Tag Archives: Biofuels

Biofuel land grab will slash nature’s space

Growing enough greenery to provide cleaner fuel and slow climate change will need a biofuel land grab: a 10 to 30-fold rise in land devoted to green crops.

LONDON, 21 November, 2018 − Replacing fossil fuels with alternatives derived from some natural sources may be prohibitively high: the biofuel land grab needed could require at least 10% more land than the world uses now to grow green crops, conservationists say.

But that’s the good news. They believe the total increase in green energy-related land use could be much higher, closer to 30%, meaning “crushing” pressure on habitats for plants and animals, and undermining the essential diversity of species on Earth.

Their warning was spelt out at a UN biodiversity meeting in Egypt by Anne Larigauderie, executive secretary of the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, IPBES.

IPBES says it exists to organise knowledge about the Earth’s biodiversity to offer information for political decisions globally, like the work over the last 30 years of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the IPCC.

Extremely urgent

She said the latest IPCC report, on limiting climate warming to 1.5°C, had given “a sense of extreme urgency for these exchanges on tradeoffs and synergies between climate, biodiversity and land degradation.”

Dr. Larigauderie said most IPCC scenarios foresaw a major increase in the land area needed to cultivate biofuel crops like maize (or corn, as it is also known) to slow the pace of warming by 2050 − up to 724 million hectares in total, an area almost the size of Australia. The current amount of land used for biofuel crops is uncertain, but conservationists say it lies somewhere between 15 and 30m ha.

“The key issue here is: where would this huge amount of new land come from”, she asked. “Is there currently such a large amount of ‘marginal land’ available or would this compete with biodiversity? Some scientists argue that there is very little marginal land left.

“Protecting the invaluable contributions of nature to people will be the defining challenge of decades to come”

“This important issue needs to be clarified, but the demand for land for energy will almost certainly increase, with negative consequences for biodiversity.”

Dr. Larigauderie was speaking at the start of the annual conference of the states which support the UN Convention on Biological Diversity.

Deep cuts in the greenhouse gas emissions from human activities which drive global warming would be possible without massive bioenergy resources, she said, but this would need substantial cuts in energy use as well as rapid increases in the production of low-carbon energy from wind, solar and nuclear power.

Safeguarding the variety of plant and animal species and the services nature provides was itself essential to reducing global warming, she said. Land ecosystems today soak up about a third of annual carbon dioxide emissions, with the world’s oceans accounting for about another quarter annually.

Forests achieve more

In any case, Dr Larigauderie said, reforestation was better at protecting the climate than most biofuel crops. In temperate climates, one reforested hectare was four times more effective in climate mitigation than a hectare of maize used for biofuel.

“All methods that produce healthier ecosystems should be promoted as a way to combat climate change”, she said. “This includes afforestation and reforestation, as well as restoration − implemented properly using native species, for example.”

IPBES plans to publish a primer detailing elements of its Global Assessment of Biodiversity in May 2019. The British scientist Sir Robert Watson, formerly chair of the IPCC and now chair of IPBES, says: “The loss of species, ecosystems and genetic diversity is already a global and generational threat to human well-being. Protecting the invaluable contributions of nature to people will be the defining challenge of decades to come.

“Policies, efforts and actions − at every level − will only succeed, however, when based on the best knowledge and evidence. This is what the IPBES Global Assessment provides.” − Climate News Network

Growing enough greenery to provide cleaner fuel and slow climate change will need a biofuel land grab: a 10 to 30-fold rise in land devoted to green crops.

LONDON, 21 November, 2018 − Replacing fossil fuels with alternatives derived from some natural sources may be prohibitively high: the biofuel land grab needed could require at least 10% more land than the world uses now to grow green crops, conservationists say.

But that’s the good news. They believe the total increase in green energy-related land use could be much higher, closer to 30%, meaning “crushing” pressure on habitats for plants and animals, and undermining the essential diversity of species on Earth.

Their warning was spelt out at a UN biodiversity meeting in Egypt by Anne Larigauderie, executive secretary of the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, IPBES.

IPBES says it exists to organise knowledge about the Earth’s biodiversity to offer information for political decisions globally, like the work over the last 30 years of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the IPCC.

Extremely urgent

She said the latest IPCC report, on limiting climate warming to 1.5°C, had given “a sense of extreme urgency for these exchanges on tradeoffs and synergies between climate, biodiversity and land degradation.”

Dr. Larigauderie said most IPCC scenarios foresaw a major increase in the land area needed to cultivate biofuel crops like maize (or corn, as it is also known) to slow the pace of warming by 2050 − up to 724 million hectares in total, an area almost the size of Australia. The current amount of land used for biofuel crops is uncertain, but conservationists say it lies somewhere between 15 and 30m ha.

“The key issue here is: where would this huge amount of new land come from”, she asked. “Is there currently such a large amount of ‘marginal land’ available or would this compete with biodiversity? Some scientists argue that there is very little marginal land left.

“Protecting the invaluable contributions of nature to people will be the defining challenge of decades to come”

“This important issue needs to be clarified, but the demand for land for energy will almost certainly increase, with negative consequences for biodiversity.”

Dr. Larigauderie was speaking at the start of the annual conference of the states which support the UN Convention on Biological Diversity.

Deep cuts in the greenhouse gas emissions from human activities which drive global warming would be possible without massive bioenergy resources, she said, but this would need substantial cuts in energy use as well as rapid increases in the production of low-carbon energy from wind, solar and nuclear power.

Safeguarding the variety of plant and animal species and the services nature provides was itself essential to reducing global warming, she said. Land ecosystems today soak up about a third of annual carbon dioxide emissions, with the world’s oceans accounting for about another quarter annually.

Forests achieve more

In any case, Dr Larigauderie said, reforestation was better at protecting the climate than most biofuel crops. In temperate climates, one reforested hectare was four times more effective in climate mitigation than a hectare of maize used for biofuel.

“All methods that produce healthier ecosystems should be promoted as a way to combat climate change”, she said. “This includes afforestation and reforestation, as well as restoration − implemented properly using native species, for example.”

IPBES plans to publish a primer detailing elements of its Global Assessment of Biodiversity in May 2019. The British scientist Sir Robert Watson, formerly chair of the IPCC and now chair of IPBES, says: “The loss of species, ecosystems and genetic diversity is already a global and generational threat to human well-being. Protecting the invaluable contributions of nature to people will be the defining challenge of decades to come.

“Policies, efforts and actions − at every level − will only succeed, however, when based on the best knowledge and evidence. This is what the IPBES Global Assessment provides.” − Climate News Network

Forests cut warming better than technology

Biofuels are no easy answer to climate change. Nor is storing captured carbon dioxide. The world’s great forests cut warming better than engineered solutions can.

LONDON, 11 September, 2018 – Simple solutions are often the best, and British and European climate scientists have identified one: forests cut warming better than the technological solutions now being widely canvassed.

They have established some simple ground rules for limiting global warming to the international target of an average rise of no more than 1.5°C by 2100.

Rule one: do not try to generate electric power with biofuels made from harvested crops, trees or grasses, and do not spend even more money trying to capture the carbon dioxide emissions, liquefy them and bury them deep underground. To do so successfully would require at least 380 million and maybe up to 700 million hectares of farmland.

This is about half of the space already needed to grow food for more than 7 billion humans.

Rule two: do preserve and regenerate the world’s forests. They already capture the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide and preserve it as root and branch. Yet more intact forest would be even more effective.

“We need to both drastically reduce emissions and employ a mix of technologies to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. There is no single get-out-of-jail-free card.”

In effect, the scientists have told the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), and the 195 governments that agreed in Paris in 2015 on a target to contain climate change to “well below 2°C” that one favoured strategy – biomass energy matched with carbon capture and storage, or BECCS in shorthand – would be in many cases a waste of time and, even more importantly, space.

“The vast majority of IPCC scenarios for how we can limit global warming to less than 2°C include BECCS,” said Anna Harper, a mathematician at the University of Exeter in the UK. “But the land required to grow biomass in these scenarios would be twice the size of India.”

She and colleagues report in the journal Nature Communications that they used a computer simulation of the world’s vegetation and soil and tested it with a series of scenarios that might keep global average temperatures to either 2°C or 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. Since the start of the Industrial Revolution two centuries ago, global average temperatures have already risen about 1°C.

The computer models delivered an answer: to switch to crop biomass and carbon capture on a global scale would actually lead to an increase of carbon in the atmosphere, to ramp up global warming even further, and precipitate what could be, for many, catastrophic climate change.

The researchers don’t dismiss the biofuel technology entirely: in some cases it might be an effective solution. But, overall, it would be better simply to protect and restore the world’s forests.

Forests at risk

That forests are vital components of climate stability is already accepted: the Paris Agreement recognised the need, and repeated research has confirmed the logic.

But global studies have also confirmed that the world’s intact forests are threatened with accelerating destruction both through human degradation and through climate extremes of heat, drought and flood.

Biofuels – generated from fields of sugar cane, maize, trees or grasses such as miscanthus – are already big agribusiness, but both environmental campaigners and climate scientists are concerned about their effectiveness in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and about their potential impact on food prices.

Carbon capture and storage is a technology that has yet to prove itself.

“To meet the climate change targets from the Paris Agreement, we need to both drastically reduce emissions and employ a mix of technologies to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere,” said Dr Harper. “There is no single get-out-of-jail-free card.” – Climate News Network

Biofuels are no easy answer to climate change. Nor is storing captured carbon dioxide. The world’s great forests cut warming better than engineered solutions can.

LONDON, 11 September, 2018 – Simple solutions are often the best, and British and European climate scientists have identified one: forests cut warming better than the technological solutions now being widely canvassed.

They have established some simple ground rules for limiting global warming to the international target of an average rise of no more than 1.5°C by 2100.

Rule one: do not try to generate electric power with biofuels made from harvested crops, trees or grasses, and do not spend even more money trying to capture the carbon dioxide emissions, liquefy them and bury them deep underground. To do so successfully would require at least 380 million and maybe up to 700 million hectares of farmland.

This is about half of the space already needed to grow food for more than 7 billion humans.

Rule two: do preserve and regenerate the world’s forests. They already capture the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide and preserve it as root and branch. Yet more intact forest would be even more effective.

“We need to both drastically reduce emissions and employ a mix of technologies to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. There is no single get-out-of-jail-free card.”

In effect, the scientists have told the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), and the 195 governments that agreed in Paris in 2015 on a target to contain climate change to “well below 2°C” that one favoured strategy – biomass energy matched with carbon capture and storage, or BECCS in shorthand – would be in many cases a waste of time and, even more importantly, space.

“The vast majority of IPCC scenarios for how we can limit global warming to less than 2°C include BECCS,” said Anna Harper, a mathematician at the University of Exeter in the UK. “But the land required to grow biomass in these scenarios would be twice the size of India.”

She and colleagues report in the journal Nature Communications that they used a computer simulation of the world’s vegetation and soil and tested it with a series of scenarios that might keep global average temperatures to either 2°C or 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. Since the start of the Industrial Revolution two centuries ago, global average temperatures have already risen about 1°C.

The computer models delivered an answer: to switch to crop biomass and carbon capture on a global scale would actually lead to an increase of carbon in the atmosphere, to ramp up global warming even further, and precipitate what could be, for many, catastrophic climate change.

The researchers don’t dismiss the biofuel technology entirely: in some cases it might be an effective solution. But, overall, it would be better simply to protect and restore the world’s forests.

Forests at risk

That forests are vital components of climate stability is already accepted: the Paris Agreement recognised the need, and repeated research has confirmed the logic.

But global studies have also confirmed that the world’s intact forests are threatened with accelerating destruction both through human degradation and through climate extremes of heat, drought and flood.

Biofuels – generated from fields of sugar cane, maize, trees or grasses such as miscanthus – are already big agribusiness, but both environmental campaigners and climate scientists are concerned about their effectiveness in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and about their potential impact on food prices.

Carbon capture and storage is a technology that has yet to prove itself.

“To meet the climate change targets from the Paris Agreement, we need to both drastically reduce emissions and employ a mix of technologies to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere,” said Dr Harper. “There is no single get-out-of-jail-free card.” – Climate News Network

Clean energy is vital – but still not enough

There are some problems clean energy from wind and sun cannot solve. Two new studies provide a roadmap of the challenges ahead.

LONDON, 13 July, 2018 – The journey to a world of clean energy without fossil fuels – essential if humankind is to contain global warming to no more than 1.5°C by 2100 – won’t be easy.

One new study outlines the problems for people who want to provide the cement for tomorrow’s cities, the steel for new structures, and the long-distance transport of heavy goods.

Freight shipping and air travel alone account for 6% of all carbon dioxide emissions that fuel global warming, and cement and steel industries release up to 1.7 bn tons of the greenhouse gas a year.

Electric cars may be on the road in increasing numbers, but trucks may have to carry heavy goods for 1,000 miles. For some deliveries, there is still no substitute for liquid fuel.

“It’s early days in negative emissions technology, and we need to keep an open mind about what options might emerge”

A second new study confirms that humans already have the knowhow to capture carbon dioxide as it is produced and combine it with hydrogen from water to make high quality liquid fuel. The technologies are still at the laboratory stage and the challenge is to get them to large-scale production at ever lower costs.

Both studies address the big picture. Researchers have repeatedly shown that – on paper – renewable sources could provide all the world’s electricity. But that wouldn’t stop all carbon emissions.

US scientists report in the journal Science that they looked at the “tough nuts” yet to be cracked; air travel, long-distance freight traffic by truck or ship, and the making of steel and cement.

They also looked at the range of new possibilities that have begun to emerge from the ingenuity on offer in the world’s laboratories – including even renewable airline fuel – but they want to see more creative thinking and greater steps towards sustainable building.

Shaping the future

“Taken together, these tough-nut sources account for a substantial fraction of global emissions. To effectively address them, we will need to develop new processes and systems. This will require both development of new technologies and co-ordination and integration across industries,” said Ken Caldeira of the Carnegie Institution.

And his co-author Steve Davis of the University of California Irvine said: “For better or for worse, the long-lived infrastructure built today will shape the future. We’re making good progress on things like the cost of solar panels and electric vehicles, but we need to start tackling the more difficult sectors as well.”

A second US team writes in Nature Climate Change to introduce what could be a new buzzword: electro-geochemistry. There is an argument – and wide-scale investment to back it – that biofuels, based on ethanol converted from crops or plantations, or just burned in power stations, could deliver reliable energy.

There is a second argument, yet to be tested at scale, that the carbon dioxide from biofuel exhausts could be captured and buried, to keep it from entering the atmosphere.

New fuel possibility

There is another way, argues Greg Rau, from the University of California Santa Cruz, and colleagues. Electrolysis of saline water could generate hydrogen and oxygen. Reactions between easy-to-obtain minerals could yield a solution that absorbs carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and turns it into a carbonate that could stay in the seas and reduce ocean acidification.

Hydrogen is already a vehicle fuel. From the materials in hand, chemists could make other fuels. And at the end of the process, there could be less carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The dream of negative emissions becomes more plausible.

And, the researchers reason, these electro-geochemical methods could, on average, deliver 50 times more energy generation and carbon removal than the uncertain and land-consuming approach involving biofuels and carbon capture. But such approaches are still in their infancy.

“It’s early days in negative emissions technology, and we need to keep an open mind about what options might emerge,” Dr Rau said. “We also need policies that will foster the emergence of these technologies.” – Climate News Network

There are some problems clean energy from wind and sun cannot solve. Two new studies provide a roadmap of the challenges ahead.

LONDON, 13 July, 2018 – The journey to a world of clean energy without fossil fuels – essential if humankind is to contain global warming to no more than 1.5°C by 2100 – won’t be easy.

One new study outlines the problems for people who want to provide the cement for tomorrow’s cities, the steel for new structures, and the long-distance transport of heavy goods.

Freight shipping and air travel alone account for 6% of all carbon dioxide emissions that fuel global warming, and cement and steel industries release up to 1.7 bn tons of the greenhouse gas a year.

Electric cars may be on the road in increasing numbers, but trucks may have to carry heavy goods for 1,000 miles. For some deliveries, there is still no substitute for liquid fuel.

“It’s early days in negative emissions technology, and we need to keep an open mind about what options might emerge”

A second new study confirms that humans already have the knowhow to capture carbon dioxide as it is produced and combine it with hydrogen from water to make high quality liquid fuel. The technologies are still at the laboratory stage and the challenge is to get them to large-scale production at ever lower costs.

Both studies address the big picture. Researchers have repeatedly shown that – on paper – renewable sources could provide all the world’s electricity. But that wouldn’t stop all carbon emissions.

US scientists report in the journal Science that they looked at the “tough nuts” yet to be cracked; air travel, long-distance freight traffic by truck or ship, and the making of steel and cement.

They also looked at the range of new possibilities that have begun to emerge from the ingenuity on offer in the world’s laboratories – including even renewable airline fuel – but they want to see more creative thinking and greater steps towards sustainable building.

Shaping the future

“Taken together, these tough-nut sources account for a substantial fraction of global emissions. To effectively address them, we will need to develop new processes and systems. This will require both development of new technologies and co-ordination and integration across industries,” said Ken Caldeira of the Carnegie Institution.

And his co-author Steve Davis of the University of California Irvine said: “For better or for worse, the long-lived infrastructure built today will shape the future. We’re making good progress on things like the cost of solar panels and electric vehicles, but we need to start tackling the more difficult sectors as well.”

A second US team writes in Nature Climate Change to introduce what could be a new buzzword: electro-geochemistry. There is an argument – and wide-scale investment to back it – that biofuels, based on ethanol converted from crops or plantations, or just burned in power stations, could deliver reliable energy.

There is a second argument, yet to be tested at scale, that the carbon dioxide from biofuel exhausts could be captured and buried, to keep it from entering the atmosphere.

New fuel possibility

There is another way, argues Greg Rau, from the University of California Santa Cruz, and colleagues. Electrolysis of saline water could generate hydrogen and oxygen. Reactions between easy-to-obtain minerals could yield a solution that absorbs carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and turns it into a carbonate that could stay in the seas and reduce ocean acidification.

Hydrogen is already a vehicle fuel. From the materials in hand, chemists could make other fuels. And at the end of the process, there could be less carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The dream of negative emissions becomes more plausible.

And, the researchers reason, these electro-geochemical methods could, on average, deliver 50 times more energy generation and carbon removal than the uncertain and land-consuming approach involving biofuels and carbon capture. But such approaches are still in their infancy.

“It’s early days in negative emissions technology, and we need to keep an open mind about what options might emerge,” Dr Rau said. “We also need policies that will foster the emergence of these technologies.” – Climate News Network

Biogas from waste can oust fossil fuels

straw for biogas
straw for biogas

What used to be considered waste is now seen as raw material for producing biogas as a viable energy alternative to nuclear and fossil fuels.

LONDON, 22 September, 2017 − Countries with large quantities of waste from forestry, manure or straw from farms are now looking for economic ways to turn them into forms of renewable energy.

Most of these so-called wastes can be burned directly as an alternative to fossil fuels in power stations or for district heating, but increasingly they are being turned into biogas.

This can be used as fuel in vehicles, fed into gas pipelines as a addition to natural gas, or to be used to generate electricity when there is a shortfall from other renewables like wind and solar.

Two countries keen on exploiting these natural resources to enable them to phase out fossil fuels and nuclear power are Sweden and Switzerland.

Sweden has a large surplus of straw from agriculture in the autumn, but finding an economic use for it has been difficult.

Waste straw

So the government, farmers and those with waste straw from other manufacturing processes appealed to the RISE scientific research institutes in Stockholm and the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU) to try to find a solution.

After two years of experimenting with straw briquettes and pellets to see if straw could be broken down into biogas by microbes in a digester, the scientists have concluded it can work well.

By mixing it with other wastes − for example from food, which is already used for producing biogas − the whole process could be made both more productive and faster.

Ilona Sárvári Horváth, associate professor in the Department of Resource Recovery and Building Technology at the University of Borås, says: “In the experiments, we have added straw to food waste in different proportions.

“The results show that the biogas production gets better because straw has a higher dry matter content, which means you can feed more material into the reactor that produces the gas. This makes you yield more gas per volume in a shorter time.”

She says that straw as a substrate for biogas production can provide better profitability, both in the biogas sector and in agriculture.

More than 30 organisations are involved in the Biogas2020 project, including companies and municipalities from Sweden, Norway and Denmark that all want to use straw in anaerobic digesters.

“ Biogas production gets better because straw has
a higher dry matter content − you can feed more
material into the reactor that produces the gas ”

In Switzerland, which has both a large forestry and farming sector, biomass is already seen as a key resource. Currently, the country produces around 5% of its total energy needs from biogas − mainly wood waste from forestry.

To see what more can be done, the Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research (WSL) has completed a comprehensive assessment of the potential of biomass energy in Switzerland.

While wood is the most obvious resource, the Swiss also looked at farmyard manure, organic waste, sewage sludge and by-products of agricultural crops such as straw, all of which contain valuable energy.

They found that it was theoretically possible to produce 19% of Switzerland’s total energy consumption from biofuels − equivalent to 4.8 million tonnes of crude oil.

Best opportunities

However, not all of this is exploitable because some of the wood is on inaccessible mountain slopes and some farms produce only small quantities of usable materials in remote places.

As a result, slightly less than half of the total could be sustainable, which they defined as environmentally-compatible and cost-effective. They also decided that forest wood and manure offered the two best opportunities.

The research calculated that, across all biomass categories, it would be possible to exploit roughly twice as much biomass in Switzerland as is currently being used mainly to generate heat and electricity.

Even though the amount of energy in question would “only” correspond to roughly 9% of Switzerland’s gross energy consumption, energy can be extracted from biomass in a far more controlled manner than from wind and sunlight.

Biomass could thus compensate for the fluctuation of other renewable energies and help to avoid energy bottlenecks.

Although the researchers believe more work is needed to assess how best to use these materials, they conclude: “This makes biomass a valuable raw material that is already available in Switzerland and can be efficiently converted into energy.” – Climate News Network

What used to be considered waste is now seen as raw material for producing biogas as a viable energy alternative to nuclear and fossil fuels.

LONDON, 22 September, 2017 − Countries with large quantities of waste from forestry, manure or straw from farms are now looking for economic ways to turn them into forms of renewable energy.

Most of these so-called wastes can be burned directly as an alternative to fossil fuels in power stations or for district heating, but increasingly they are being turned into biogas.

This can be used as fuel in vehicles, fed into gas pipelines as a addition to natural gas, or to be used to generate electricity when there is a shortfall from other renewables like wind and solar.

Two countries keen on exploiting these natural resources to enable them to phase out fossil fuels and nuclear power are Sweden and Switzerland.

Sweden has a large surplus of straw from agriculture in the autumn, but finding an economic use for it has been difficult.

Waste straw

So the government, farmers and those with waste straw from other manufacturing processes appealed to the RISE scientific research institutes in Stockholm and the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU) to try to find a solution.

After two years of experimenting with straw briquettes and pellets to see if straw could be broken down into biogas by microbes in a digester, the scientists have concluded it can work well.

By mixing it with other wastes − for example from food, which is already used for producing biogas − the whole process could be made both more productive and faster.

Ilona Sárvári Horváth, associate professor in the Department of Resource Recovery and Building Technology at the University of Borås, says: “In the experiments, we have added straw to food waste in different proportions.

“The results show that the biogas production gets better because straw has a higher dry matter content, which means you can feed more material into the reactor that produces the gas. This makes you yield more gas per volume in a shorter time.”

She says that straw as a substrate for biogas production can provide better profitability, both in the biogas sector and in agriculture.

More than 30 organisations are involved in the Biogas2020 project, including companies and municipalities from Sweden, Norway and Denmark that all want to use straw in anaerobic digesters.

“ Biogas production gets better because straw has
a higher dry matter content − you can feed more
material into the reactor that produces the gas ”

In Switzerland, which has both a large forestry and farming sector, biomass is already seen as a key resource. Currently, the country produces around 5% of its total energy needs from biogas − mainly wood waste from forestry.

To see what more can be done, the Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research (WSL) has completed a comprehensive assessment of the potential of biomass energy in Switzerland.

While wood is the most obvious resource, the Swiss also looked at farmyard manure, organic waste, sewage sludge and by-products of agricultural crops such as straw, all of which contain valuable energy.

They found that it was theoretically possible to produce 19% of Switzerland’s total energy consumption from biofuels − equivalent to 4.8 million tonnes of crude oil.

Best opportunities

However, not all of this is exploitable because some of the wood is on inaccessible mountain slopes and some farms produce only small quantities of usable materials in remote places.

As a result, slightly less than half of the total could be sustainable, which they defined as environmentally-compatible and cost-effective. They also decided that forest wood and manure offered the two best opportunities.

The research calculated that, across all biomass categories, it would be possible to exploit roughly twice as much biomass in Switzerland as is currently being used mainly to generate heat and electricity.

Even though the amount of energy in question would “only” correspond to roughly 9% of Switzerland’s gross energy consumption, energy can be extracted from biomass in a far more controlled manner than from wind and sunlight.

Biomass could thus compensate for the fluctuation of other renewable energies and help to avoid energy bottlenecks.

Although the researchers believe more work is needed to assess how best to use these materials, they conclude: “This makes biomass a valuable raw material that is already available in Switzerland and can be efficiently converted into energy.” – Climate News Network

Life-saving fossil fuel phase-out can work

A pollution-free world driven by renewable energy is possible, say scientists with a plan for a fossil fuel phase-out for 139 countries.

LONDON, 25 August, 2017 – Californian scientists say a fossil fuel phase-out is achievable that would contain climate change, deliver energy entirely from wind, water and sunlight to 139 nations, and save up to 7 million lives each year.

They say it would also create a net gain of 24 million long-term jobs, all by 2050, and at the same time limit global warming to 1.5°C or less.

The roadmap is entirely theoretical, and depends entirely on the political determination within each country to make the switch work. But, the researchers argue, they have provided a guide towards an economic and social shift that could save economies each year around $20 trillion in health and climate costs.

The scientists have provided the calculations for only 139 of the 195 nations that vowed in Paris in 2015 to contain global warming to “well below” 2°C, because these were the nations for which reliable energy data was publicly available.

But these 139 nations account for perhaps 99% of all the carbon dioxide emitted by human combustion of fossil fuels. And the clean-energy answer covers all economic activity – electricity, transport, heating and cooling, industry, agriculture, forestry and fishing.

Workable scenario

“Policymakers don’t usually want to commit to doing something unless there is some reasonable science that can show it is possible, and that is what we are trying to do,” said Mark Jacobson of Stanford University’s atmosphere and energy programme.

“There are other scenarios. We are not saying that there is only one way we can do this, but having a scenario gives people direction.”

Jacobson and 26 colleagues report in the journal Joule that their roadmaps to a new energy world free of fossil fuels and of nuclear energy can be achieved without the mining, transporting or processing of fuels.

According to their roadmaps, 139 nations could be 80% complete by 2030 and entirely committed to renewable sources by 2050. Jobs lost in the coal and petroleum industries would be more than compensated for by growth in the renewable sectors, and in the end, there would be more than 24 million new jobs worldwide.

Energy prices would become stable, because fuel would arrive for free: there would be less risk of disruption to energy supplies because sources would be decentralised. And energy efficiency savings that go with electrification overall could reduce “business-as-usual” demand by an estimated 42.5%.

Lives saved

“Aside from eliminating emissions and avoiding 1.5°C degrees global warming and beginning the process of letting carbon dioxide drain from the Earth’s atmosphere, transitioning eliminates 4 to 7 million air pollution deaths each year and creates over 24 million long-term full-time jobs by these plans,” Professor Jacobson said.

“What is different between this study and other studies that have proposed solutions is that we are trying to examine not only the climate benefits of reducing carbon but also the air pollution benefits, job benefits and cost benefits.”

The study is an extension of earlier research by Professor Jacobson at Stanford: he has presented a master plan for renewable energy for all 50 US states, and along with other researchers presented detailed arguments for the most efficient use of wind power, and even proposed that as a bonus wind turbines could sap the ferocity of hurricanes

His is not the only group to calculate that the US could free itself of fossil fuels and their associated costs. Nor is his the only group to make the case that clean power can save money and lives in the US and elsewhere.

“Our findings suggest that the benefits are so great that we should accelerate the transition to wind, water, and solar, as fast as possible, by retiring fossil-fuel systems early wherever we can” 

But the new study recognises that global conversion from fossil fuels to sunlight, water and wind power won’t be easy. The European Union, the US and China would cope better because there is greater available space per head of population: small densely-populated states such as Singapore would face greater challenges. 

There is also the challenge of political will: President Trump has announced that rather than work with the rest of the world to reduce the risks of climate change, the US will withdraw from the 2015 Paris Agreement, and other researchers have repeatedly pointed out that the Paris accord is itself not enough, and is not being acted upon with sufficient vigour, anywhere. 

Nor will the process be without contention. Professor Jacobson has lately been the focus of a bitter academic argument about whether fossil fuels can be entirely phased out without recourse to clean coal, nuclear energy and biofuels.

But the study in Joule excludes nuclear power because of the high costs, the hazards and the problems of disposing of waste. Biofuels and coal in any form also cause pollution.

Costs slashed

The Stanford team wants to see what could be called a clean break with the past. Space shuttles and rockets have already been powered by hydrogen, aircraft companies are exploring the possibility of electric flight; underground heat storage – to cope with fluctuating demand – would be a viable option, and shared or “district” heating already keeps 60% of Denmark warm.

The switch to renewables would require massive investment, but the overall cost would be one fourth of what fossil fuel dependency already costs the world.

“It appears we can achieve the enormous social benefits of a zero-emission energy system at essentially no extra cost,” said Mark Delucchi of the Institute of Transportation Studies, University of California Berkeley, a co-author.

“Our findings suggest that the benefits are so great that we should accelerate the transition to wind, water, and solar, as fast as possible, by retiring fossil-fuel systems early wherever we can.” – Climate News Network

A pollution-free world driven by renewable energy is possible, say scientists with a plan for a fossil fuel phase-out for 139 countries.

LONDON, 25 August, 2017 – Californian scientists say a fossil fuel phase-out is achievable that would contain climate change, deliver energy entirely from wind, water and sunlight to 139 nations, and save up to 7 million lives each year.

They say it would also create a net gain of 24 million long-term jobs, all by 2050, and at the same time limit global warming to 1.5°C or less.

The roadmap is entirely theoretical, and depends entirely on the political determination within each country to make the switch work. But, the researchers argue, they have provided a guide towards an economic and social shift that could save economies each year around $20 trillion in health and climate costs.

The scientists have provided the calculations for only 139 of the 195 nations that vowed in Paris in 2015 to contain global warming to “well below” 2°C, because these were the nations for which reliable energy data was publicly available.

But these 139 nations account for perhaps 99% of all the carbon dioxide emitted by human combustion of fossil fuels. And the clean-energy answer covers all economic activity – electricity, transport, heating and cooling, industry, agriculture, forestry and fishing.

Workable scenario

“Policymakers don’t usually want to commit to doing something unless there is some reasonable science that can show it is possible, and that is what we are trying to do,” said Mark Jacobson of Stanford University’s atmosphere and energy programme.

“There are other scenarios. We are not saying that there is only one way we can do this, but having a scenario gives people direction.”

Jacobson and 26 colleagues report in the journal Joule that their roadmaps to a new energy world free of fossil fuels and of nuclear energy can be achieved without the mining, transporting or processing of fuels.

According to their roadmaps, 139 nations could be 80% complete by 2030 and entirely committed to renewable sources by 2050. Jobs lost in the coal and petroleum industries would be more than compensated for by growth in the renewable sectors, and in the end, there would be more than 24 million new jobs worldwide.

Energy prices would become stable, because fuel would arrive for free: there would be less risk of disruption to energy supplies because sources would be decentralised. And energy efficiency savings that go with electrification overall could reduce “business-as-usual” demand by an estimated 42.5%.

Lives saved

“Aside from eliminating emissions and avoiding 1.5°C degrees global warming and beginning the process of letting carbon dioxide drain from the Earth’s atmosphere, transitioning eliminates 4 to 7 million air pollution deaths each year and creates over 24 million long-term full-time jobs by these plans,” Professor Jacobson said.

“What is different between this study and other studies that have proposed solutions is that we are trying to examine not only the climate benefits of reducing carbon but also the air pollution benefits, job benefits and cost benefits.”

The study is an extension of earlier research by Professor Jacobson at Stanford: he has presented a master plan for renewable energy for all 50 US states, and along with other researchers presented detailed arguments for the most efficient use of wind power, and even proposed that as a bonus wind turbines could sap the ferocity of hurricanes

His is not the only group to calculate that the US could free itself of fossil fuels and their associated costs. Nor is his the only group to make the case that clean power can save money and lives in the US and elsewhere.

“Our findings suggest that the benefits are so great that we should accelerate the transition to wind, water, and solar, as fast as possible, by retiring fossil-fuel systems early wherever we can” 

But the new study recognises that global conversion from fossil fuels to sunlight, water and wind power won’t be easy. The European Union, the US and China would cope better because there is greater available space per head of population: small densely-populated states such as Singapore would face greater challenges. 

There is also the challenge of political will: President Trump has announced that rather than work with the rest of the world to reduce the risks of climate change, the US will withdraw from the 2015 Paris Agreement, and other researchers have repeatedly pointed out that the Paris accord is itself not enough, and is not being acted upon with sufficient vigour, anywhere. 

Nor will the process be without contention. Professor Jacobson has lately been the focus of a bitter academic argument about whether fossil fuels can be entirely phased out without recourse to clean coal, nuclear energy and biofuels.

But the study in Joule excludes nuclear power because of the high costs, the hazards and the problems of disposing of waste. Biofuels and coal in any form also cause pollution.

Costs slashed

The Stanford team wants to see what could be called a clean break with the past. Space shuttles and rockets have already been powered by hydrogen, aircraft companies are exploring the possibility of electric flight; underground heat storage – to cope with fluctuating demand – would be a viable option, and shared or “district” heating already keeps 60% of Denmark warm.

The switch to renewables would require massive investment, but the overall cost would be one fourth of what fossil fuel dependency already costs the world.

“It appears we can achieve the enormous social benefits of a zero-emission energy system at essentially no extra cost,” said Mark Delucchi of the Institute of Transportation Studies, University of California Berkeley, a co-author.

“Our findings suggest that the benefits are so great that we should accelerate the transition to wind, water, and solar, as fast as possible, by retiring fossil-fuel systems early wherever we can.” – Climate News Network

GMO crops could expect a brighter future

Genetically modified (GMO) crops remain controversial, but scientists still have faith that they will help both to replace fossil fuels and to feed the world.

LONDON, 29 May, 2017 – One of the touchier areas of scientific research – in much of Europe, at least – is the genetic manipulation of food plants, seaweed and algae to try to produce more food or provide better rates of conversion into biofuels. But across the Atlantic genetically-modified crops (GMOs) are increasingly a different story.

They are a deeply controversial subject because early versions of GM food crops had to be dosed in highly toxic chemicals, and claims of higher yields and better nutrition were unproven. It some cases they caused severe environmental problems, and the European Union maintains a ban on many varieties to this day.

But in the US there has been more acceptance of GMOs as a way of extracting more money from farming, and scientists are encouraged to continue to develop new crops with modified genes.

Two global staples, sugarcane and soya, are being researched by teams from the University of Illinois. One group at its College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences (ACES) has shown that sugarcane can be genetically engineered to produce oil in its leaves and stems for biodiesel production. Surprisingly, the modified sugarcane plants also produced more sugar, which can be used for producing ethanol.

Bigger earners

To compete with traditional crops GMOs have to show they can be more profitable, and the Illinois scientists claim that their sugarcane would produce five times the income of soya and twice as much as corn.

Perhaps more importantly, this sugarcane can be grown on marginal lands in what are known as the Gulf states – Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida.

“Instead of fields of oil pumps, we envision fields of green plants sustainably producing biofuel in perpetuity on our nation’s soil, particularly marginal soil that is not well suited to food production,” says Stephen Long of the university.

However, as with most genetic research, there is a long gap between promising early results and large-scale planting, leading to the production of bio-diesel and ethanol. Long acknowledges it will take 10 to 15 years for the technology to reach farmers’ fields, but believes that length of time will be necessary to ensure future fuel security. Sugarcane will produce substitutes for both petrol and diesel.

“The plant can produce more oil without loss of sugar production, which means our plants may ultimately be even more productive than we originally anticipated”

The researchers have published in the journal of the university’s Petross project a paper analysing the first genetically modified sugarcane varieties.

Using a juicer, the researchers extracted about 90% of the sugar and 60% of the oil from the plant; the juice was fermented to produce ethanol and later treated with organic solvents to recover the oil. The team has patented the method used to separate the oil and sugar.

They recovered 0.5 and 0.8% oil from two of the modified sugarcane lines– 67% and 167% more oil than unmodified sugarcane. “The oil composition is comparable to that obtained from other feedstocks like seaweed or algae that are being engineered to produce oil,” says co-author Vijay Singh, director of the Integrated Bioprocessing Research Laboratory at Illinois.

“We expected that as oil production increased, sugar production would decrease, based on our computer models,” Long says. “However, we found that the plant can produce more oil without loss of sugar production, which means our plants may ultimately be even more productive than we originally anticipated.”

More food

The second team, working on soya, is excited by the benefits their research may produce in helping to feed the planet’s growing population in a warming world. Soya grows in sub-tropical conditions and is present in almost all processed food on supermarket shelves across the world.

The university has been genetically modifying soya to produce a greater yield in the conditions that are expected in the future: more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and much higher temperatures where soya currently grows.

Scientists expect that plants will grow better with more atmospheric CO2, since they need it for photosynthesis. This is known as the carbon dioxide fertiliser effect. However, the extra heat will also cause plants distress and probably wipe out these benefits.

The research under field conditions at an experimental station replicating future climate change subjected the genetically modified soya to the same conditions (including sun, wind, rain and clouds) as other Illinois field crops, and found that over three years they consistently yielded better.

“When we’re trying to meet our food needs for the future, this specific modification is one of the many tools that we’re going to need to rely upon,” said Carl Bernacchi, an associate professor of plant biology at the university. Climate News Network

Genetically modified (GMO) crops remain controversial, but scientists still have faith that they will help both to replace fossil fuels and to feed the world.

LONDON, 29 May, 2017 – One of the touchier areas of scientific research – in much of Europe, at least – is the genetic manipulation of food plants, seaweed and algae to try to produce more food or provide better rates of conversion into biofuels. But across the Atlantic genetically-modified crops (GMOs) are increasingly a different story.

They are a deeply controversial subject because early versions of GM food crops had to be dosed in highly toxic chemicals, and claims of higher yields and better nutrition were unproven. It some cases they caused severe environmental problems, and the European Union maintains a ban on many varieties to this day.

But in the US there has been more acceptance of GMOs as a way of extracting more money from farming, and scientists are encouraged to continue to develop new crops with modified genes.

Two global staples, sugarcane and soya, are being researched by teams from the University of Illinois. One group at its College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences (ACES) has shown that sugarcane can be genetically engineered to produce oil in its leaves and stems for biodiesel production. Surprisingly, the modified sugarcane plants also produced more sugar, which can be used for producing ethanol.

Bigger earners

To compete with traditional crops GMOs have to show they can be more profitable, and the Illinois scientists claim that their sugarcane would produce five times the income of soya and twice as much as corn.

Perhaps more importantly, this sugarcane can be grown on marginal lands in what are known as the Gulf states – Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida.

“Instead of fields of oil pumps, we envision fields of green plants sustainably producing biofuel in perpetuity on our nation’s soil, particularly marginal soil that is not well suited to food production,” says Stephen Long of the university.

However, as with most genetic research, there is a long gap between promising early results and large-scale planting, leading to the production of bio-diesel and ethanol. Long acknowledges it will take 10 to 15 years for the technology to reach farmers’ fields, but believes that length of time will be necessary to ensure future fuel security. Sugarcane will produce substitutes for both petrol and diesel.

“The plant can produce more oil without loss of sugar production, which means our plants may ultimately be even more productive than we originally anticipated”

The researchers have published in the journal of the university’s Petross project a paper analysing the first genetically modified sugarcane varieties.

Using a juicer, the researchers extracted about 90% of the sugar and 60% of the oil from the plant; the juice was fermented to produce ethanol and later treated with organic solvents to recover the oil. The team has patented the method used to separate the oil and sugar.

They recovered 0.5 and 0.8% oil from two of the modified sugarcane lines– 67% and 167% more oil than unmodified sugarcane. “The oil composition is comparable to that obtained from other feedstocks like seaweed or algae that are being engineered to produce oil,” says co-author Vijay Singh, director of the Integrated Bioprocessing Research Laboratory at Illinois.

“We expected that as oil production increased, sugar production would decrease, based on our computer models,” Long says. “However, we found that the plant can produce more oil without loss of sugar production, which means our plants may ultimately be even more productive than we originally anticipated.”

More food

The second team, working on soya, is excited by the benefits their research may produce in helping to feed the planet’s growing population in a warming world. Soya grows in sub-tropical conditions and is present in almost all processed food on supermarket shelves across the world.

The university has been genetically modifying soya to produce a greater yield in the conditions that are expected in the future: more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and much higher temperatures where soya currently grows.

Scientists expect that plants will grow better with more atmospheric CO2, since they need it for photosynthesis. This is known as the carbon dioxide fertiliser effect. However, the extra heat will also cause plants distress and probably wipe out these benefits.

The research under field conditions at an experimental station replicating future climate change subjected the genetically modified soya to the same conditions (including sun, wind, rain and clouds) as other Illinois field crops, and found that over three years they consistently yielded better.

“When we’re trying to meet our food needs for the future, this specific modification is one of the many tools that we’re going to need to rely upon,” said Carl Bernacchi, an associate professor of plant biology at the university. Climate News Network

Scientists take on greenhouse gas challenge

rice field greenhouse gas
rice field greenhouse gas

Ingenuity in laboratories worldwide is harnessing microbes, water and hot air to produce different types of renewable energy from greenhouse gas.

LONDON, 5 May, 2017 – Swiss scientists have found a way to turn the potent greenhouse gas methane into the fuel methanol – with help from water and a simple catalyst.

Meanwhile, US researchers have tested a way to convert methane into biofuels, specialised chemicals or even cattle feed with help from one microbe from rice fields and another from a Siberian lake.

And in Norway, engineers are testing something seemingly simpler: they want to exploit air as a battery that could store surplus renewable energy.

All three studies are examples of the astonishing levels of ingenuity and invention repeatedly demonstrated in the world’s laboratories as chemists, engineers and microbiologists focus on the great energy challenge.

Greenhouse gas emissions

They are all seeking ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel combustion, by recycling them, by being more efficient, by eliminating waste, and by harnessing sunlight, air and water to improve on nature.

Any of these technologies could one day make a powerful contribution to energy efficiency, And although all of them are a long way from routine exploitation, they demonstrate that, over and over again, researchers are bringing new ideas to a problem at least as old as the Industrial Revolution.

One inspiration comes from methane, a greenhouse gas that is more shortlived in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide, but also many times more efficient in its contribution to global warming.

It is known as “natural” gas, but farming – from rice fields to cattle pastures – produces huge quantities of methane, and so do fossil fuel sources.

“We take a waste product that is normally an expense and upgrade it to microbial biomass that can be used to make fuel, fertiliser, animal feed, chemicals and other products”

Researchers from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, known as ETH Zurich, report in Science journal that they have devised a catalytic system based on copper-containing zeolites, with an unexpected property.

It can turn methane, with the chemical formula CH4, into liquid methanol,(CH3OH,) by exploiting the oxygen in water, and it can do so with 97% efficiency.

It remains just that − a process, and so far an expensive one “only economically feasible at very large scale”, they say, and not something engineers could tap into at, for instance, an ocean or a desert oil drilling rig, where oilmen still “flare” waste methane from the wells.

But a team from the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) in Washington state, US, have something that could be more portable: a bio-reactor that could turn methane captured at oil fields and at farmyards into a deep-green, energy-rich, gelatinous substance that could be exploited for a range of products.

This process depends on two microbes not normally found in the same place, they write in Bioresource Technology journal.

One is known as Methylomicrobium alcaliphilum 20Z and it feeds on methane at landfill sites and rice paddy fields. The other is known only as Synechococcus 7002 and it lives in a Siberian lake, using light and carbon dioxide to release oxygen.

Together, the Washington scientists say, they engaged in “productive metabolic coupling” to produce something new.

“We take a waste product that is normally an expense and upgrade it to microbial biomass that can be used to make fuel, fertiliser, animal feed, chemicals and other products,” says Hans Bernstein, a chemical and biological engineer who is a member of the PNNL research team.

Biotechnology platform

“The two organisms complement each other, support each other. We have created an adaptable biotechnology platform with microbes that are genetically tractable for the synthesis of biofuels and biochemicals.”

In Norway, engineers from the SINTEF energy enterprise have examined another approach to the power game. They are partners in a European project to find ways to store energy underground.

And they want to put the energy back into circulation with a battery based simply on hot air. This is air heated and compressed by surplus energy from wind and solar plant, and then stored in a subterranean cavern.

The flow of hot air passes through a portal cavern filled with crushed rock, and heats up the rock. The cool compressed air is stored in a second cavern and, when needed, it is released through the hot rocks.

It is then piped through a turbine to generate electricity to meet peak demand, or demand when solar power cells cannot deliver, or at any time when the wind drops and the turbine blades fall still.

There is a catch, however. To excavate subterranean storage for such a battery would be ruinously expensive.

But Giovanni Perillo, a research scientist who is the project manager, says: “We regard disused tunnels and mineshafts as potential storage sites, and Norway has those in plenty.

“The more of the heat of compression that the air has retained when it is released from the store, the more work it can perform as it passes through the gas turbine. And we think that we will be able to conserve more of that heat than current storage technology can, thus increasing the net efficiency.” – Climate News Network

Ingenuity in laboratories worldwide is harnessing microbes, water and hot air to produce different types of renewable energy from greenhouse gas.

LONDON, 5 May, 2017 – Swiss scientists have found a way to turn the potent greenhouse gas methane into the fuel methanol – with help from water and a simple catalyst.

Meanwhile, US researchers have tested a way to convert methane into biofuels, specialised chemicals or even cattle feed with help from one microbe from rice fields and another from a Siberian lake.

And in Norway, engineers are testing something seemingly simpler: they want to exploit air as a battery that could store surplus renewable energy.

All three studies are examples of the astonishing levels of ingenuity and invention repeatedly demonstrated in the world’s laboratories as chemists, engineers and microbiologists focus on the great energy challenge.

Greenhouse gas emissions

They are all seeking ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel combustion, by recycling them, by being more efficient, by eliminating waste, and by harnessing sunlight, air and water to improve on nature.

Any of these technologies could one day make a powerful contribution to energy efficiency, And although all of them are a long way from routine exploitation, they demonstrate that, over and over again, researchers are bringing new ideas to a problem at least as old as the Industrial Revolution.

One inspiration comes from methane, a greenhouse gas that is more shortlived in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide, but also many times more efficient in its contribution to global warming.

It is known as “natural” gas, but farming – from rice fields to cattle pastures – produces huge quantities of methane, and so do fossil fuel sources.

“We take a waste product that is normally an expense and upgrade it to microbial biomass that can be used to make fuel, fertiliser, animal feed, chemicals and other products”

Researchers from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, known as ETH Zurich, report in Science journal that they have devised a catalytic system based on copper-containing zeolites, with an unexpected property.

It can turn methane, with the chemical formula CH4, into liquid methanol,(CH3OH,) by exploiting the oxygen in water, and it can do so with 97% efficiency.

It remains just that − a process, and so far an expensive one “only economically feasible at very large scale”, they say, and not something engineers could tap into at, for instance, an ocean or a desert oil drilling rig, where oilmen still “flare” waste methane from the wells.

But a team from the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) in Washington state, US, have something that could be more portable: a bio-reactor that could turn methane captured at oil fields and at farmyards into a deep-green, energy-rich, gelatinous substance that could be exploited for a range of products.

This process depends on two microbes not normally found in the same place, they write in Bioresource Technology journal.

One is known as Methylomicrobium alcaliphilum 20Z and it feeds on methane at landfill sites and rice paddy fields. The other is known only as Synechococcus 7002 and it lives in a Siberian lake, using light and carbon dioxide to release oxygen.

Together, the Washington scientists say, they engaged in “productive metabolic coupling” to produce something new.

“We take a waste product that is normally an expense and upgrade it to microbial biomass that can be used to make fuel, fertiliser, animal feed, chemicals and other products,” says Hans Bernstein, a chemical and biological engineer who is a member of the PNNL research team.

Biotechnology platform

“The two organisms complement each other, support each other. We have created an adaptable biotechnology platform with microbes that are genetically tractable for the synthesis of biofuels and biochemicals.”

In Norway, engineers from the SINTEF energy enterprise have examined another approach to the power game. They are partners in a European project to find ways to store energy underground.

And they want to put the energy back into circulation with a battery based simply on hot air. This is air heated and compressed by surplus energy from wind and solar plant, and then stored in a subterranean cavern.

The flow of hot air passes through a portal cavern filled with crushed rock, and heats up the rock. The cool compressed air is stored in a second cavern and, when needed, it is released through the hot rocks.

It is then piped through a turbine to generate electricity to meet peak demand, or demand when solar power cells cannot deliver, or at any time when the wind drops and the turbine blades fall still.

There is a catch, however. To excavate subterranean storage for such a battery would be ruinously expensive.

But Giovanni Perillo, a research scientist who is the project manager, says: “We regard disused tunnels and mineshafts as potential storage sites, and Norway has those in plenty.

“The more of the heat of compression that the air has retained when it is released from the store, the more work it can perform as it passes through the gas turbine. And we think that we will be able to conserve more of that heat than current storage technology can, thus increasing the net efficiency.” – Climate News Network

Harvesting fertiliser from ‘bionic’ leaves

fertiliser
fertiliser

Scientists working on artificial photosynthesis have adapted their “bionic leaf” so it can turn sunlight, water and air into fertiliser.

LONDON, 16 April, 2017 – The Harvard scientist who pioneered a “bionic leaf” that could generate the production of fuel has taken artificial photosynthesis a step further.

He and his colleagues have developed a bionic leaf that – with some help from friendly bacteria – can turn sunlight, water and air into fertiliser. And field tests of the new system have yielded vegetables that weigh half as much again as the same varieties in the nearby control plots.

The system is still in trials: it has yet to spread to commercial agriculture, and even more importantly to the subsistence farming of the developing world. But, by 2050, another 2 billion people will have crowded onto a planet in which climate change already threatens agricultural yields and there is room for any technology that could use existing arable land to deliver greater quantities of food without recourse to the high-energy costs of chemically produced fertilisers.

From plant technology to fertiliser

Last year Daniel Nocera, Patterson Rockwood professor of energy at Harvard University, announced the completion of a bionic leaf 10 times more efficient than natural foliage, that could split water molecules and feed the hydrogen to bacteria as the first step towards liquid fuel production: that is, it could deliver energy to drive an engine without significantly adding to the carbon dioxide ratio in the atmosphere.

But he told the American Chemical Society meeting in San Francisco that his artificial leaf  has now been converted, with help from sophisticated chemistry, and a different microbe, into something even more useful: ammonia.

“The fuels were just the first step,” Professor Nocera said. “Getting to that point showed that you can have a renewable chemical synthesis platform. Now we are demonstrating the generality of it by having another type of bacteria take nitrogen out of the atmosphere to make fertiliser.”

“The fuels were just the first step. Now we are demonstrating the generality of it by having another type of bacteria take nitrogen out of the atmosphere to make fertiliser.”

The artificial leaf uses a catalyst made of an alloy of cobalt and phosphorus to split water and release hydrogen to feed a microbial species called xanthobacter, which stores the element in its body as a bioplastic.

“I can then put the bug in the soil because it has already used the sunlight to make the bioplastic,” he said.  “Then the bug pulls nitrogen from the air and uses the bioplastic, which is basically stored hydrogen, to drive the fixation cycle to make ammonia for fertilising crops.”

Turning rubbish into fuel

And while land-based chemists pioneer a new way to make chemical fertiliser without fossil fuel energy, an ocean-going initiative has told the American Chemical Society that it has developed a mobile reactor that can turn plastic detritus into fuel. Plastic waste now litters the planet so profusely that it is likely to linger in geological strata a few million years from now as indelible evidence of human disruption.  And a colossal volume of this enduring litter – more than 9 million tons a year   –  now ends up in the oceans.

James E Holm, captain of a sailing boat, and founder of Clean Oceans International, was appalled at the evidence of global pollution.

“A few years ago, I was sailing through the Panama Canal, and when I stopped at an island on the Atlantic side, I was stunned by the amount of plastic covering the beach. I thought if I had a chance to do something about it, I should,” he said.

He joined forces with Swaminathan Ramesh, a retired chemist and founder of EcoFuel Technologies to develop a catalysis reaction that could turn plastic waste – a byproduct of crude oil technology – back into diesel fuel, on a continuous system.

“We can scale the capacity to handle anything from 200 pounds per 10-hour day to 10,000 or more pounds per 10-hour day. Because of its small size, we also can take the technological process to where the plastic wastes are,” said Dr Ramesh.

It may be some time before the technology gets to market. Both instances, however, are evidence of astonishing ingenuity in the world’s laboratories, driven by the menace of climate change and the need for technologies that do not depend on fossil fuel combustion which, ultimately, drives climate change.

To be of real use, both technologies need to be portable systems that anybody can exploit. “If we can get people around the world to pick this up and use it to shift waste plastics to fuel and make money, we are winning,” said Holm “We can even eliminate plastic waste before it gets to the oceans by creating value for it locally, on a global basis.”

The same imperative to spread the technology is true for the bionic leaf-based fertiliser. “When you have a large centralised process and a massive infrastructure, you can easily make and deliver fertiliser,” Professor Nocera said. “But if I said that now you’ve got to do it in a village in India, onsite, with dirty water  – forget it. Poorer countries in the emerging world don’t always have the resources to do this. We should be thinking of a distributed system because that’s where it’s really needed.” – Climate News Network

Scientists working on artificial photosynthesis have adapted their “bionic leaf” so it can turn sunlight, water and air into fertiliser.

LONDON, 16 April, 2017 – The Harvard scientist who pioneered a “bionic leaf” that could generate the production of fuel has taken artificial photosynthesis a step further.

He and his colleagues have developed a bionic leaf that – with some help from friendly bacteria – can turn sunlight, water and air into fertiliser. And field tests of the new system have yielded vegetables that weigh half as much again as the same varieties in the nearby control plots.

The system is still in trials: it has yet to spread to commercial agriculture, and even more importantly to the subsistence farming of the developing world. But, by 2050, another 2 billion people will have crowded onto a planet in which climate change already threatens agricultural yields and there is room for any technology that could use existing arable land to deliver greater quantities of food without recourse to the high-energy costs of chemically produced fertilisers.

From plant technology to fertiliser

Last year Daniel Nocera, Patterson Rockwood professor of energy at Harvard University, announced the completion of a bionic leaf 10 times more efficient than natural foliage, that could split water molecules and feed the hydrogen to bacteria as the first step towards liquid fuel production: that is, it could deliver energy to drive an engine without significantly adding to the carbon dioxide ratio in the atmosphere.

But he told the American Chemical Society meeting in San Francisco that his artificial leaf  has now been converted, with help from sophisticated chemistry, and a different microbe, into something even more useful: ammonia.

“The fuels were just the first step,” Professor Nocera said. “Getting to that point showed that you can have a renewable chemical synthesis platform. Now we are demonstrating the generality of it by having another type of bacteria take nitrogen out of the atmosphere to make fertiliser.”

“The fuels were just the first step. Now we are demonstrating the generality of it by having another type of bacteria take nitrogen out of the atmosphere to make fertiliser.”

The artificial leaf uses a catalyst made of an alloy of cobalt and phosphorus to split water and release hydrogen to feed a microbial species called xanthobacter, which stores the element in its body as a bioplastic.

“I can then put the bug in the soil because it has already used the sunlight to make the bioplastic,” he said.  “Then the bug pulls nitrogen from the air and uses the bioplastic, which is basically stored hydrogen, to drive the fixation cycle to make ammonia for fertilising crops.”

Turning rubbish into fuel

And while land-based chemists pioneer a new way to make chemical fertiliser without fossil fuel energy, an ocean-going initiative has told the American Chemical Society that it has developed a mobile reactor that can turn plastic detritus into fuel. Plastic waste now litters the planet so profusely that it is likely to linger in geological strata a few million years from now as indelible evidence of human disruption.  And a colossal volume of this enduring litter – more than 9 million tons a year   –  now ends up in the oceans.

James E Holm, captain of a sailing boat, and founder of Clean Oceans International, was appalled at the evidence of global pollution.

“A few years ago, I was sailing through the Panama Canal, and when I stopped at an island on the Atlantic side, I was stunned by the amount of plastic covering the beach. I thought if I had a chance to do something about it, I should,” he said.

He joined forces with Swaminathan Ramesh, a retired chemist and founder of EcoFuel Technologies to develop a catalysis reaction that could turn plastic waste – a byproduct of crude oil technology – back into diesel fuel, on a continuous system.

“We can scale the capacity to handle anything from 200 pounds per 10-hour day to 10,000 or more pounds per 10-hour day. Because of its small size, we also can take the technological process to where the plastic wastes are,” said Dr Ramesh.

It may be some time before the technology gets to market. Both instances, however, are evidence of astonishing ingenuity in the world’s laboratories, driven by the menace of climate change and the need for technologies that do not depend on fossil fuel combustion which, ultimately, drives climate change.

To be of real use, both technologies need to be portable systems that anybody can exploit. “If we can get people around the world to pick this up and use it to shift waste plastics to fuel and make money, we are winning,” said Holm “We can even eliminate plastic waste before it gets to the oceans by creating value for it locally, on a global basis.”

The same imperative to spread the technology is true for the bionic leaf-based fertiliser. “When you have a large centralised process and a massive infrastructure, you can easily make and deliver fertiliser,” Professor Nocera said. “But if I said that now you’ve got to do it in a village in India, onsite, with dirty water  – forget it. Poorer countries in the emerging world don’t always have the resources to do this. We should be thinking of a distributed system because that’s where it’s really needed.” – Climate News Network

Electric vehicles threaten to overtake biofuels

biofuels ethanol pump Brazil
biofuels ethanol pump Brazil

A sharp increase in the predicted global number of EVs prompts Brazil to rev up its promotion of low-carbon biofuels.

SÃO PAULO, 5 January, 2017 By 2040, the number of electric cars in the world could have reached 150 million, or even, if more ambitious targets for emissions reductions are adopted, 715 million. So says the International Energy Agency.

Not only would this mean a drastic reduction in the demand for oil, it could also mean a drastic reduction in the demand for biofuels such as ethanol.

But the biofuel industry is not giving up without a fight. At the recent UN climate talks in Morocco, a consortium of 20 countries launched Biofuture, a platform designed to encourage the use of low-carbon biofuels, including the second generation of sugarcane cellulose-based biofuel. Brazil, the world’s second largest producer of both ethanol and biodiesel (the US is the largest) is leading the initiative.

Biofuels solution

Renato Godinho, head of the Energetic Resources Division at Brazil’s Foreign Ministry, played down the idea of a massive changeover to electric cars before 2050, saying: “Biofuels are an immediate solution. The climate cannot wait.”

Even if there were to be a massive replacement of existing light vehicles by electric models, biofuels advocates believe that the cargo and aviation sectors will be using biofuels for a long time to come.

Artur Milanez, manager of the biofuels department at the BNDES, Brazil’s development bank, says: “Even if electrification seems to make sense today, what will define things is the market.”

Another reason for Brazil’s enthusiasm for biofuels is that giving them a larger share in the economy will enable Brazil to fulfil its Paris Agreement emissions targets, reducing the use of fossil fuels. Petrol sold at the pump already contains 25% ethanol, produced from sugarcane. There are more than 400 sugarcane refineries in Brazil, expected to produce an estimated 26.3 billion litres this year, according to the Brazilian Sugarcane Industry Association.

Brazil began developing biofuels in the 1970s, when, as an oil importer, it was badly hit by the OPEC oil shock. Cars running on subsidised ethanol took over the internal market, but once the price of oil fell and Brazil began developing its own oilfields, petrol reasserted its dominance. Even so, many of the cars produced in Brazil today are still dual fuel, known as flex.

Brazil is leading the initiative for biofuels,
but it is allowing them to be grown
in areas that should be protected

Ethanol was traditionally produced by fermentation, but years of research in government-sponsored labs has resulted in what is called second-generation ethanol. Enzymes are used to break down the cellulose in the bagasse (the fibrous waste of sugarcane, maize and rice). Productivity has been increased by 50%, producing 10,000 litres per hectare.

This new technology has now left the lab and joined industry, but there are still some problems of scale. Once the technology becomes more widely used, it is claimed that Brazil could produce 45bn litres a year, using the area already planted with sugarcane.

“This is almost the 50bn litres Brazil needs to produce by 2030 if it is to meet its INDC [the intended nationally determined contribution to the emission cuts determined by the Paris Agreement],” says Milanez.

But such expansion can be problematic. Potential consumers, such as Germany, are wary because they are concerned that demand will lead to sugarcane being grown in the Amazon, causing deforestation, or will push out small farmers growing food crops, as has already happened in Africa.

This is a real threat, which could easily be avoided by a change in government policy, offering incentives to use the millions of already deforested and degraded acres that have been used as cattle pasture and then abandoned, and paying farmers for environmental services.

Under the present government, which is dominated by agribusiness interests, anti-environmentalists and climate deniers, it is more likely that deforestation will continue apace.

Vegetation loss

A WWF study forecast the clearing of approximately 10m hectares of the cerrado, the vast tropical savannah region of central Brazil, for agriculture in the next 10 years, unless there is a change in policy. It also projected a loss of 30% in the natural vegetation cover in the states of Maranhão and Piaui in the same period.

The western region of Maranhão contains an area of Amazonian tropical forest, while Piauí is a large state that borders the semi-arid area of the northeast.

Cássio Franco Moreira of WWF blames Brazil’s Forest Code, approved in 2012, which has allowed agricultural expansion in cerrado areas, where many of the country’s principal rivers, including those that flow through the Amazon, have their source, instead of encouraging sustainable agricultural practices.

Once again, Brazil presents a paradox. It is leading the initiative for biofuels, which could reduce carbon emissions. But it is allowing them to be grown in areas that should be protected. Climate News Network

A sharp increase in the predicted global number of EVs prompts Brazil to rev up its promotion of low-carbon biofuels.

SÃO PAULO, 5 January, 2017 By 2040, the number of electric cars in the world could have reached 150 million, or even, if more ambitious targets for emissions reductions are adopted, 715 million. So says the International Energy Agency.

Not only would this mean a drastic reduction in the demand for oil, it could also mean a drastic reduction in the demand for biofuels such as ethanol.

But the biofuel industry is not giving up without a fight. At the recent UN climate talks in Morocco, a consortium of 20 countries launched Biofuture, a platform designed to encourage the use of low-carbon biofuels, including the second generation of sugarcane cellulose-based biofuel. Brazil, the world’s second largest producer of both ethanol and biodiesel (the US is the largest) is leading the initiative.

Biofuels solution

Renato Godinho, head of the Energetic Resources Division at Brazil’s Foreign Ministry, played down the idea of a massive changeover to electric cars before 2050, saying: “Biofuels are an immediate solution. The climate cannot wait.”

Even if there were to be a massive replacement of existing light vehicles by electric models, biofuels advocates believe that the cargo and aviation sectors will be using biofuels for a long time to come.

Artur Milanez, manager of the biofuels department at the BNDES, Brazil’s development bank, says: “Even if electrification seems to make sense today, what will define things is the market.”

Another reason for Brazil’s enthusiasm for biofuels is that giving them a larger share in the economy will enable Brazil to fulfil its Paris Agreement emissions targets, reducing the use of fossil fuels. Petrol sold at the pump already contains 25% ethanol, produced from sugarcane. There are more than 400 sugarcane refineries in Brazil, expected to produce an estimated 26.3 billion litres this year, according to the Brazilian Sugarcane Industry Association.

Brazil began developing biofuels in the 1970s, when, as an oil importer, it was badly hit by the OPEC oil shock. Cars running on subsidised ethanol took over the internal market, but once the price of oil fell and Brazil began developing its own oilfields, petrol reasserted its dominance. Even so, many of the cars produced in Brazil today are still dual fuel, known as flex.

Brazil is leading the initiative for biofuels,
but it is allowing them to be grown
in areas that should be protected

Ethanol was traditionally produced by fermentation, but years of research in government-sponsored labs has resulted in what is called second-generation ethanol. Enzymes are used to break down the cellulose in the bagasse (the fibrous waste of sugarcane, maize and rice). Productivity has been increased by 50%, producing 10,000 litres per hectare.

This new technology has now left the lab and joined industry, but there are still some problems of scale. Once the technology becomes more widely used, it is claimed that Brazil could produce 45bn litres a year, using the area already planted with sugarcane.

“This is almost the 50bn litres Brazil needs to produce by 2030 if it is to meet its INDC [the intended nationally determined contribution to the emission cuts determined by the Paris Agreement],” says Milanez.

But such expansion can be problematic. Potential consumers, such as Germany, are wary because they are concerned that demand will lead to sugarcane being grown in the Amazon, causing deforestation, or will push out small farmers growing food crops, as has already happened in Africa.

This is a real threat, which could easily be avoided by a change in government policy, offering incentives to use the millions of already deforested and degraded acres that have been used as cattle pasture and then abandoned, and paying farmers for environmental services.

Under the present government, which is dominated by agribusiness interests, anti-environmentalists and climate deniers, it is more likely that deforestation will continue apace.

Vegetation loss

A WWF study forecast the clearing of approximately 10m hectares of the cerrado, the vast tropical savannah region of central Brazil, for agriculture in the next 10 years, unless there is a change in policy. It also projected a loss of 30% in the natural vegetation cover in the states of Maranhão and Piaui in the same period.

The western region of Maranhão contains an area of Amazonian tropical forest, while Piauí is a large state that borders the semi-arid area of the northeast.

Cássio Franco Moreira of WWF blames Brazil’s Forest Code, approved in 2012, which has allowed agricultural expansion in cerrado areas, where many of the country’s principal rivers, including those that flow through the Amazon, have their source, instead of encouraging sustainable agricultural practices.

Once again, Brazil presents a paradox. It is leading the initiative for biofuels, which could reduce carbon emissions. But it is allowing them to be grown in areas that should be protected. Climate News Network

Geo-engineering unlikely to ease climate fears

Attempts to limit climate change by using the novel technologies known as geo-engineering are very unlikely to work, leading biologists say.

LONDON, 1 November, 2016 – The global watchdog responsible for protecting the worlds wealth of species, the UNs  Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), has looked at the hopes for reining in climate change through geo-engineering. Its bleak conclusion, echoing that reached by many independent scientists, is that the chances are “highly uncertain”.

“Novel means”, in this context, describes trying to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by removing them from the atmosphere, and altering the amount of heat from the Sun that reaches the Earth.  

Some scientists and policymakers say geo-engineering, as these strategies are collectively known, is essential if the world is to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement. This is because current attempts to reduce emissions cannot make big enough cuts fast enough to keep global average temperatures from rising more than 2°C above their pre-industrial levels, the Agreement’s basic goal.

But the CBD says in a report that geo-engineering, while it could possibly help to prevent the world overheating, might endanger global biodiversity and have other unpredictable effects.

Many independent analysts have raised similar concerns.Attempts to increase the amount of carbon in the oceans, in order to remove GHGs, have so far shown disappointing results. One report doubted that geo-engineering could slow sea-level rise. Another said it could not arrest the melting of Arctic ice. A third study found that geo-engineering would make things little better and might even make global warming worse.  

Transboundary impacts

The lead author of the CBD geo-engineering report is a British scientist, Dr Phillip Williamson, of the UK’s Natural Environment Research Council. He is an associate fellow in the School of Environmental Sciences at the University of East Anglia, UK.

The CBD originally became involved in climate geo-engineering in 2008, because member governments were concerned that experiments to fertilise the oceans could pose unknown risks to the environment (they were then unregulated when carried out in international waters).

The CBD’s concern expanded to include other geo-engineering techniques, especially atmospheric methods which could have uncertain transboundary impacts. Some scientists argue that “geo-engineering” is a hazily-defined term and prefer to speak instead simply of “greenhouse gas removal”.

Dr Williamson and his colleagues say assessment of the impacts of geo-engineering on biodiversity “is not straightforward and is subject to many uncertainties”.

On greenhouse gas removal they warn that removing a given quantity of a greenhouse gas would not fully compensate for an earlier ‘overshoot’ of emissions.

New risks

In some cases, they say, the cure may be worse than the disease: “The large-scale deployment of bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) seems likely to have significant negative impacts on biodiversity through land use change.”

When it comes to attempts to reflect sunlight back out into space or to manage solar radiation, a familiar theme recurs: “There are high levels of uncertainty about the impacts of SRM [solar radiation management] techniques, which could present significant new risks to biodiversity.”

Time and again, it seems, a potential advance is liable to be cancelled by an equally likely reverse: if SRM benefits coral reefs by decreasing temperature-induced bleaching (as it may), in certain conditions “it may also increase, indirectly, the impacts of ocean acidification.” There could even be a risk in some circumstances of loss to the Earth’s protective ozone layer.

Dr Williamson and his colleagues believe that geo-engineering is essential – if it can be made to work – because of the diminishing chances that anything else will.

“I’m sceptical. That’s not to say bio-energy with carbon capture and storage is impossible, but it seems extremely unlikely to be feasible”

They write: “It may still be possible that deep and very rapid decarbonisation by all countries might allow climate change to be kept within a 2°C limit by emission reduction alone. However, any such window of opportunity is rapidly closing.”

Repeatedly, those two words recur: a suggested technique or development will be “highly uncertain”. Most of the report amounts to a very cautious call for more research, coupled with an implicit acceptance that in the end geo-engineering is unlikely to prove capable of contributing much to climate mitigation.

Dr Williamson told the Climate News Network: “I’m sceptical. That’s not to say bio-energy with carbon capture and storage is impossible, but it seems extremely unlikely to be feasible (for all sorts of reasons)” at the scale needed.

When the CBD member governments meet in December they are expected to call for more research: a safe option in most circumstances, but far from a ringing endorsement of a technology once seen as very promising. – Climate News Network

Attempts to limit climate change by using the novel technologies known as geo-engineering are very unlikely to work, leading biologists say.

LONDON, 1 November, 2016 – The global watchdog responsible for protecting the worlds wealth of species, the UNs  Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), has looked at the hopes for reining in climate change through geo-engineering. Its bleak conclusion, echoing that reached by many independent scientists, is that the chances are “highly uncertain”.

“Novel means”, in this context, describes trying to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by removing them from the atmosphere, and altering the amount of heat from the Sun that reaches the Earth.  

Some scientists and policymakers say geo-engineering, as these strategies are collectively known, is essential if the world is to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement. This is because current attempts to reduce emissions cannot make big enough cuts fast enough to keep global average temperatures from rising more than 2°C above their pre-industrial levels, the Agreement’s basic goal.

But the CBD says in a report that geo-engineering, while it could possibly help to prevent the world overheating, might endanger global biodiversity and have other unpredictable effects.

Many independent analysts have raised similar concerns.Attempts to increase the amount of carbon in the oceans, in order to remove GHGs, have so far shown disappointing results. One report doubted that geo-engineering could slow sea-level rise. Another said it could not arrest the melting of Arctic ice. A third study found that geo-engineering would make things little better and might even make global warming worse.  

Transboundary impacts

The lead author of the CBD geo-engineering report is a British scientist, Dr Phillip Williamson, of the UK’s Natural Environment Research Council. He is an associate fellow in the School of Environmental Sciences at the University of East Anglia, UK.

The CBD originally became involved in climate geo-engineering in 2008, because member governments were concerned that experiments to fertilise the oceans could pose unknown risks to the environment (they were then unregulated when carried out in international waters).

The CBD’s concern expanded to include other geo-engineering techniques, especially atmospheric methods which could have uncertain transboundary impacts. Some scientists argue that “geo-engineering” is a hazily-defined term and prefer to speak instead simply of “greenhouse gas removal”.

Dr Williamson and his colleagues say assessment of the impacts of geo-engineering on biodiversity “is not straightforward and is subject to many uncertainties”.

On greenhouse gas removal they warn that removing a given quantity of a greenhouse gas would not fully compensate for an earlier ‘overshoot’ of emissions.

New risks

In some cases, they say, the cure may be worse than the disease: “The large-scale deployment of bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) seems likely to have significant negative impacts on biodiversity through land use change.”

When it comes to attempts to reflect sunlight back out into space or to manage solar radiation, a familiar theme recurs: “There are high levels of uncertainty about the impacts of SRM [solar radiation management] techniques, which could present significant new risks to biodiversity.”

Time and again, it seems, a potential advance is liable to be cancelled by an equally likely reverse: if SRM benefits coral reefs by decreasing temperature-induced bleaching (as it may), in certain conditions “it may also increase, indirectly, the impacts of ocean acidification.” There could even be a risk in some circumstances of loss to the Earth’s protective ozone layer.

Dr Williamson and his colleagues believe that geo-engineering is essential – if it can be made to work – because of the diminishing chances that anything else will.

“I’m sceptical. That’s not to say bio-energy with carbon capture and storage is impossible, but it seems extremely unlikely to be feasible”

They write: “It may still be possible that deep and very rapid decarbonisation by all countries might allow climate change to be kept within a 2°C limit by emission reduction alone. However, any such window of opportunity is rapidly closing.”

Repeatedly, those two words recur: a suggested technique or development will be “highly uncertain”. Most of the report amounts to a very cautious call for more research, coupled with an implicit acceptance that in the end geo-engineering is unlikely to prove capable of contributing much to climate mitigation.

Dr Williamson told the Climate News Network: “I’m sceptical. That’s not to say bio-energy with carbon capture and storage is impossible, but it seems extremely unlikely to be feasible (for all sorts of reasons)” at the scale needed.

When the CBD member governments meet in December they are expected to call for more research: a safe option in most circumstances, but far from a ringing endorsement of a technology once seen as very promising. – Climate News Network