Tag Archives: emission

Atmospheric CO2 levels this year could reach 150% of those before the Industrial Revolution

Our climate is changing, and the cause is our own emissions. To put those into perspective, new research estimates that atmospheric CO2 levels in 2021 will be 50% higher than the average value in the 18th century (the onset of the Industrial Revolution).

Image credits Chris LeBoutillier.

The Met Office, Britain’s national weather service, estimates in a new report that average annual CO2 levels this year (as measured at the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii), will rise by roughly 2.29 ppm (parts per million) compared to 2020. That is around 150% of the concentration this gas registered in the 18th century, before industrial emissions started to output in significant quantities.

Bad air

“Since CO2 stays in the atmosphere for a very long time, each year’s emissions add to those from previous years and cause the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere to keep increasing,” said Richard Betts, lead producer of the Met Office’s annual CO2 forecast.

The most worrying observation is that CO2 levels are still expected to rise in 2021 despite a significant drop in total emission levels due to the pandemic.

Mauna Loa is used as a gold-standard for the measurement of CO2 levels in the atmosphere. The site has been in operation monitoring this gas since 1958. These show seasonal variation , but they’re also influenced by local factors and geography, so having a single monitoring point in operation for so long makes the readings more reliable, as they can be easily compared to past readings.

Still, the news leaves us in an unenviable spot. According to the United Nations, emissions from energy, food production, transport and industry must drop by 7% per year every year throughout the next decade if we’re to meet the target of the Paris climate deal. This international deal aims to keep global warming “well below” 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels — ideally below 1.5 degrees Celsius.

We’ve only seen 1 degree Celsius of warming (compared to pre-industrial levels) so far, and yet, we have seen extreme weather events such as floods, droughts, and tropical storms pick up around the globe. The seas are also rising to meet us.

According to the Met Office, it took 200 years for atmospheric CO2 concentrations to rise 25% above pre-industrial levels; it only took an extra 30 to get to double that. It might take even less to double that figure yet again unless we take serious action — and do so quickly.

“Reversing this trend and slowing the atmospheric CO2 rise will need global emissions to reduce, and bringing them to a halt will need global emissions to be brought down to net zero.”

Watch all the volcanoes and earthquakes since 1960 hit around the world in one app

The Global Volcanism Program has released an interactive map showing the three big E’s (earthquakes, eruptions, emissions) since 1960.

And it looks like this. Image credits Global Volcanism Program.

And it looks like this.
Image credits Global Volcanism Program.

For something literally set in stone, Earth’s crust is far from inactive.

The relatively thin layer of solid rock covering the planet is fractured into tectonic plates, which move relative to each other — bending, pushing, crashing together. This constant motion creates rifts, huge chasms in the crust where magma boils up to the surface to create new rock, and subduction zones where rocks sink and are melted down into fresh magma.

Tectonic processes release huge amounts of energy and matter, creating earthquakes and powering volcanism. Now, for the first time, a global visualization (link to app) of seismic and volcanic data lets us see the effects of the crust’s constant movements. The map was created by the Global Volcanism Program at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, with data from the USGS and NASA. It tracks every recorded volcanic eruption (red triangle) and earthquake (blue circle) since 1960. Starting from 1978, satellite UV monitoring allowed scientists to pick up on sulfur dioxide emissions (yellow circle) in the atmosphere. You can see all the events at once, or let them add up as time passes. Clicking on eruptions after 1978 lets you watch it’s sulfur clouds appear and dissipate.

And, if you take the final image of E3s and stack them over a tectonic map, you’ll see just how well they stack with the edges of plates. Volcanoes, in particular, tend to follow their outlines — the ones inland usually revolve around hotspots such as those in Iceland, Indonesia, the Aleutian islands and the tip of South America. Earthquakes farther from the outlines are usually formed around fault or fault systems, or may simply be tremors.


97% of Diesel Cars Don’t Respect Official Pollution Limits

According to the most comprehensive set of data, almost no diesel cars respect pollution limits, with a quarter producing over six times more than the limit.

Breaking the rules

The report included graphs such as the one picture here. It reveals the bare the difference between emissions in a lab setting, left, and on a track, right, when car engines were run hot

About six months ago, in September 2015, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a notice of violation of the Clean Air Act to the Volkswagen Group. The notice was issued because Volkswagen had intentionally cheated on the emission tests. The announcement was met with public outroar, and a swarm of legal repercussions which are still in process. But soon after that, another question emerged: is Volkswagen a singular bad apple, or is this a more common practice than we thought?

A study conducted by Adac, Europe’s largest motoring organisation, revealed that diesel cars made by Renault, Nissan, Hyundai, Citroen, Fiat, Volvo and many others also emit more than they should – and more than they declare. The figures were staggering. These weren’t minor breaches, with pollution levels exceeding the allowed ones by 10 or 20 percent – in some cases, cars emitted ten times more than the limit. It became clear fast that this is a much bigger problem than previously thought, and this new analysis confirms those fears.

The new data comes from the Emissions Analytics (EA), a UK-based emissions consultancy agency and one of the biggest in the business. They covered 250 vehicles in more stringently standardised road conditions, finding that just one Euro 5 diesel (the EU standard from 2009) did not exceed the limit. Another seven Euro 6 Diesels (the stricter standard from 2014) fell into the accepted limits. In total, a whopping 242 out of 250 cars emitted more than they should have. Over a quarter emitted six or more times the accepted limit.

Legally illegal

The Range Rover Sport is one of the worst emitters.

Robert Goodwill, a transport minister, said he was “disappointed” by the results and accused manufacturers of “gaming” the testing system. However, in the strictest sense of the law, the producers may have done nothing wrong – it’s the testing system that is flawed.

Several notable universities including the Imperial College London carried out tests in the laboratory, on testing tracks and in real life conditions. They found that the lab tests (which are the current norm for establishing the pollution levels of a car) are nowhere near accurate when it comes to real-life conditions. This is not a case of car producers “fixing” the cars to cheat on the tests, it’s a case of the tests themselves being inaccurate. In other words, lab simulations greatly underestimate the amount of pollution. Ironically, Volkswagen cars fared among the best in the real-life tests.

Naturally, the involved organizations tried to downplay these results, with the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders stating that the difference between lab and real world tests were ‘well known’. Sure, this may be the case in the academic world or for the car industry but for the general public (and I’d bet some policy makers as well) these differences are certainly not ‘well known’. The emission limit is set for real-life conditions, so if the differences are indeed known, then the system should be changed to reflect these real conditions.

EA also highlights another trend: some car manufacturers are actively trying to reduce their emissions while others are simply trying to pass tests.

“There is a growing worry about air pollution, but while some car manufacturers have been more proactive, others have done only the minimum,” said Nick Molden, the CEO of EA. “The point is diesels can be clean.”

More emissions, shorter lives

Photo by Jensbn~commonswiki.

It’s well documented that diesel emissions cause a number of health conditions and lead to overall shorter life expectancies. Urbanized areas like London, New York or Shanghai have experienced a significant reduction in air quality, a reduction that can be at least partially attributed to cars. According to The Guardian, the British government estimates this pollution is responsible for 23,500 premature deaths a year. The government already lost a supreme court challenge in 2015 over the adequacy of its plans to tackle the crisis and is uncertain about its future strategy.

Over the last few months, it has become evident that at least in the Western World, this problem is at a much greater magnitude than previously thought. When Adac published their analysis last year, things seemed pretty dire. At the time, Reinhard Kolke, head of test and technical affairs at Adac’s state-of-the-art test centre in Bavaria, told the Guardian:

“If all cars complied with [the official EU NOx limit], we would have solved all the worst health effects. Every consumer has the right to expect all manufacturers to do this. But still there are these gross emitters.”

Now, as more and more studies are revealed on the matter, it’s looking even worse. We need a unified strategy to ensure that car producers are respecting emission limits but that seems nowhere in sight. As mentioned above, several universities and research groups are working closely with producers, so the data is probably there – we just need to do something useful with it.

Side-by-side comparison of FT synthetic fuel and conventional fuel. The synthetic fuel is clear as water because of a near-absence of sulfur and aromatics.

Synthetic fuels could eliminate U.S. crude oil addiction and hamper carbon emissions

Over the past few years, a series of papers looked on how the United States could benefit by switching from crude oil to alternative synthetic fuels. Their findings show that, given the current economic environment where oil prices have simply skyrocketed, synthetic fuels are more advantageous compared to crude oil from a number of perspectives, including environmental.

Synthetic oils are chemical processed hydrocarbons made from various feedstock like coal, natural gas and non-food crops. The resulting products include fuels, waxes and lubricants normally made from crude oil. Actually plants can produce gasoline, diesel and aviation fuels at competitive prices, depending on the price of crude oil and the type of feedstock used to create the synthetic fuel, all with the same or similar performances of those derived from crude oil.

This means that motor vehicles can run without issues on synthetic fuels without the need for complicated addons or new specifically designed engines, like ethanol, a biofuel, requires.

Lowering greenhouse gas emissions with synthetic fuels

Side-by-side comparison of FT synthetic fuel and conventional fuel. The synthetic fuel is clear as water because of a near-absence of sulfur and aromatics.

Side-by-side comparison of FT synthetic fuel and conventional fuel. The synthetic fuel is clear as water because of a near-absence of sulfur and aromatics. (c) Wikimedia Commons

Because refineries, extraction facilities and non-edible crops would have to be integrated in a newly build infrastructure, an enormous social and economic impact could potentially unfold. Millions of jobs would open and the country wouldn’t have to import oil or resort to unorthodox extraction methods (see wars). Moreover, since  plants absorb carbon dioxide to grow, the United States could cut vehicle greenhouse emissions by as much as 50 percent in the next several decades using non-food crops to create liquid fuels, the researchers said.

“The goal is to produce sufficient fuel and also to cut CO2 emissions, or the equivalent, by 50 percent,” said  Christodoulos Floudas, a professor of chemical and biological engineering at Princeton, who led the research. “The question was not only can it be done, but also can it be done in an economically attractive way. The answer is affirmative in both cases.”

Synthetic fuels make for an important chapterof a white paper recently produced by the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) and authored by Vern Weekman, one of Floudas’ co-researchers.

“Right now we are going down so many energy paths,” said June Wispelwey, the institute’s director and a 1981 Princeton alumna. “There are ways for the system to be more integrated and much more efficient

The struggles that come with transitioning to synthetic fuels

The main synthetic fuel production method employed today is the Fischer-Tropsch process, first developed in the 1920s in Germany out of the need to convert coal into liquid fuels. The process involves heat and a complicated chemistry to create gasoline and other liquid fuels from high-carbon feedstock ranging from coal to switchgrass, a native North American grass common to the Great Plains.

“This is an opportunity to create a new economy,” Floudas said. “The amount of petroleum the U.S. imports is very high. What is the price of that? What other resources to do we have? And what can we do about it?”

If synthetic fuels hold so many benefits, why isn’t the US or other countries in the world use them at a mass scale? As with all things – cost. Experts estimate that an investment of $1.1 trillion would be required for a synthetic fuel infrastructure to be developed. Also, an expected 30 to 40 years transition period would have to pass before the U.S. would be capable of fully embracing synthetic fuels.

Why not start now? This is exactly what the researchers are striving for, and the white paper published by the AIChE is particularly addressed to key national planning agencies like the national academies, the Department of Energy, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Defense Department.

“Even including the capital costs, synthetic fuels can still be profitable,” said Richard Baliban, a chemical and biological engineering graduate student who graduated in 2012 and was the lead author on several of the team’s papers. “As long as crude oil is between $60 and $100 per barrel, these processes are competitive depending on the feedstock,” he said.

The paper was published in the AIChE Journal.

[source Princeton]