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International researchers propose advanced energy technologies to help quell global warming


In an effort to stabilize climate and slow down global warming, Livermore scientists along with a team of international researchers have evaluated a series of new primary energy sources that either do not emit or limit the amount of carbon dioxide released to the atmosphere.

Possible candidates for primary energy sources include terrestrial, solar and wind energy; and solar-power satellites; biomass; nuclear fission; nuclear fusion; fission-fusion hybrids and fossil fuels from which carbon has been removed.

In a paper published in the November 1 edition of Science, Livermore researchers Ken Caldeira, L. John Perkins collaborated with a team to survey and evaluate a series of advanced energy technologies for their capability to supply mass amounts of carbon-emission-free energy required and their potential for large-scale commercialization.

"Reducing carbon dioxide emissions will require major change in how we produce, distribute, store and use our energy," said Caldeira, one author of the paper titled "Advanced Technology Paths to Global Climate Stability: Energy for a Greenhouse Planet." Martin I. Hoffert of New York University was lead author of the report.

The project was partially funded by the Department of Energy’s Office of Biological and Environmental Research and the Office of Fusion Energy Sciences. Team members include researchers from survey and a team from New York University, University of California, Irvine, University of Houston, McGill University in Canada, MIT, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Exxon Mobil Research and Engineering Company, Columbia University, University of Arizona, Naval Research Laboratory, NASA Headquarters, and the National Center for Atmospheric Research.

"What our research clearly shows is that scientific innovation can only reverse this trend if we adopt an aggressive, global strategy for developing alternative fuel sources that can produce up to three times the amount of power we use today," Hoffert said. "Currently , these technologies simply don’t exist – either operationally or as pilot projects."

Non-primary power technologies that could contribute to climate stability and slowing down global warming include conservation, efficiency improvements, hydrogen production, storage and transport, superconducting global electric grids and geoengineering.

About 85 percent of the power consumption today is fossil fueled. That, in part, has contributed to an increase in the concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide from 275 parts per million to 370 parts per million during the last century. Unchecked, it will likely pass 550 parts per million by the end of the 21st century. Climate models and paleoclimate data indicate that 550 parts per million of carbon dioxide, if sustained, will eventually produce 1.5 to 4.5 degrees Celsius (3 to 8 degrees Farenheit) in global warming. This warming would be comparable in magnitude but opposite in sign to global cooling of the last Ice Age.

The report states that to stabilize climate, we will need one to three times present world power consumption to come from energy technologies without greenhouse emissions. But carbon-emissions-free energy sources do not exist yet either operationally or as pilot projects.

One of the options explored is sequestration in which carbon dioxide emitted from fossil fuels is separated from the atmosphere by myriad approaches. Sequestration strategies include carbon reservoirs in oceans, trees, soils, depleted natural gas and oil fields, deep saline aquifers, coal seams and solid mineral carbonates.

The report concludes: "Combating global warming by radical restructuring of the global energy system could be the technology challenge of the century." Founded in 1952, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory is a national security laboratory, with a mission to ensure national security and apply science and technology to the important issues of our time. Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory is managed by the University of California for the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration.

Anne Stark | EurekAlert!
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