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Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Dartmouth study finds mixed impact of climate change on North American forests

When it comes to the signature of global climate disruption on forests, the first things that usually come to mind are wildfires and the devastating spread of invasive, forest-killing insects.  But researchers at Dartmouth University studying the effects of global climate disruption on North American forests have  concluded that some regions' forests may actually benefit.

Consequences of climate change for biotic disturbances in North American forestspublished in the journal Ecological Monographs, finds the expected insect outbreaks, plant diseases, wildfires and other problems. 
Results show that over the last 50 years, the average global air temperature has increased about 1 [degree] ̊F, while the coldest winter night averages about 7 ̊[degrees] F warmer [emphasis mine]. That has permitted population explosions of tree-killing bark beetles in forests that were previously shielded by winter cold and made it easier for invasive species to become established.
But they they also found that: 
warmer temperatures are also making many forests grow faster and some less susceptible to pests, which could boost forest health and acreage, timber harvests, carbon storage, water recycling and other forest benefits in some areas [again, emphasis mine].
Is this single study - which involved a review of nearly 500 scientific papers dating to the 1950s - a reason to be sanguine about the future of our forests in a rapidly warming world?

Somehow, I don't think so.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Can CCS and natgas combine to lower CO2 emissions from vehicles and get us off oil?

Regular readers of this blog know of my interest and work in carbon capture and storage technology. One of the keys to getting climate-saving CCS to commercial scale, in addition to developing CCS networks - a concept that I helped pioneer in Pennsylvania - is to find ways to recycle and resell captured CO2 and thereby improve the economics of the enterprise.

Like garbage before recycling, CO2  has been viewed as a waste. Now, it is a commodity too valuable to be thrown away and buried underground. And like recycling, the challenge is to match the CO2 from where it is created with where it can be used. Enhanced oil and gas recovery are two well-established commercial uses. Converting captured CO2 to construction materials like concrete is another.

This fascinating Wall Street Journal op-ed describes a fourth use that is currently available at small scale - combining captured CO2 with natural gas to make methanol - a transportation fuel that could replace gasoline.

There are seldom magic bullets in any area of life, and this one is no exception. Economics will rule.  Still, could getting this newest CO2 recycling technology to scale - fed by cost-lowering CCS networks - be an opportunity to advance CCS, lower CO2 emissions from transport, take the fullest domestic advantage of huge supplies of shale gas, and achieve true energy independence?