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An open letter to the Vermont Climate Council:

Thank you for posting recent comments, links and documents on applying carbon dioxide capture and reuse chemistry to central power plants to “reduce” CO2 emissions and “remove” CO2 from the atmosphere. A similar approach can be applied to tail pipes and flue pipes. These materials were initially compiled for the Renewable Nations Institute (RNI) to invite discussion with interested parties. This proposal does not reflect the formal views of RNI, which is developing work-study curriculums in sustainability. (See: Vermont Climate Council Public Comments Received.)

First, net-zero carbon emission by 2040 or 2050 is too slow. We need to be net-negative by 2030 or at least 2035. Winning slowly is the same as losing, Bill McKibben has said. Fortunately, a consensus is forming around green hydrogen. Proposals to upgrade power plants to actuate negative emissions are based in part on producing hydrogen via advanced electrolysis and the water/gas shift process. Important new advances in CO2 chemistry are detailed in recent articles, including by Robert Service, Science, “AAAS on CO2 Capture,” Tim Wogan, Chem World on hydrogen via water/gas shift method and Ellen Brown on hemp biofuels. A research summary with a one-page intro and 60 citations is also posted there and an open letter to climate leaders covering main points. Vermont Yankee and Vermont’s two wood plants are ideal candidates to repurpose by this approach.

New chemistry now makes it profitable to upgrade central plants that emit CO2 gas into “negative” power and storage stations that remove CO2 from the sky in two stages. The first stage adapts a power plant or engine to capture and reuse its own CO2 emission as supplemental fuel, thereby forming a “carbon trap,” so described by Robert Service.

In the second stage, fossil fuels can gradually be replaced over 6-10 years by biofuels made from hemp or other appropriate biomass. Solar farms can be tied in by 3-phase lines to the ever-useful switching yard that all plants include. Storage comes by way of batteries and from synfuels produced on-site from CO2 and H2O late at night. Plant operators can profit nicely from the kWh price gap between high/low peak demand, i.e. the Northfield Reservoir.

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As green plants remove CO2 from air to form carbohydrates, then biofuel power stations that reuse CO2 for extra fuel will actuate “negative emissions” as defined by Klaus Lackner at The Center For Negative Carbon Emissions. If most power stations are upgraded to near zero emission in the first stage, then on balance the entire power and storage system can become net-negative within 10 years in the second. Over that time, zero and near-zero stations can slowly convert from fossil fuels to biofuels to actuate negative emissions on an industrial scale. A third stage of development offers alternate synfuels for vehicles and buildings. Imagine a plug-in Prius that runs on NH3 or a biodiesel vehicle that reuses CO2 to make syndiesel for that same vehicle. Likewise, biodiesel and syndiesel can replace fossil diesel and heating oil. Suffice to say, sustainable biofuels and synfuels can replace fossil fuels.

A line is drawn in the attached papers between the wrong biomass, i.e. monoculture palm oil and correct biomass, i.e. industrial hemp that is cultivated sustainably with electrification of machinery to cut upstream CO2 and cost. The forest industry should logically share in the biomass market if only they put their own carbon house in order, as Middlebury College and Maine’s NCS Initiative have demonstrated. Leveling entire forests in Georgia to burn wood chips in Scotland at the Drax Power Plant only puts more CO2 into the sky without admitting it while destroying carbon forests just when we need them most. Then tree roots rot and emit methane, a potent greenhouse gas, and methyl mercury into adjacent waterways, as seen in the case of Hydro Quebec. Native fishing villages there have suffered terribly over decades and the problem is still not solved.

Wood emissions should be counted when wood is burned, not when trees are cut (see McElroy, VNews, 10/03/19).

Utilities face a hard choice on central plants in the next decade, which overlaps with IPCC and GND climate goals. Central plants are under mounting pressure from solar and wind. Plant owners will eventually have to close them, which they are loath to do, or renovate them to make them more profitable and cleaner at the same time. If they do nothing, they will soon face carbon penalties or forego offsets and/or Renewable Energy Credits. A far better plan is to profitably transform central plants in two stages into “negative emission” power and storage stations that capture and reuse CO2 for supplemental fuel and that make other fuels and products, i.e. plastic, concrete, graphene and carbon fiber. Besides, central storage is vital to back up the rapid growth of intermittent, distributed renewables. To sum, we can profitably transform central power plants from climate liabilities into climate assets that protect and restore climate.

Jim Hurt serves on the board of the Renewable Nations Institute in Northfield, Vt. He can be reached at hurtjim@gmail.com. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of the Brattleboro Reformer.