01 December 2009

Rajendra Pachauri on Air Capture

Rajendra Pachauri, head of the "policy neutral" IPCC, has come out in support of air capture of carbon dioxide:

Drastic cuts in carbon emissions may not be sufficient to avoid the worst ravages of global warming and the world will need to suck carbon from the atmosphere to avert permanent damage to the climate, according to a leading world authority on climate science.

In an interview with The Times, Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), proposed that new techniques should be applied to help to mop up atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide that have been pumped into the atmosphere from the burning of fossil fuels.

“There are enough technologies in existence to allow for mitigation,” he said. “At some point we will have to cross over and start sucking some of those gases out of the atmosphere.”

Speaking days before the start of the UN climate summit in Copenhagen, Dr Pachauri, who collected the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of the IPCC with Al Gore, said that such a strategy needed to be pursued as a matter of urgency.

Since the IPCC did not discuss air capture, I wonder where this view comes from. Maybe he has been reading the latest issue of Nature Geoscience.


  1. Somewhat off topic, but…

    Has the topic of Innowattech’s piezoelectric means of generating electricity ever been discussed here?

    The company claims a payback period of “6-12 years, depending on the volume of traffic on the site”.

    Does anybody have any insights into the feasibility and/or cost effectiveness of this technology (or, any other insights or comments)?

    P.S.) I am disappointed to see The Times (just like the Guardian) inaccurately describe Pachauri as a “scientist”. As I previously documented, Pachauri is an Industrial Engineer.

  2. Roger,
    I apologize if these are stupid questions, but why is the focus only on CO2 when CH4 is a much more effective GHG?

    I have heard that the US beef and dairy cattle industries are huge sources of CH4. Why is this not discussed?

    Does air capture technology include some form of CH4 absorbant diaper to be worn by feedlot cattle?

  3. Our grandchildren will look back on us as idiots. Each molecule of CO2 that is captured requires a molecule of nitrogen or drain-cleaner-activated oxygen (just base, actually, like was the life saving hack in the story of Apollo 13). You end up with the least useful, lowest energy landfill crap imaginable. CO2 is indeed highly reactive. Bench chemists need to bleed argon or nitrogen (poor man's argon that floats instead of sinks) into their flasks to stop strong reactants from being destroyed by oxygen or CO2. But WHY ON EARTH WOULD YOU WANT TO DESTROY PLANT FOOD INSTEAD OF USING PLANTS TO DO THAT? Don't design gray trees. Re-design real ones!

  4. -4-edaniel,

    Good point!

    I guess wind turbines are not merely death factories for birds and bats. Just wait until a few of the faithful crash their so-called Smart Cars into one of those wind turbine towers (or CO2 capture towers)!

    Click here for a before and after of a so-called Smart Car in another mismatch.

    The piezoelectric option mentioned in my first comment seems intriguing. But, that innovation also raises concerns over government ownership. Of course, toll tag technology long ago eliminated any excuse as to why roads should be owned, operated and maintained by governments.

  5. I just read an article in the British newspaper The Guardian stating that recent research shows that 50 percent of global warming is due to non-CO2 pollutants, among them black carbon. Why don't we focus on eliminating black carbon rather than CO2? It is much easier to remove than CO2, will have an almost immediate impact, and has many other health related benefits.

  6. Mike #2,

    Methane is a more effective greenhouse gas on a weight basis. However, there is currently so little methane in the atmosphere that it is nowhere near as effective as CO2 on a concentration ratio basis. That is, if methane were to double in concentration, the forcing would be much less than for doubling CO2. Similarly, reducing methane by half would cause a small reduction in forcing.

    Here are the numbers calculated using MODTRAN using the 1976 standard atmosphere profile, 100 km looking down:
    ppmv forcing(W/m2)
    0.85 0.533
    1.70 0.000
    3.40 -0.691

    For comparison, the forcing from increasing CO2 from the pre-industrial level of 280 to 375 ppmv
    is -1.193 W/m2.

    Note that these forcings are not calculated the same way as IPCC forcings but should be proportional. Negative forcing leads to surface warming.

    Global average temperature seems to me to have a larger effect on atmospheric methane concentration than emission from leaky refineries or agriculture.

  7. Roger, the article was very vague and rambling and gives no transcript or quotes of the supposed interview. It is not entirely clear what Pachauri feels about the balance of different mitigation measures, and certainly not so from that article. Viz, this P from it:

    "Dr Pachauri raised the prospect of so-called geo-engineering, whereby carbon dioxide is actively stripped from the atmosphere. A range of techniques have been proposed including seeding artificial clouds over oceans to reflect sunlight back into space, sowing the oceans with iron ore to boost plankton growth and using carbon capture and storage technology to fix emissions from power stations."

    The author is discussing geo-engineering possibilities in general, not CO2 management in particular, and doesn't even seem to realize that the two are not in fact the same thing. Typical random shotgum news article trying to cover way to many topics in way too little space and hence, confused.

  8. I know very little about very little, but I find it interesting to contrast what would seem to be Pachauri's call for geoengineering with the Superfreakonomics call for geoengineering.