First, here is good news. Recent advances in chemistry, agriculture and renewable energy technology now make it profitable to renovate and transform all central power plants into negative emission, power & storage stations. Instead of closing down coal, gas or wood plants due to age, CO2 emissions and competition from solar and wind, they can be turned into utility-scale, renewable energy stations that make clean watts, green hydrogen and synthetic fuels. More, they can profit by removing and keeping CO2 from out of the sky. Solar and wind farms are only zero-emission plants if you don’t count the emissions to build them. They do not actively or directly pull CO2 from air. Carbon dioxide removal (CDR) can and must be profitable or will not happen fast enough to actually help save us.
Now here are a few hard questions for historical context on the present unpleasantnesses. Why fight the good fight for democracy in Ukraine but let it slip away in our own country through criminal neglect? The enemy is identical. Putin and Trump are twin fiends and old friends. What is Attorney General Garland doing or not doing that he should be doing? Then, how do we save our climate without free and fair elections? It looks like if we don’t fight like hell we won’t have a democracy, a climate or a country anymore, as Trump did not admit exactly. Anyway, he’s covered in the highest court of the land beyond all reasonable doubt by the magic cloak of implausible deniability, or so we are told. Worse, he’s stealing the next election by claiming the last, i.e. big lie. How do we save earth’s climate if MAGA fanatics sweep the next two elections?
Speaking of MAGA, one way to make America great again for the first time is to create green jobs for all kinds of Americans, including new immigrants. We mustn’t let these good desperate people get away without exploiting them as future citizens, taxpayers, consumers, workers and community developers. Immigrants are still the life’s blood of our formerly great nation. They too deserve a Green New Deal to retrain them as farmers, foresters and firefighters out west. Irrigating deserts can help cool climate significantly and increase yields of food and biofuel crops, i.e. hemp, that replace fossil fuels and forest fuels directly. Carbon forests need protection and expansion. Besides, except for indigenous Americans, we are a nation of immigrants and their children after all. America can be great again like never before if we unite with native people and new immigrants and all kinds of Americans – white folk too – in support of free and fair elections. Climate justice and civil rights will only come hand in hand. These arguments can blow out the dumb rage of Trumpism and Putinisim at the ballot box, even as Garland fiddles.
Vermont’s Global Warming Solutions Act is all about reducing CO2 emissions but excludes active removal of CO2 from air, perhaps because it is considered too costly, addressed below. Complicating matters, Vermont’s Climate Action Plan was upended after the implosion of the Transportation & Climate Initiative Program, set up to promote electric cars. The Council is now targeting the heating market to reduce emissions by another 500,000 tons by 2025 or so. More would be nice. Renovating Vermont’s wood plants can cover twice that gap and help meet new demand for electric cars and heat pumps. Besides, Vermont is way too dependent on Hydro Quebec, which is not the clean green power it was thought to be. Rotting vegetation emits methane and CO2 into air and methyl mercury into adjacent waterways. Cree fishing villages have suffered terribly for decades.
Ideally, CO2 reduction should come hand in hand with active removal of CO2 from the sky simultaneously and profitably. Recent reports from the IPCC and COP26 say we must begin to remove carbon from the atmosphere by 2030! In other words, reduction without removal is like digging a hole in the sky and filling it again. Both reports bring dire warnings but no new solutions, not already considered and not fast enough. We need more.
This essay covers main points from a ‘CO2 Reuse’ research summary written for the Renewable Nations Institute (RNI), posted under ‘Comments’ on the Council website on Nov. 23, 2021. Arguments are presented for the profitable renovation of central plants — like Vermont’s wood plants and Vermont Yankee (VY) — to make them ‘carbon neutral’ first and then ‘carbon negative’ in two stages well within 10 years. Important developments are reviewed by Robert Service at Science AAAS on CO2 Capture, Tim Wogan at Chem World on producing H2 via water/gas shift method and Ellen Brown, author, “The Cheapest Way to Save the Planet Grows Like a Weed” from Web of Debt Blog, July 30, 2019, on the incredible advantages of hemp biofuels. Over 60 articles, lab reports and links are cited on a) how best to capture CO2 and b) how best to catalyze CO2 into synthetic fuels and feedstocks. New catalysts convert CO2 and H2O into H2 in two steps or into methane, methanol, ethanol or gasoline in one step. Or H2 can be had in one step via advanced electrolysis to make ammonia (NH3). If said fuels and feedstocks are utilized responsibly to control carbon, then negative emissions can be actuated, monitored and certified at utility scale. Overall the plan is to replace fossil and forest fuels in power plants with a mix of efficiency, wind, solar, storage, synthetic fuels made from CO2 and biofuels made from industrial hemp and other, sustainably cultivated biomass.
Gov. Scott and the Climate Council should investigate these matters with an eye for transforming Vermont Yankee and both wood plants into negative emission, power and storage stations. Though small, 30 & 50 MWs, these two wood plants emit 600,000 tons of CO2 a year. Or they can be commercially retrofitted to reduce direct emission by 90 percent within three years. In the second stage, farm fuel can gradually replace fossil or forest fuels, thereby removing most of that same amount from the sky and making a total difference of over one million tons of CO2 — half from reduction, half from removal. Besides, Vermont dairy farmers and most farmers need new cash crops, i.e. hemp.
The missing ingredient that Gov. Scott and Vermont utilities can bring to the table is a profitable plan for CO2 removal. CO2 can reused to make synthetic fuels and other products, i.e. plastic, concrete, fertilizer, graphite, graphene and carbon fiber. Besides, central power & storage that is clean and green can only support the rapid growth of distributed renewables that, in turn, support the growth of electric vehicles and heat pumps.
Here is good news on the cost of CO2 capture, which has long been the main obstacle to carbon removal and reuse. First, DOE’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in a study, reviewed by Robert Service in Science, March 24, 2021, reports their new EEMP solvent absorbs CO2 from flue gas and releases it as pure CO2 for $47.10 per ton — a new benchmark in the CDR field. More, Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne, Feb. 25, 2021, reports that a graphene filter can lower the cost of carbon capture to $30 per ton. These numbers are well within reach of cost effective CO2 capture and a serious challenge to old stalwarts like Global Thermostat, Carbon Engineering and Climeworks.
Let’s face it. Net-zero emission by 2050 is too slow. We need to begin net-negative carbon emission by 2030 or 35 at the very latest. Therefore, COP26 and 27 are in trouble. The Vermont Climate Council needs help. Gov. Scott and Vermont utilities can now come to the rescue with a profitable plan to renovate Vermont’s power plants to reduce CO2 emissions and remove CO2 from the sky and, by doing so, set the right example to the nation, the world and Joe Biden too.