How micro algae can help solve the Ghg emissions problem
Algae pond - photo credit ChadoNihi Free Images - Pixabay
Welcome to the seventeenth edition of my weekly blog where I take a closer look at the policies adopted by individual countries in their efforts to meet the requirements of the Paris Agreement. Particular attention is paid to the role that Carbon Capture, Utilisation, and Storage (CCUS) research and technologies are playing in the drive to meet these requirements.
This week I explain what algae cultivation is, the different methods of cultivation, and how it can be used to generate biofuels from captured CO2 emissions. I also look at innovative algae cultivation companies such as Pond Technologies and Aljadix and the technologies they are using.
A good starting in explaining algae cultivation is first, to remind ourselves what photosynthesis is. Photosynthesis is a natural, two cycle process where green plants and some bacterias convert the energy created by light with carbon dioxide into a usable chemical energy in the form of a sugar, otherwise known as glucose. The first cycle is known as the light cycle, where sunlight is changed into a chemical energy. During the second cycle, called the Calvin cycle, the CO2 is turned into glucose.
Algae cultivation process
Similarly to plants, algae use sunlight for the process of photosynthesis. The microalgae convert sunlight into chemical energy. Using solvents or sound waves, scientists can breakdown the cell structure of the algae in order to extract oil. This oil is further processed at a biorefinery into biofuel. In the future, this process could be performed at a traditional oil refinery. According to the US department of energy, algae cultivation has the potential to produce up to 60 times more biofuel per acre than land-based plants such as sugar beet and sugar cane.
Methods of algae cultivation
Approximately 100,000 different strains of algae exist in saltwater, fresh water, and waste water. There are two main methods for the cultivation of algae:
Open ponds can form naturally(lakes, ponds and lagoons etc.) or artificially (man-made ponds and containers). Algae cultivation occurs in ponds known as raceways where algae, water, and nutrients navigate around a shallow water circuit that allows the sunlight to fully penetrate the algae. Closed ponds are a variation on open ponds where the raceway is cover by a greenhouse. This is a more efficient means of cultivation as CO2 is less likely to emit during the process. Spirulina is typically cultivated in a closed pond system.
Photobioreactors are closed equipment as opposed to a closed system. This is a controlled environment where algae grow more quickly than ponds as carbon dioxide, water supply, light, temperature levels are better controlled. Photobioreactors are more efficient in the use of space and in production levels, however, they are more expensive to install.
Pond Technologies (@Pond_Tech)
Pond Technologies are situated in Markham, Canada and as mentioned before are semi-finalists in the NRG COSIA Xprize competition. In association with Natural Resources Council (NRC) Canada, they have a pilot project in place at St Mary’s Cement an hour West of Markham where they use a photobioreactor on site. The Co2 generated at the cement plant is used as a ‘raw material’ for the photobioreactor. The photobioreactor is located in a covered room on site that uses flashing LED lights to mimic the day/night light cycles which facilitate the rapid growth of Algae. Such photobioreactors can be used at any heavy industry where smoke stacks are used such as Oil & Gas, aluminum smelters, power plants etc.
Aljadix based in Switzerland is also an NRG COSIA Xprixe semi-finalist.Their offering is a carbon negative biofuel made on a sea surface platform 200m long by 100m wide. It is an eco-friendly concept as no land of fresh water space is used. 1 km2 of microalgae of production can generate up to 10 million litres of biodiesel and 1,000 tonnes of an inert carbon hydochar per year, making it a carbon negative enteprise.
Although algae cultivation is in its relative infancy as a CCUS technology, it’s potential is very obvious for all to see. For example, if you can generate 60 times more biofuel per acre versus planted based biofuels then you stand to make a dramatic saving on land use overall. Also, the fact that algae cultivation can be carbon negative makes this process all the more enticing and you can construct a pond or photobioreactor on site at an oil refinery, thus saving on transportation costs relating to captured carbon. Algae cultivation is an exciting technology and one to watch.
Next week’s blog will profile Finland and their efforts to meet their CO2 emissions reduction targets.
How coal impacts the Australian environment and economy
Ayers Rock, Uluru, Australia - photo credit - Mads Herskind, http://unsplash.io
Welcome to the sixteenth edition of my weekly blog where I take a closer look at the policies adopted by individual countries in their efforts to meet the requirements of the Paris Agreement. Particular attention is paid to the role that Carbon Capture, Utilisation, and Storage (CCUS) research and technologies are playing in the drive to meet these requirements.
After taking a diversion last week, examining the ‘dirty dozen’ countries I am returning my focus this week to an individual country, Australia. Australia signed the Paris Agreement on the 22nd of April 2016 and brought it into force on the 9th of December 2016.
Australia was the thirteenth highest emitting nation of CO2 into the atmosphere based on data submitted to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) ahead of COP21 in December 2015.
According to the Australian Department of Environment statistics for 2015, Australia’s largest greenhouse gas emitters by sector are stationary energy (53%), transport (18%) and agriculture (13%), with electricity /heat accounting for 68% of the energy contribution.
Electricity Generation and Coal Production
Australian Energy Statistics for 2014-15 published by the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science, show that 65% of electricity generation came from coal-fired plants. Not only is coal used for domestic purposes, Australia was the largest exporter of coal globally in 2015-16, contributing 388 million tonnes of coal or 89% of total production. The coal industry is worth roughly $40 billion dollars to the Australian economy.
India, Japan, China, and South Korea are Australia’s biggest markets for metallurgical coal at 23%, 22%, 20%, and 11% of all metallurgical coal exports sent to those markets or 76% in aggregate. In relation to thermal coal production, 41%, 19% and 15% of 2015-16 exports from Australia were sent to Japan, South Korea, and China respectively. Those of you who read my blog regularly may remember that all of these countries are major coal consumers. China consumes over 50% of all coal production in the world; India and South Korea are the second and fourth largest consumers.
Carbon Capture Utilisation and Storage (CCUS)
In relation to CCUS, Australia has three large-scale projects at various stages of development. Western Australia’s ‘South West Hub’ project, which is in early development, captures CO2 from a fertiliser producer and a coal-fired power plant at two separate sites south-east of Perth and transfers it by pipeline to the Harvey Region 100km away where it is stored 2 -3 km underground. Initial yearly capacity is expected to be in the region of 2.5 million tonnes with this rising to as much as 6 million tonnes in the coming years.
A second Western Australia project called ‘Gorgon Carbon Dioxide Injection Project’ is currently under construction and expected to be completed in 2017. This project will capture CO2 at the Jansz gas field and transport it by pipeline to Barrow Island where it will be stored 2.3km underground. It is estimated that this project will capture 100 million tonnes of CO2 over its lifecycle and reduce CO2 emissions by 40%.
Lastly, in the Latrobe Valley in Victoria, the ‘CarbonNet Project’ is at an advanced development stage. This project will capture up to 5 million tonnes of carbon per annum from locally based industries and transport it by pipeline 130km to the Gippsland Basin offshore, where it will be stored 1.5km below the seabed.
In addition to these three-large scale projects, Australia has four other notable CCUS projects at various stages of development. Two are completed and capture carbon from coal-fired plants.
There is no doubt that Australia contributes significantly to global production and consumption of coal, however great strides have been made to reduce the environmental impact of this coal production. Nonetheless, Australia will need to diversify its sources of fuel in order to meet Paris Agreement targets. A recent study showed that a surge in energy production from renewables in October 2016 led to an emissions reduction of 3.6 million tonnes for the December quarter, a step in the right direction.
Next week’s blog will study how BioTechnology companies are using captured carbon in algae cultivation.
Who are the dirtiest and why
Basket of eggs - photo credit - Annie Spratt, http://unslpash.io
Welcome to the fifteenth edition of my weekly blog where I take a closer look at the policies adopted by individual countries in their efforts to meet the requirements of the Paris Agreement. Particular attention is paid to the role that Carbon Capture, Utilisation, and Storage (CCUS) research and technologies are playing in the drive to meet these requirements.
This week, I look at the twelve largest emitting nations of CO2 into the atmosphere, to analyse what trends emerge and also to see if there is anything unique to a particular territory. So who are ‘The Dirty Dozen’? They are the emerging global economies known as the ‘BRIC’ nations: Brazil, Russia, India, and China. They are all of North America: Canada, USA, and Mexico. Moving to Europe, industrial nations Germany and UK make the list. Traveling further East, car manufacturing powerhouses Japan and South Korea also feature in the top 12 along with Indonesia.
The combined CO2 emissions of these 12 countries represent roughly 66% of global CO2 emissions. However, these countries only make up 1/8 (12.3%) of the total landmass of the world. It is no surprise to see Russia, Canada, China, USA, Brazil, and India in this list being six of the seven largest countries in the world. Mexico and Indonesia are also in the top 14 largest countries in the world. Japan and Germany, the fifth and sixth highest emitters of CO2, are the 61st and 62nd largest countries respectively, whereas the United Kingdom and South Korea are the 78th and 107th largest.
CO2 emissions per capita
Based on the World Bank’s most up to date data, the United States is the highest emitter of CO2 per head population at 16.4 metric tonnes followed by Canada, Russia, South Korea, Japan and Germany with 13.5, 12.5, 11.8, 9.7 and 9.4 metric tonnes of CO2 per capita. Given that China is the world’s greatest CO2 emitting nation, its CO2 per capita figure of 7.6 metric tonnes is diluted by its population of 1.3 billion.
Source of the emissions
So what do these six nations have in common? Firstly, at least 80% of each of these countries’ CO2 emissions are generated by their energy sectors. Japan has the highest proportion, their energy sector contributing 92% of their CO2 emissions. Examining the issue in more detail, at least 80% of the energy consumed by these countries is sourced from fossil fuels.
Furthermore, at least 58% of emissions in the energy sector of each of these countries comes from two subsections, the energy industry, and transport, both of which are also heavily dependent on fossil fuels. Considering the reliance on fossil fuels, it’s easy to understand how these countries contribute so much to our GhG problem.
If you could persuade these 12 nations to generate energy from renewable sources and power their transport in the same way (i.e. wind and solar energy), CO2 emissions would fall by up to 30% globally and by up to 45% for these 12 countries combined. This would clearly have a significant impact globally. Additionally, if Brazil and Indonesia could be convinced to put a stop to deforestation, this would also greatly boost the charge towards reducing CO2 emissions.
So in summary, a switch from fossil fuels to renewables to generate electricity and fuel transport in these big player nations would have a major impact on reducing CO2 emissions and meeting Paris Agreement targets. Like most things in life, we already know what we need to do, it’s the doing that is the hard part.
Next week’s blog will profile Australia and their efforts to meet their CO2 emissions reduction targets.
Falling forest and palm oil, while the US drops out
Orangutan in the wild in Indonesia - photo credit - Hidde Rensink, http://Unsplash.io
Welcome to the fourteenth edition of my weekly blog where I take a closer look at the policies adopted by individual countries in their efforts to meet the requirements of the Paris Agreement. Particular attention is paid to the role that Carbon Capture, Utilisation, and Storage (CCUS) research and technologies are playing in the drive to meet these requirements.
This week our focus turns to Indonesia who signed the Paris Agreement on the 22nd of April 2016 and brought it into force on the 30th of November 2016.
Indonesia was the Twelveth highest emitting nation of CO2 into the atmosphere based on data submitted to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) ahead of COP21 in December 2015.
According to the World Resources Institute, Indonesia’s largest greenhouse gas emitters by sector are land-use change and forestry (66%), energy (22%) and agriculture (8%), with electricity/heat generation and combustion fuel accounting for 50% of the energy contribution.
Deforestation is by far the most significant contributor to Indonesia’s GHG emissions in the land-use change and forestry sector segment. Deforestation has a two-fold effect on GHG emissions. Firstly, the energy used during this process increases emissions and secondly, given that forests are the primary storer of above ground carbons, their loss means, even more, carbon release into the atmosphere. In 2012 Indonesia’s rate of deforestation overtook that of Brazil’s for the first time despite the fact that Brazil’s rainforest is four times the size of Indonesia’s in land mass.
So what is driving this land-use change? The forests in Indonesia are being replaced by plantations of palm oil. Palm oil is an edible vegetable oil native to Western Africa and red in colour. It is used in the making of several products such as cooking oil, chocolates, chewing gum, lipstick, soap etc. According to Palm Oil Research, Indonesia exported 27 million tonnes of Palm Oil in 2012, this represented 50% of global export. It is estimated that 15 million Indonesians are employed in the Palm Oil industry. This is big business for the country and why millions of acres of rainforest have been chopped down in recent decades.
CCUS in Indonesia
A pilot project has been in operation at Gundih gas field since 2013. The project is backed by Pertamina, the state-owned oil & gas company, and the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources (MERS). Approximately 11,000 tonnes of CO2 are captured from the gas field per year. This is then transported by road to a storage site where it is injected into a disused oil and gas reservoir.
Indonesia’s reliance on the palm oil industry has resulted in the deforestation of millions of hectares of rainforest. With it has come the release of millions of tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere and the relocation of inhabitants from their homes. It has also had a negative impact on the local wildlife such as orangutans. Some work has been done to develop CCUS projects in Indonesia which will help reduce CO2 emissions from the energy sector. However, as long as Indonesia continues to deforest its rainforests it will continue to be one of the highest emitters of CO2 in the world.
Before I sign off for this week, it would be remiss of me not to mention the recent landmark decision by the US government to withdraw from the Paris Accord, a hugely backward step that could significantly compromise their position as a global leader. However, thankfully, every cloud has a silver lining and as of the 3rd of June, the governors of nine states, including New York, California, and Washington have pledged support for the Paris Agreement along with the mayors of over 200 US cities. They have also announced the foundation of the ‘United States Climate Alliance’, a bipartisan body committed to meeting the US’ Paris Agreement targets.
Next week’s blog will feature the ‘dirty dozen’, the 12 highest emitters of CO2 emissions in the world and what common trends we are seeing among them.