The Sage Grouse

Carbon Shock

Today, boys and girls, we are going to talk about carbon — that is, chemistry. Carbon atoms can bind to oxygen, hydrogen, other carbons and occasionally other atoms. Carbon molecules can be hydrocarbons like coal and oil, or carbohydrates like bread and bananas. Carbon can also make things like worker bees, cows, wolves, peaceniks, pregnant teens and Michele Bachmann. All of these things have much more in common than they have differences.

We burn hydrocarbons to convert mass into energy. A car is a gasoline-powered device which converts hydrocarbons plus time into distance. Voila, you’re in Kansas City. Except we are not really consuming mass, we are just turning one type of mass into another. Long-chain hydrocarbons become carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, water and maybe a few other stragglers. Same thing at coal, oil and gas power plants. Converting multi-carbon molecules into carbon dioxide creates energy and creates atmospheric and oceanic accumulations of carbon dioxide, which warms the atmosphere and acidifies the ocean.

If you watch TV and read magazines, the big new thing is to capture carbon. But, once freed from its fossil jail, carbon doesn’t want to go back.

Carbon bound to hydrogen and other carbon has great energy potential. Freed from its energy-rich bonds, it leaps, like a vacationing gold miner reveling in a whorehouse, to ecstatically bond with all available oxygen. It likes oxygen. Carbon demands a huge energy price to leave its oxygen lover and turn back into a non-oxidized state.

This is a free-form discussion. Albert Einstein formulated the equation for nuclear fission: E= mc2. E is energy, m is mass, c is the speed of light, and 2 means the speed of light squared. Multiplying the speed of light by itself is a big-ass number. Nuclear fission converts tiny amounts of mass into huge amounts of electricity, except when a tsunami hits and wrecks the whole place.

Meanwhile, we have hydrocarbons and carbohydrates all over the place. Many of the carbohydrates, thanks to TV ads and cheap frying oil, end up accumulated in the dorsal portions of human beings. Just spend a few minutes at WalMart to see the proof. I wear really dark shades when I go to WalMart.

I want to ask Einstein; what is the formula for packing on hip, thigh and butt fat? Like, mass = slowness times energy squared.

Today a friend sent me a report that a Berkeley study of carbon dioxide (as referenced in this article), sponsored by some conservative skeptics, confirmed that the planet’s atmosphere is warming. Bad news for those woolly mammoths.

Two days ago I got a fund-raising solicitation which complained that polar bears are drowning due to global warming, and blamed the aforesaid problems on “fracking.”  The writer of this inflammatory piece, demagoguing on behalf of the National Wildlife Federation (which is not usually this wacko),  believes that “fracking” causes releases of methane and that we need to stop “fracking” at once. Well, folks, hydraulically fracturing tight formations with gas wells does stimulate production of methane — another name for natural gas. The methane is collected in pipelines and distributed to heat our schools, homes, offices and factories. But, hey, if this is a big misstep, we could stop burning gas and go back to clear-cutting forests for firewood.

The October 17 issue of Fortune has an eyebrow-raising piece about schemes to extract carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Bill Gates, Microsoft billionaire, is jumping into projects aimed at stopping global warming. Heirs to Seagram’s, Warner Music and other big fortunes are supporting strategies to extract carbon dioxide from the air and turn it into something useful (like the fizz in your Pepsi).

Here in Wyoming we have a few people (most of whom have the last name of Lubnau)  running around promoting “carbon sequestration.” Sounds like carbon jail to me. Seriously, though, it can’t be done on any type of economically viable basis. Just like sending hundreds of cops to find and arrest one murderer uses huge amounts of resources, trying to put the carbon genie back in the bottle uses huge amounts of energy.

Here’s the challenge, dear readers: prove me wrong.


—  “Why the defeatist attitude toward carbon sequestration?” WyoFile

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  1. Carbon capture /sequestration or reuse as enhanced oil recovery isn’t necessarily futile, but it’s ferdamnsure economically insolvent. It simply doesn’t pencil out well at the wellhead if the CO2 is turned around and pumped back into storage, at greatly increased cost , hardware use, and the suppplemental energy required ( also an add-on cost amounting to 30-50 percent ).
    It’s even worse if we try to capture CO2 going out the smokestack , post-burn , and try to do something wit THAT. Used CO2 evolved from boilers and furnaces is hard to wrangle and definitely cost prohibitive.
    Americans do NOT pay anywhere near the true cost of their carbon based energy. Here in Wyoming , we are very much in denial about that because those blinders made from dollar bills obstruct our peripheral vision. They look good under those tinfoil hats, though.

    Bottom Line: there is no such thing as clean coal or cost effective recycled CO2. Money is also a poor criteria for justifying same. To insist that carbon capture works and is cost effective is to violate the laws of thermodynamics. Those laws can be bent a little, but cannot be broken.

  2. The stakes are very high for Wyoming. Currently the big carbon producers (US and China) have not regulated emissions, however, should that happen Wyoming is left holding a big bag. Our State’s per capita carbon emissions much greater than other states. This is because we burn coal to make electricity and while more than half leaves the state for places like CA, we get the carbon counted on us (source not sink). In addition, exported WY coal is burned to make electricity over much of the US. If, and I accept that it’s an if, carbon emissions are regulated then coal-fired power plants will be the first targets (including ones burning our coal). Therefore, I view the development of the legislative framework and preliminary research into sequestration as demonstrating leadership in managing the resource (coal). Small cost if we don’t regulate, big win if it happens.

  3. Light is an electrical charged. The neutrino has no charge. The difference appears to be the effective drag of gravity on light because of mass verses the effect without an electrical charge

  4. Why not just add the speed of neutrinos to the speed of light. I believe neutrinos are related particles. If neutrinos speed is added to light speed it will become e = mc+ neutrino increase squared. It refines Einsteins formula but does not change it.

  5. Because disruptive climate change is a reality, carbon capture followed by use or sequestration must happen — either that or we are going to have to abruptly stop dumping the stuff into the atmosphere (which would be pretty disruptive in its own way). There are lots of reasons to be skeptical about capturing and sequestering as a business model, but at the same time the stakes are high. My suggestion is to read the Fortune article again and perhaps you’ll be a bit more optimistic — as much as a grouse can be — that CO2-EOR (a combination of use and sequestration) can be part of the solution. And maybe even more critically that recombining CO2 with hydrogen might result in both energy and environmental security. I think
    P.S. To be fair, the surname of the state’s biggest sequestration proponent is more likely Surdam. Lubnau, along with others, simply created a legislative framework which would make the process, if ever perfected, legal.