is the subject of a lengthier article, specifically the experience with the Polk power plant in central Florida. Such plants are significantly more efficient, using combined cycle gas turbines to generate electricity from the gas, but have higher capital costs that seem to have dissuaded investment in follow-on plants of this sort; uncertainty about the future of power plant regulations seems to be also part of the problem. Gasification allows much cleaner burning, with pollutants like sulphur removed before combustion. Similar technology, plus carbon sequestration, is the goal for the DOE's FutureGen clean coal project, though the article questions whether much of that funding has not been wasted.

A brief summary of the state of fusion notes the difficulty finding a site for the ITER project, and general lack of signs that we're closer to a practical energy source.

Genetically engineered organisms to produce clean fuels - hydrogen in particular - are the goal of biologist Craig Venter's latest project. Venter's expertise is in gene sequencing, and they seem to be focusing on looking through the genomes of the world's microbes for promising enzymes of various sorts. Can photosynthesis be improved upon? Venter's work may lead the way.

Coughlin doesn't neglect the space power option in this series of articles. Power from the Moon quotes Glaser and Criswell on the prospects for gathering solar energy in space. $200-300 billion is Criswell's estimate for the project, in this article. And finally, in They'd tap solar power, only closer to the source, Coughlin describes the ideas of the Hofferts, to start with demonstrations of power beaming to enable progress on space solar power.

Kudos to Kevin Coughlin and the Newark Star Ledger for a very readable explanation of the major issues.

Created: 2005-03-09 04:43:58 by Arthur Smith
Modified: 2005-03-09 04:49:26 by Arthur Smith