Cancellation of the Keystone XL pipeline was a positive move for the planet. But in the near term, it will force more tar sands oil into virtual pipelines – rail cars that have been implicated in horrific “train bomb” incidents involving massive destruction and mass casualties. Recent experiments prove that this oil can be transported economically without the explosive volatile constituents that make these trains so dangerous. Fast-track implementation of this transport method would extend direct benefits from the pipeline cancellation down to everyone living or working near train tracks.
Now that the Biden administration’s energy policies are coming into focus, a coalition of more than 430 environmental organizations spanning 53 countries is pressing for a rapid cut-off of all fossil fuel subsidies. The confirmation of Representative Deb Haaland (D-NM) as the Interior Department’s first Native American Secretary sends a powerful signal, and indicates the administration’s seriousness about greening the economy. More locally, activists in Massachusetts are celebrating passage of truly landmark climate legislation, which now appears likely to receive Governor Charlie Baker’s signature.
As wealthy countries distribute Covid-19 vaccines, economic activity is resuming and oil consumption is rebounding toward pre-pandemic highs. Climate watchers expected this, and caution that we’re a long way from addressing the profound changes required at all levels of society to address global warming.
We’re always on the lookout for bird-safe wind power at an appropriate scale for residential use. Spanish startup Vortex Bladeless is proposing more than we bargained for! Maybe News Check-In readers can suggest finishing touches that would show the neighbors you’re really living the clean energy lifestyle.
Energy storage is getting some good attention in New York, with utility Con Edison moving to take advantage of virtual power plant services of batteries in homes and commercial buildings. This is a non-wires solution, where the utility incentivizes ownership of batteries in parts of the grid where extra power is needed during peak usage periods. In a complementary development, large stationary batteries, especially when associated with wind and solar power, have reached an economic point where they out-compete fossil fueled peaking power plants.
Of course batteries are also key to getting everyone into electric vehicles. We lead this section with a side trip into the new age of sailing ships, and follow that with a dose of reality about those vehicle batteries. Two articles consider consequences of sourcing all the lithium, nickel, and cobalt required to whisk all these people and things around without burning fuel.
All these new electric vehicles, wind turbines, and green buildings are – at least for now – going to need a lot of steel. But it’s a notoriously carbon-intensive material, and that has the industry taking a hard look at the possibility of creating a zero-carbon product. It’s technically possible, but the capital investment is daunting.
Regardless of how fast humanity reduces its emissions, we’ve already reached such a crisis point that climate scientists argue for some amount of carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) to avoid the worst effects of global warming. This can be a tricky subject, because the fossil fuel industry dangles the promise of carbon capture from smokestacks to greenwash a version of the future where business-as-usual continues without consequences. We’ll be bringing you CCS news as we find it, and will attempt to call out the propaganda.
While the Biden administration has already paused new oil and gas leases on federal land, legal experts are examining the feasibility of canceling some existing leases. This is in line with the “keep it in the ground” strategy, a reality that the fossil fuel industry appears to be grudgingly acknowledging through record write-downs of the value of their reserves. Another threat to the industry is a broad-based call for Biden to halt liquefied natural gas exports. We found a report that explores that issue, and considers the complicating factors – which unfortunately seem to rely heavily on the “natural gas as a bridge fuel” argument, when maybe we should be diverting some of this LNG build-out investment into the clean energy infrastructure that will achieve real climate goals.
We close with another clarification of the environmental threat that proposed Palmer Renewable Energy biomass generating plant poses to the environmental justice communities in Springfield. Also, a check-in on a newly-implemented international agreement that aims to curb the dumping of waste plastic into developing countries ill-equipped to safely process it.
— The NFGiM Team
Analysis: Canceled Keystone XL Pipeline Driving Major Safety Changes in Canadian Oil-by-Rail
By Justin Mikulka, DeSmog Blog
March 12, 2021
The Biden administration’s cancellation of the Keystone XL (KXL) pipeline in January appears to be driving a revolutionary improvement in Canadian oil-by-rail safety that could protect the public from what have become known as “bomb trains.”
Without the KXL pipeline to help transport tar sands bitumen from Alberta to refineries in the United States, Canadian oil producers are turning to trains. And using a new technology to help make it more affordable — and less flammable.
When tar sands bitumen is mined and processed, it results in a thick, tarry substance which industry material safety data sheets note is a “low fire hazard” and “must be heated before ignition will occur.”
To ship tar sands oil by pipeline, however, the raw bitumen must be diluted with a light volatile petroleum product called condensate, which turns it into a “highly flammable” product, according to material data safety sheets. “This product,” the safety sheets state, “will easily ignite in the presence of heat sources, sparks, or flames.” This volatility is what causes devastating fires and explosions to happen so easily when oil trains derail.
Traditionally, the industry has chosen to pump this volatile diluted bitumen, or dilbit, into rail tank cars when shipping it by rail. But now the oil-by-rail industry is exploring a way to transport a form of bitumen that no longer easily ignites like the dilbit.
To do this, they’re investing in new technology that removes the flammable component of the diluted bitumen mixture before putting it into rail tank cars. The process is expected to make rail transport as affordable as sending bitumen via pipeline.
The first commercial application of this technology is being marketed as DRUbit and is a collaboration between Gibson Energy and US Development Group LLC that expects to begin operations in the second half of 2021. ConocoPhillips Canada has contracted to move 50,000 barrels per day and rail companies CP and Kansas City Southern will transport the product from Canada to the U.S. Gulf Coast.
DRUbit is a form of tar sands that is non-flammable and likely will not create large spills in derailments because raw or less-diluted bitumen doesn’t easily flow when exposed to air temperatures — effectively removing the risks to the public and environment from Canadian crude-by-rail transportation.
» Read article
PROTESTS AND ACTIONS
430+ Groups From 6 Continents Demand Biden End All US Subsidies for Global Fossil Fuel Projects
“We have to stop subsidizing fossil fuel companies at the expense of our climate.”
By Jake Johnson, Common Dreams
March 18, 2021
A coalition of more than 430 environmental organizations spanning 53 countries Thursday called on the Biden administration to quickly cut off all U.S. public financing for fossil fuel projects overseas and work with governments around the world to bring about an end to taxpayer subsidies for the dirty energy sources driving the global climate emergency.
“We urge the Biden administration to act swiftly to end new financing for all parts of the fossil fuel supply chain (including for gas), stop new U.S. fossil fuel support within 90 days across all government institutions, and work with other nations to end fossil fuel financing,” reads a letter (pdf) sent to top Biden administration officials, including Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, and Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm.
Signed by 432 groups from six continents—including Africa, Asia, and South America—comes weeks after U.S. President Joe Biden delivered a speech at the White House condemning “handouts to Big Oil” and vowing to work with Congress to eliminate subsidies to the fossil fuel industry in the U.S.
“Governments can’t claim to be serious about climate change if they pump billions of dollars into the most polluting industries every year,” said Alex Doukas of Oil Change International, one of the signatories. “If President Biden is serious about zeroing out emissions by mid-century or earlier, the U.S. must end its billions of dollars in support for oil, gas, and coal projects around the world.”
Arguing that U.S. action to end public funding of fossil fuel infrastructure could spur other nations to follow suit, the new letter urges Biden to follow through on his initial steps toward launching a “whole-of-government” approach to tackling the climate crisis. The groups point to Biden’s January executive order directing federal officials to craft a plan aimed at “promoting the flow of capital toward climate-aligned investments and away from high-carbon investments.”
» Read article
» Read the coalition letter to the Biden administration
GREENING THE ECONOMY
Deb Haaland Confirmed As 1st Native American Interior Secretary
By Nathan Rott, NPR
March 15, 2021
Deb Haaland, a member of New Mexico’s Laguna Pueblo, has become the first Native American Cabinet secretary in U.S. history.
The Senate voted 51-40 Monday to confirm the Democratic congresswoman to lead the Interior Department, an agency that will play a crucial role in the Biden administration’s ambitious efforts to combat climate change and conserve nature.
Her confirmation is as symbolic as it is historic. For much of its history, the Interior Department was used as a tool of oppression against America’s Indigenous peoples. In addition to managing the country’s public lands, endangered species and natural resources, the department is also responsible for the government-to-government relations between the U.S. and Native American tribes.
“Indian country has shouted from the valleys, from the mountaintops, that it’s time. It’s overdue,” Sandia Pueblo tribal member Stephine Poston told NPR after Haaland was nominated.
As a congresswoman, Haaland was a frequent critic of the Trump administration’s deregulatory agenda and supported limits on fossil fuel development on public lands. She opposes hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. She was also one of the first lawmakers to support the Green New Deal, which calls for drastic action to address climate change and economic inequality.
» Read article
I Tried to Buy a Climate-Friendly Refrigerator. What I Got Was a Carbon Bomb.
Most refrigerators in the U.S. are still cooled by climate “super-pollutants” called hydrofluorocarbons. I’d been promised my new fridge wouldn’t be…
By Phil McKenna, Inside Climate News
March 11, 2021
As a climate reporter covering “super-pollutants”—greenhouse gases thousands of times worse for the climate than carbon dioxide—I thought I knew enough to avoid buying a refrigerator that would cook the planet. Turns out, I was wrong.
Nearly all refrigerators in use in the United States today use chemical refrigerants that are some of the most potent greenhouse gases on the planet. Yet, a growing number of manufacturers now offer new models with an alternative refrigerant that has little to no climate impact.
But none of the major appliance makers advertise which fridges are climate-friendly, and which are carbon bombs. In some cases, it seems they themselves don’t know which is which.
It didn’t have to be this way. In 1993, a German appliance manufacturer started selling an HFC-free refrigerator whose very name—“Greenfreeze”—touted its use of a climate-friendly refrigerant. More than 1 billion HFC-free refrigerators have now been sold worldwide, including units sold overseas by U.S. manufacturers, at a time when climate-friendly refrigerators are just becoming available in the United States.
A recent Inside Climate News investigation found the decades-long delay in the use of climate-friendly refrigerants in America has been driven largely by the U.S. chemical industry, which manufactures HFCs. HFCs are multi-billion dollar products that would likely be replaced by less expensive and more efficient climate-friendly alternatives if standards put forth by Underwriters Laboratories didn’t until recently limit their use, likely at the behest of chemical companies. Underwriters Laboratories, now known as “UL,” is a private company that provides independent safety certifications for thousands of consumer products.
When GE first submitted its application to EPA in 2008 to use only small amounts of isobutane as a refrigerator coolant, Honeywell International, one of the leading HFC manufacturers, opposed the rule change. The company claimed that isobutane is “highly flammable and explosive even in small amounts,” a claim that has not been substantiated by the more than 1 billion isobutane refrigerators in safe operation worldwide. The agency finally granted the request in 2011.
When I asked Julie Wood at GE Appliances why the company wasn’t now advertising the environmental benefit of its climate-friendly refrigerator models, she said she didn’t think there would be much interest.
Baker administration ‘very pleased’ with climate change bill
With few options, top aide embraces Legislature’s amended proposal
By Bruce Mohl, CommonWealth Magazine
March 18, 2021
WITH BOTH BRANCHES of the Legislature approving climate change legislation by veto-proof majorities, the Baker administration on Thursday declared victory and signaled that the governor will sign the bill into law.
“The governor and I are very pleased the Legislature adopted the vast majority of our amendments,” said Katie Theoharides, the governor’s secretary of energy and environmental affairs.
She said she couldn’t definitively say the governor will sign the bill until it actually reaches his desk and he can see it in its final form, but she signaled that was likely. “We are very pleased by the inclusion of key amendments as well as technical changes,” she said.
Baker has little running room on the climate change bill. His only options are to sign the bill into law or veto it, and vetoing it would trigger overrides in the overwhelmingly Democratic Legislature that could hurt him politically.
Baker “reluctantly” vetoed the climate change legislation passed by the Legislature at the end of the last session, saying he was boxed in by the calendar, which allowed him to only veto it or sign it into law because the bill reached his desk after the Legislature had adjourned. The Legislature responded by passing the exact same bill again in the current session; Baker sent it back in February with a series of amendments.
Between the original veto message and the filing of the amendments, Baker’s tone changed dramatically. In the veto message, Baker was defiant and dismissive, insisting the Legislature’s goal of reducing emissions in 2030 50 percent below 1990 levels was too radical and would end up unnecessarily costing Massachusetts residents an extra $6 billion. He also objected to binding interim emission goals for six industry subsectors and raised questions about a proposed municipal energy code and a series of other provisions.
When he sent the bill back with amendments in February, Baker dropped his objections to some provisions and sought to compromise on others. On the 50 percent emissions reduction goal, for example, Baker suggested a target of somewhere between 45 and 50 percent with the administration setting the final goal. He also urged that goals for industry subsectors be used as planning tools rather than binding requirements.
The Senate passed a revised bill on Monday by a 39-1 margin and the House passed it 146-13 on Thursday. Sen. Michael Barrett of Lexington, the Senate’s point person on climate change, said the bill reflected a number of technical changes sought by the governor but didn’t budge on the major provisions in the Legislature’s original bill.
» Read article
As Oil Demand Rebounds, Nations Will Need to Make Big Changes to Meet Paris Goals, Report Says
Covid-19 decreased oil demand by almost 9 percent last year, according to the International Energy Agency. But it could surpass pre-pandemic levels within a few years.
By Nicholas Kusnetz, Inside Climate News
March 18, 2021
Global oil demand is expected to grow steadily over the next five years and quickly surge past pre-pandemic levels, a path that could put climate goals out of reach, according to the International Energy Agency.
In a report released Wednesday, the agency said that while the pandemic will have lasting effects on the world’s oil consumption, governments have to act immediately to set the global energy system on a more sustainable path.
Oil demand needs to fall by about 3 million barrels per day below 2019 levels by the middle of the decade to meet the goals of the Paris climate agreement, the report said. But on the current trajectory, consumption is instead set to increase by 3.5 million barrels per day.
“Achieving an orderly transition away from oil is essential to meet climate goals, but it will require major policy changes from governments, as well as accelerated behavioral changes,” said Fatih Birol, the IEA’s executive director. “Without that, global oil demand is set to increase every year between now and 2026.”
While Covid-19 sent oil demand plummeting last year by nearly 9 percent, the report said demand is set to surpass pre-pandemic levels by 2023. Nearly all that growth will come from developing and emerging economies, particularly in Asia, and the bulk will come not from transportation but from petrochemicals used to make plastics.
The agency, made up of 30 member countries including the United States, stressed that the future is not preordained. But the report also underscored the huge policy and other changes that will be needed—including faster adoption of electric vehicles and a doubling of plastics recycling rates—to meet the Paris Agreement goal of limiting warming to well below 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit (2 degrees Celsius).
» Read article
» Read the International Energy Agency report
World’s coastal cities face risk from land and sea
As the tides rise ever higher, the world’s coastal cities carry on sinking. It’s a recipe for civic catastrophe.
By Tim Radford, Climate News Network
March 15, 2021
Citizens of many of the world’s coastal cities have even more to fear from rising tides. As ocean levels swell, in response to rising temperatures and melting glaciers, the land on which those cities are built is sinking.
This means that although, worldwide, oceans are now 2.6mm higher every year in response to climate change, many citizens of some of the world’s great delta cities face the risk of an average sea level rise of up to almost 10mm a year. Both the rising waters and the sinking city streets are ultimately a consequence of human actions.
Humans have not only burned fossil fuels to alter the planet’s atmosphere and raise global temperatures, they have also pumped water from the ground below the cities. They have raised massive structures on riverine sediments; they have pumped oil and gas from offshore, and they have dammed rivers to slow the flow of new sediments.
And because of such steps, some of the world’s great cities have been steadily going downhill. Tokyo in Japan has subsided by four metres in the course of the 20th century. Shanghai in China, Bangkok in Thailand, New Orleans in the US and Djakarta on the island of Java in Indonesia have all sunk by between two and three metres in the last 100 years.
Now a new study in the journal Nature Climate Change has found that 58% of the world’s coastal citizens live on soil and bedrock that is collapsing beneath their feet. Fewer than 1% are settled on terrain that is uplifting. Most are exposed to possible relative sea level rises of between 7.8mm and 9.9mm a year.
» Read article
» Read the Nature Climate Change study
Good vibrations: bladeless turbines could bring wind power to your home
‘Skybrators’ generate clean energy without environmental impact of large windfarms, say green pioneers
By Jillian Ambrose, The Guardian
March 16, 2021
The giant windfarms that line hills and coastlines are not the only way to harness the power of the wind, say green energy pioneers who plan to reinvent wind power by forgoing the need for turbine towers, blades – and even wind.
“We are not against traditional windfarms,” says David Yáñez, the inventor of Vortex Bladeless. His six-person startup, based just outside Madrid, has pioneered a turbine design that can harness energy from winds without the sweeping white blades considered synonymous with wind power.
The design recently won the approval of Norway’s state energy company, Equinor, which named Vortex on a list of the 10 most exciting startups in the energy sector. Equinor will also offer the startup development support through its tech accelerator programme.
The bladeless turbines stand at 3 metres high, a curve-topped cylinder fixed vertically with an elastic rod. To the untrained eye it appears to waggle back and forth, not unlike a car dashboard toy. In reality, it is designed to oscillate within the wind range and generate electricity from the vibration.
It has already raised eyebrows on the forum site Reddit, where the turbine was likened to a giant vibrating sex toy, or “skybrator”. The unmistakably phallic design attracted more than 94,000 ratings and 3,500 comments on the site. The top rated comment suggested a similar device might be found in your mother’s dresser drawer. It received 20,000 positive ratings from Reddit users.
» Read article
New York utility Con Edison recognises value of home energy storage with new virtual power plant
By Andy Colthorpe, Energy Storage News
March 17, 2021
The CEO of US virtual power plant provider Swell Energy has said that New York utility company Con Edison has been “very progressive” in recognising the value that aggregated home battery systems paired with solar can offer.
Swell Energy’s Suleman Khan was among a handful of staff that launched what later became known as Tesla Energy in 2015. Having taken responsibility at Tesla for pricing up the company’s Powerwall residential storage product, he now heads up a company that takes storage systems including Powerwalls and aggregates them into virtual power plants by combining their capacity and capabilities.
Swell Energy currently has under contract 300MWh of virtual power plant agreements in territories including Hawaii and California, having raised US$450 million in project financing, which Khan said represents about 14,000 homes’ worth of battery storage. The company’s business model is essentially based around selling homeowners batteries with or without solar at a discounted price, after agreeing local capacity contracts with utilities that help them reduce aggregate load in specific areas, the “surgical value of behind-the-meter storage” as he calls it.
“We ended up, from the business development standpoint approaching utilities and saying: ‘look, here’s your customer base, here’s your aggregate load. If you were to add storage to this portion of the customer base, you would really take your aggregate load down in periods where you want it to be down.’ We show them precisely how certain loads can be taken down on certain circuits in a surgical manner, as opposed to just a massive battery farm in the middle of the desert.”
» Read article
New age of sail looks to slash massive maritime carbon emissions
By Andrew Willner, Mongabay
March 15, 2021
Despite the present dominance of fossil-fueled cargo ships, it’s well understood by industry insiders that the current maritime logistics system is both aging and fragile.
Fossil fuel transport today is up against a grim carbon reality: if ocean shipping were a country, it would be the sixth-largest carbon emitter, releasing more CO2 annually than Germany. International shipping accounts for about 2.2% of all global greenhouse gas emissions, according to the U.N. International Maritime Organization’s most recent data.
This annual surge of atmospheric carbon released by ocean going ships not only worsens climate change — one of nine scientifically defined planetary boundaries (PBs) we now risk overshooting — it also contributes to ocean acidification (a second planetary boundary) which is beginning to seriously impact biodiversity (a third PB). And add to that significant chemical pollution (a fourth planetary boundary) that is emitted from ship smokestacks.
All of these planetary boundaries interrelate and influence one another (negatively and positively): for example, reducing black carbon (or soot), the fine particulate matter emitted from fossil fueled oceangoing vessels could slow global warming somewhat, buying time to implement further steps to reduce carbon emissions.
Another problem with today’s vessels: when cargo ships dock, they use auxiliary engines that generate SOx, NOx, CO2 and particulate discharges, while also creating noxious noise and vibrations. (Innovators are already solving this problem with cold ironing, providing shoreside electrical power to ship berths, allowing main and auxiliary engines to be shut down.)
Today’s cargo industry is plagued not only by environmental issues, but by a difficult logistical and economic problem: its current fleet of fossil-fueled container ships are mostly behemoths — with immense carrying capacities. However, the “overcapacity” of these giant ships leaves them without the nimbleness to adapt to unexpected shifts in global supply and demand; the world’s ports and specialized markets could likely be better served, say experts, by smaller, far more fuel-efficient cargo ships.
The current sea cargo system — reliant upon high-priced carbon-based fuels and unstable energy markets; interwoven inextricably into long-distance, globalized world trade; and designed for just-in-time delivery that requires precisely scheduled shipments — is increasingly vulnerable to the vagaries of fossil fuel shortages, price shocks and surges, as well as geopolitical conflict and volatility in the Middle East, Venezuela and elsewhere.
» Read article
The Battle of Thacker Pass
Electric cars require a lot of lithium. A showdown in Nevada shows that getting it won’t be easy.
By Maddie Stone, Grist
March 12, 2021
When Edward Bartell first learned that a lithium mine might be moving into his remote corner of northern Nevada, the longtime cattle rancher wasn’t upset.
“I was actually kind of excited about it,” Bartell said. He knew that lithium is a key metal used in batteries for electric vehicles and the power grid, and he knew the United States is going to need a lot of it to transition off fossil fuels.
But as Bartell started learning more about the proposed Thacker Pass mine — which would be the second, and by far the largest, lithium mine in the United States — he grew increasingly worried about its impacts on his ranching business and nearby ecosystems. In spite of the numerous concerns Bartell and others raised during a comment period in which the government solicited opinions about the proposed mine project from members of the public, Thacker Pass received speedy review and was approved by the Bureau of Land Management, or BLM, on January 15, the Trump administration’s final Friday in office. Construction of mining facilities and “pre-stripping” to expose lithium-rich ores could begin later this year.
Bartell is now suing the federal government to try to stop that from happening.
» Read article
Will the Race for Electric Vehicles Endanger the Earth’s Most Sensitive Ecosystem?
Materials needed to make the batteries for electric cars and other clean technology is driving interest in deep-seabed mining, and scientists fear the cost to the ocean will be steep.
By Tara Lohan, The Revelator
March 10, 2021
From 2010 to 2019 the number of EVs on the road rose from 17,000 to 7.2 million. And that number could jump to 250 million by 2030, according to an estimate from the International Energy Agency.
The growing demand for electric vehicles is good news for limiting climate emissions from the transportation sector, but EVs still come with environmental costs. Of particular concern is the materials needed to make the ever-important batteries, some of which are already projected to be in short supply.
“Climate change is our greatest and most pressing challenge, but there are some perilous pathways to be aware of as we build out the infrastructure that gets us to a new low-carbon paradigm,” says Douglas McCauley, a professor and director of the Benioff Ocean Initiative at the University of California Santa Barbara.
One of those perilous pathways, he says, is mining the seafloor to extract minerals like cobalt and nickel that are widely used for EV batteries. Extraction of these materials has thus far been limited to land, but international regulations for mining the deep seabed far offshore are in development.
“There’s alignment on the need to go as fast as we can with low-carbon infrastructure to beat climate change and electrification will play a big part in that,” he says. “But the idea that we need to mine the oceans in order to do that is, I think, a very false dichotomy.”
As pressure mounts to claim terrestrial minerals, commercial interest is growing to extract resources from the deep seabed, where there’s an abundance of metals like copper, cobalt, nickel, manganese, lead and lithium. Investors already expect profits: One deep-sea mining company recently announced a plan to go public after merging with an investment group, creating a corporation with an expected $2.9 billion market value.
But along with that focus comes increased warnings about the damage such extraction could do to ocean health, and whether the sacrifice is even necessary.
McCauley hopes that a combination of advances will help take the pressure off sensitive ecosystems and that we don’t rush into mining the seabed for short-term enrichment when better alternatives are on the horizon.
“One of my greatest fears is that we may start ocean mining because it’s profitable for just a handful of years, and then we nail it with the next gen battery or we get good at doing low-cost e-waste recycling,” he says. “And then we’ve done irreversible damage in the oceans for three years of profit.”
» Read article
How to Clean Up Steel? Bacteria, Hydrogen and a Lot of Cash.
With climate concerns growing, steel companies face an inevitable crunch. ArcelorMittal sees solutions, but the costs are likely to run into tens of billions of dollars in Europe alone.
By Stanley Reed, New York Times
March 17, 2021
Few materials are more essential than steel, yet steel mills are among the leading polluters. They burn coke, a derivative of coal, and belch millions of tons of greenhouse gases. Roughly two tons of carbon dioxide rises into the atmosphere for every ton of steel made using blast furnaces.
With climate concerns growing, a crunch appears inevitable for these companies. Carbon taxes are rising, and investors are wary of putting their money into businesses that could be regulated out of existence.
None of this has been lost on the giant steel maker ArcelorMittal.
The company is spending 325 million euros (about $390 million) on pilot programs that include making steel with hydrogen and using bacteria to turn carbon dioxide into useful chemicals. The amount is less than 1 percent of the company’s 2020 revenue. But [Aditya Mittal, 44, who recently succeeded his father as chief executive], who had been ArcelorMittal’s chief financial officer, said the company had greater technical resources and global scale than most rivals and was well positioned to lead the cleanup.
“We can now imagine that it is possible to make steel without carbon emissions,” he said.
But the future costs of converting a string of blast furnaces into climate-friendly operations are likely to run into tens of billions in Europe alone, the company says.
In recent years, the oil and gas industry has come under pressure from governments embracing increasingly ambitious climate goals. One result is greatly expanded investments in renewable energy. Now, many see the regulatory focus turning to the steel industry and other heavy polluters.
» Read article
CARBON CAPTURE & SEQUESTRATION
Two European companies are mapping a future service for direct air capture to sequestration of CO2
By Jonathan Shieber, Tech Crunch
March 9, 2021
The Swiss-based, venture capital-backed, direct air capture technology developer Climeworks is partnering with a joint venture between the government of Norway and massive European energy companies to map the pathway for a business that could provide not only the direct capture of carbon dioxide emissions from air, but the underground sequestration and storage of those emissions.
The deal could pave the way for a new business that would offer carbon capture and sequestration services to commercial enterprises around the world, if the joint venture between Climeworks and the newly formed Northern Lights company is successful. It would mean the realization of a full-chain carbon dioxide removal service that the two companies called a necessary component of the efforts to reverse global climate change.
Northern Lights was incorporated in March as a joint venture between Equinor, Shell and Total to provide processing, transportation and underground sequestration services for captured carbon dioxide emissions. The business is one of the lynchpins in the Norwegian government’s efforts to capture and store carbon emissions safely underground under a plan called The Longship Project.
“There is growing awareness of the need to build capacity to remove CO2 from the atmosphere to achieve net zero by 2050. We are enthusiastic about this collaboration with Climeworks. Combined with safe and permanent storage, direct air capture has the potential to get the carbon cycle back in balance,” said Børre Jacobsen, the managing director of Northern Lights, in a statement.
» Read article
» Read about the Longship Project
This Icelandic Startup Is Turning Carbon Dioxide Into Stone
By Savannah Hasty, EcoWatch
March 14, 2021
Carbon emissions are the leading cause forcing the climate crisis today. These emissions account for more than 60% of man-made global warming, as well as other conditions related to climate crisis such as ocean acidification and weather pattern disruptions. However, a new solution to these impending carbon catastrophes has been discovered by Icelandic startup Carbfix, which is turning carbon dioxide into stone.
Carbfix offers a plan for reaching Paris agreement goals for limiting anthropogenic warming using a process known as carbon capture and storage (CCS). The project, founded in 2007 by Reykjavik Energy and several research institutions (now owned by Reykjavik Energy), aims to capture CO2 from industrial sites, dissolve it in water, and then inject it into the ground where it turns to rock. The process only takes two years, effectively accelerating the process of natural carbon storage to meet increasing carbon emissions throughout the developed world.
Carbfix’s proprietary technology “captures” the carbon dioxide from an industrial facility before it enters the atmosphere, effectively bringing the facility’s emissions to zero. They are also partnering with a Swiss company, Climeworks, to perform what is called carbon capture, which withdraws the CO2 from surrounding air. This can reduce a company’s net carbon footprint, as well as negate previously unaddressed carbon emissions.
» Read article
PEAKING POWER PLANTS
Report: These rarely used, dirty power plants could be cheaply replaced by batteries
By Rachel Ramirez, Grist
June 11, 2020
As air conditioning units begin to hum with summer’s arrival, electricity use surges. Across the U.S., that demand is met by more than 1,000 so-called peaker power plants, which typically only run during infrequent periods of peak energy demand. They tend to be expensive, inefficient, and disproportionately located in low-income neighborhoods of color, where they emit large amounts of carbon dioxide and harmful pollutants.
For all these reasons, environmental advocates consider peaker plants a high priority for retirement and replacement. A sweeping analysis released last month by researchers at the nonprofit Physicians, Scientists, and Engineers for Health Energy (PSE) studied nine states to identify which peaker plants have the greatest potential to be replaced by clean energy alternatives, based on their operational features and the characteristics of local electricity grids, as well as the health, environmental, and equity benefits of retiring the plants. All of these factors combined present unique opportunities to replace some of the electricity sector’s most polluting facilities in Arizona, California, Florida, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, and New York.
The feasibility of these opportunities is largely the result of recent breakthroughs in energy storage, particularly battery storage. Energy storage is essentially any system used to store electricity generated at one point in time for use at another time. The most familiar type of energy storage is battery storage, in which the electricity generated by a solar panel system during the day, for example, could be stored and then later supplied once the sun sets.
“Energy storage is now competitive with peaker power plants,” said Elena Krieger, PSE’s director of research. “We’re sort of at that economic turning point where that’s the opportunity, but ideally that could set a precedent for how we think about adopting clean energy across the grid as a whole — so that we bring on these clean resources and not only reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but prioritize health, prioritize resilience, and prioritize equitable access.”
» Read article
» Read report – The Fossil Fuel End Game (March 2021)
» Read report – Dirty Energy, Big Money (May 2020)
» Join BEAT’s Put Peakers in the Past coalition!
FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY
Keeping It All In the Ground?
Exploring legal options for congressional and executive actions to terminate existing fossil fuel leases on federal lands.
By Eric Biber, Legal Planet
March 11, 2021
The Biden Administration has set aggressive goals for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from the United States. And a necessary component for any long-term plan to address greenhouse gas emissions from the United States is reducing and ultimately eliminating the emissions from fossil fuels produced on federal lands.
Why is this such a critical issue? Almost half of the coal mined in the United States, about a quarter of the oil, and around one-sixth of the natural gas is produced from leasing federal lands to private parties for coal, oil, and gas development. Without addressing federal fossil fuel leasing, the United States would not be able to meet the commitment of the Paris Accord to reduce greenhouse gas emissions enough to avoid more than two degrees Celsius in global temperature increases.
The Biden transition team indicated that they were looking at ending new fossil fuel leasing on federal lands – particularly coal – to help meet climate goals. On Biden’s first day in office, the administration set a 60-day pause on leasing and permitting, and there is talk of a full moratorium. But that just addresses new leases. What about the existing leases on federal lands, which already lock in substantial emissions and under current leasing systems could produce for decades to come?
Addressing those leases may be crucial for the new Administration. To help answer this open question, we undertook a comprehensive assessment of the legal capacity of the federal government to end existing fossil fuel leases.
Of course, just because something can be legally done doesn’t mean it should be. For example, there is a fair amount of uncertainty about whether unilateral efforts by a single nation to restrict the production of fossil fuels will significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions, since those unilateral reductions may be offset by imports from other producers around the world, or by substituting one fossil fuel for another. However, our initial review suggests that it is plausible that termination of coal leasing on federal lands in the United States would lead to significant emissions reductions – in part because the global market for coal is not nearly as robust as for oil, and in part because there are good lower-carbon or carbon-free substitutes for many uses of coal (e.g., renewable energy to produce electricity).
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» Read the legal assessment
Energy companies have left Colorado with billions of dollars in oil and gas cleanup
As the state tries to reform its relationship to drilling, an expensive task awaits: plugging nearly 60,000 oil and gas wells.
By Nick Bowlin / High Country News, reprinted in Energy News Network
March 12, 2021
When an oil or gas well reaches the end of its lifespan, it must be plugged. If it isn’t, the well might leak toxic chemicals into groundwater and spew methane, carbon dioxide and other pollutants into the atmosphere for years on end.
But plugging a well is no simple task: Cement must be pumped down into it to block the opening, and the tubes connecting it to tanks or pipelines must be removed, along with all the other onsite equipment. Then the top of the well has to be chopped off near the surface and plugged again, and the area around the rig must be cleaned up.
There are nearly 60,000 unplugged wells in Colorado in need of this treatment — each costing $140,000 on average, according to the Carbon Tracker, a climate think tank, in a new report that analyzes oil and gas permitting data. Plugging this many wells will cost a lot — more than $8 billion, the report found.
Companies that drill wells in Colorado are legally required to pay for plugging them. They do so in the form of bonds, which the state can call on to pay for the plugging. But as it stands today, Colorado has only about $185 million from industry — just 2% of the estimated cleanup bill, according to the new study. The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) assumes an average cost of $82,500 per well — lower than the Carbon Tracker’s figure, which factors in issues like well depth. But even using the state’s more conservative number, the overall cleanup would cost nearly $5 billion, of which the money currently available from energy companies would cover less than 5%.
This situation is the product of more than 150 years of energy extraction. Now, with the oil and gas industry looking less robust every year and reeling in the wake of the pandemic, the state of Colorado and its people could be on the hook for billions in cleanup costs. Meanwhile, unplugged wells persist as environmental hazards. This spring, Colorado will try to tackle the problem; state energy regulators have been tasked with reforming the policies governing well cleanup and financial commitments from industry.
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LIQUEFIED NATURAL GAS
Biden faces climate clash over LNG
By Lesley Clark and Carlos Anchondo, E&E News
March 8, 2021
The Biden administration has yet to fully delineate its position on liquefied natural gas, prompting cautious optimism from industry but spurring pushback from groups that want to phase out the fuel.
In an interview Friday, Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm acknowledged DOE’s legal responsibility to review proposed LNG export facilities and suggested that could move in step with things like curbing flaring and leaks from gas pipelines (see related story).
LNG shipments are often bound for “countries that would otherwise be using very carbon-intensive fuels,” Granholm said, adding that “it does have the impact of reducing internationally carbon emissions.”
“However, I will say there is an opportunity here, as well, to really start to deploy some [carbon capture, use and storage] technologies with respect to natural gas in the Gulf [of Mexico] and other places that we are siting these facilities for that we are obligated to do under the law,” Granholm said.
The comments highlight a dilemma the Biden administration is facing on LNG: How will the fuel coexist with aggressive climate targets without infuriating a core of the Democratic base? President Biden has vowed to tackle climate change by transitioning to a net-zero-emissions economy by 2050.
It’s currently unclear how Biden might differ on the issue from the previous two administrations. President Obama got many LNG export projects off the ground, and both Trump administration Energy secretaries were enthusiastic supporters. Former Energy Secretary Rick Perry’s DOE dubbed it “freedom gas” at one point, boasting that it provided U.S. allies with a cleaner source of energy.
Biden officials have, however, made comments that mirror those from industry and some analysts about the role LNG exports can play in offsetting the continued growth of coal, particularly in China and Southeast Asia.
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Despite his claims, science is not on Vic Gatto’s side
Proponent of biomass power plant is making up ‘facts’
By Mary S. Booth, CommonWealth Magazine | Opinion
March 18, 2021
VIC GATTO has been a tireless campaigner for the 42-megawatt biomass power plant in East Springfield that his company wants to build over widespread community opposition. But in his effort to ostensibly dispel “public misinformation” about the proposed Palmer Renewable Energy plant (“Biomass Plant COO Says Science is on His Side,” Feb. 27, 2021), he is simply blowing more smoke.
We’ll grant Gatto’s complaint that the permitting process, which began in 2008, has been lengthy, complex, and litigious. This is testament to how bitterly contested this proposal has been from the beginning. But just because this plant has a permit does not make it benign.
Let’s look at the facts. According to its 2011 operating permit from the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, the Palmer biomass plant will burn nearly a ton of green wood chips per minute around the clock, requiring a smokestack more than 20 stories high to help disperse the pollution.
Even with “state of the art” pollution controls, the plant will emit more than 200 tons of harmful air pollutants each year, including fine particulate matter, nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, volatile organic chemicals, and heavy metals such as mercury and lead. And that’s assuming the plant, once built, is able to comply with its permit restrictions. Around the country, the performance of biomass plants has been less than stellar, with frequent cases of air and water permit violations, fires, and other environmental hazards.
Gatto’s dismissive comments about the “very slight” air quality impacts of his project are particularly insensitive to the legitimate concerns of the Springfield community. The air permit allows the Palmer biomass plant to release more than 33 tons of fine particulate pollution per year, and emissions from increased truck traffic and “fugitive” emissions from wood chip and ash storage at the site will add to the ground-level air pollution burden. Since the plant was proposed, we’ve learned more about the cumulative impacts of air pollution, which include asthma, heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, low birth weight, dementia, and now, increased impacts and deaths from COVID-19.
These impacts are likely to be particularly acute in an overburdened environmental justice community like Springfield, where state environmental health tracking data show that residents already suffer from disproportionately high rates of asthma and heart attack hospitalizations, poor air quality, and inadequate access to health care. Attorney General Maura Healey’s office has written that “the proposed biomass facility in Springfield would jeopardize the health of an environmental community already deemed the nation’s ‘asthma capital.’”
In addition to denying the health risks, Gatto continues to make unsubstantiated claims about the climate benefits of his project, claiming that a state-sponsored study concludes that burning “waste” wood such as tree trimmings will result in less greenhouse gas pollution compared to chipping it and “allowing it to decompose to methane on the ground.”
We could not find this statement anywhere in the studies Gatto cited — probably because it’s not what the science says. Burning a ton of green wood releases about a ton of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere instantaneously. That same ton of wood, if left to decompose on the forest floor, would gradually emit carbon dioxide over a span of 10-25 years, returning some of the carbon to the soil and forest ecosystem. Methane — a potent climate-warming gas — is only created when oxygen is not available. In reality, a much more likely source of methane from rotting wood will be the 30-foot high, 5,000-ton wood chip fuel pile at the plant.
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Countries Tried to Curb Trade in Plastic Waste. The U.S. Is Shipping More.
Data shows that American exporters continue to ship plastic waste overseas, often to poorer countries, even though most of the world has agreed to not accept it.
By Hiroko Tabuchi and Michael Corkery, New York Times
March 12, 2021
When more than 180 nations agreed last year to place strict limits on exports of plastic waste from richer countries to poorer ones, the move was seen as a major victory in the fight against plastic pollution.
But new trade data for January, the first month that the agreement took effect, shows that American exports of plastic scrap to poorer countries have barely changed, and overall scrap plastics exports rose, which environmental watchdog groups say is evidence that exporters are ignoring the new rules.
The American companies seem to be relying on a remarkable interpretation of the new rules: Even though it’s now illegal for most countries to accept all but the purest forms of plastic scrap from the United States, there’s nothing that prevents the United States from sending the waste. The main reason: the United States is one of the few countries in the world that didn’t ratify the global ban.
“This is our first hard evidence that nobody seems to be paying attention to the international law,” said Jim Puckett, executive director of the Basel Action Network, a nonprofit group that lobbies against the plastic waste trade. “As soon as the shipments get on the high seas, it’s considered illegal trafficking. And the rest of the world has to deal with it.”
The scrap industry says that many of the exports are quite likely compliant with the new rules and that the increase in January reflects growing global demand for plastic to recycle, and use as inputs for new products. Recent history, however, shows that a large amount of plastic scrap exported from the United States does not get recycled but ends up as waste, a reality that was the impetus for the new rules.
The new rules were adopted in 2019 by most of the world’s countries, although the United States isn’t among them, under a framework known as the Basel Convention. Underlying the change was the need to stem the flow of waste from America, and other wealthier nations, to poorer ones.
Though many American communities dutifully collect plastic for recycling, much of the scrap has been sent overseas, where it frequently ends up in landfills, or in rivers, streams and the ocean. China, which once accepted the bulk of that waste, in 2018 banned all plastic scrap shipments, declaring that it no longer wanted to be the “world’s garbage dump.”
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