Here's a thought experiment. As with any appropriate integrated system, it's modular (for upgrades and flexibility), scalable (depending on the needs of the economy), energy efficient and adaptive (depending on the needs of the economy). At this point, some but not all of the technologies are bordering on science fiction eg. a 2D/3D Carbon perovskite printer, but I've provided links in the REFERENCES section, which cover many of the new technologies under question, to make up your own mind.
Whenever any technology is scaled up beyond the local application eg.living off the land, there is usually a Carbon (C) footprint. A 'Just Green Transition' in Australia could have 4 phases: high C (recent past and present)->low C->C neutral->C negative (hopefully the future). But in the end all the technologies get mixed up in a cross-pollination of ideas. So, here goes...
Oceans are the largest Carbon sink on the Planet. MIT is working on a way to capture CO2 directly from the ocean, known as Direct Ocean Capture (DOC). They claim that this is far more energy efficient than Direct Air Capture (DAC) of CO2. The DOC tech could be theoretically integrated with any desalination plant.
Then there's Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) slowly being adopted by the fossil industry. What to do with the captured CO2? For eg, why pump liquid CO2 into the Great Artesian Basin and acidify our major inland future water reserve and piss off livestock farmers in Queensland when it can be converted to Methanol (CH3OH)? CCS using solvents can capture some of the CO2 (at 90% efficiency at the CO2-solvent interface but may not include the CO2 that doesn't contact the solvent. This is a work in progress) and convert it to Methanol in a continuous process (see 'Methanol' section under REFERENCES). Liquid CO2 from DOC ideally at a desalination plant (in this case, 'seawater CCS') can also be converted to Methanol (eg. via Hydrogenation), supplementing diesel (or even replacing diesel via diesel engine to methanol conversion with presumably no AdBlue needed) and also used as an energy dense Hydrogen (H2) carrier for Reformed Methanol Fuel Cells (RMFC) for stationary power or transport power. The RMFCs will only improve efficiency over time (as with the 'Hydrogen fuel cells') - Taking an LCA 'Well to wheel' approach, even though 'Green Methanol' (if I can call it that) uses CO2 for synthesis and emits CO2 when it's used in an RMFC (with no particulate emissions) I would call it a 'low C' tech - not 'Carbon neutral' since the Hydogenation step uses additional energy and resources for the process itself and for 'Green H2' (arguably also 'low C' tech) production input. I previously blogged about onboard micro-electrolysis of H2 for vehicles but was unrealistic due to the high amounts of energy probably needed (but not a bad concept). Methanol to H2 has solved the problem since it can be done onboard/in situ with low thermal energy requirements. According to Recharge, Methanol is also winning the shipping race for cleaner fuels. It's not too late in Australia for a large Methanol industry even though the 'Green Hydrogen' (eg.Whyalla, SA) and 'Grey Hydrogen' (eg.Latrobe Valley, Vic) industries have dug in across the country. CO2 captured and stored from fossil CCS (if nearby) and seawater CCS (at a desalination plant and near a port for possible exports or even ship refuelling) could work alongside pure H2 production operations (preferably Green - or what's the point?) via the 'Hydrogenation' step (various research on this) to combine CO2 with H2 for CH3OH, Methanol, as a more stable H2 carrier than Ammonia (NH3) (Recharge link) and compressed H2 (according to the Methanol Institute). Why go to all the effort building new H2 infrastructure when, also according to the Methanol Institute, Methanol is easier to store, handle and transport than H2 and can use existing fossil infrastructure for distribution. There's EVs too that can also tap in to petrol stations for EV charging - or anywhere connected to a large enough power source, whether grid-connected or standalone, preferably powered by renewables. Or even with a solar powered trailer/mobile EV charging point which could solve the operating temperature and driving range problem in 'the Outback'. A lot of competition is not a bad thing considering the Planet's survival is at stake!
CO2 gas can also be pumped into concrete and possibly crushed rock and used for other applications too. But, it's not an argument to justify coal-fired power stations and current and future fossil developments using CCS, but only to suggest that CO2 is a valuable economic resource. It's always a question with old technology such as fossil fuels (and computers) - if I can't update the refinery processes/'software' do I spend a lot updating the hardware to try and make it cleaner/work better or do I divest (with possible incentives for renewable projects of National interest, eg.) and replace it altogether with renewable technology/better hardware with updatable software?
Microalgae plants (diatoms), are a chemical storehouse with fast CO2 sequestration and C removal if pyrolysed. Hydrocarbons can be recovered for biodiesel with additional processing. Waste biomass can be pyrolysed to produce biochar (with NPKS and more) as a by-product for C removal and fertiliser. But, I believe food would be a better use of growing resources and infrastructure than biodiesel which I would predict has been beaten by Methanol on the infrastructure C footprint. Mined seawater pumped into microalgae raceway ponds will affect the growing conditions (environment) so the strains would need to be selected for the water chemistry to optimise cultivation. There's already research on this trialling microalgae to clean up wastewater but maybe not mined seawater. Also, although not yet discovered (it's only a matter of time), it's possible that one day a microalgae strain, either from nature or via genetic engineering eg.mutagenesis, can provide the full spectrum of human nutritional needs (protein, lipids, carbohydrates, caretenoids etc) and feed a growing Planet with production that is a lot faster and more sustainable than most if not all major staple crops. Cyanobacteria, also an algae, could also be genetically engineered to produce food with the full spectrum of human nutritional needs, feeding on perchlorates found on Mars! A novel way of Cyanobacteria harvesting would be needed. There's also the possibility of converting microalgae to methanol while producing power and biochar through cogeneration. See the 'Microalgae' section under REFERENCES for some background research.
I should mention that Sodium (Na) mined from the seawater can be used in 3D printed solid state batteries theoretically speaking instead of Lithium (Li) - which could also be mined from seawater when the economics add up to do so. An interesting development in steel-making has taken place in Israel by the company Helios. While in pursuit of engineering Oxygen production from lunar regolith, they have found a way to remove C rich coal conventionally used in Iron Ore reduction and replace it with Na in a 400-700 degrees Celsius process! Helios have probably outsmarted 'Twiggy''s Green Hydrogen operation on infrastructure and cost. I'm hoping Bluescope, where I get my KTE steel from, will set up a pilot 'Helios' furnace and see what results they can get.
On scale, I used to be a small eg.TLUD stoves, to medium eg.KTEs scale biochar production purist but over the years I have come to the conclusion that there are distinct advantages in scaling up to larger kilns for certain waste biomass streams if they are abundant and accessible (and possibly free). For most feedstocks, purpose-grown biomass for biochar could be competing with food and medicine production and if unsustainably managed result in land clearing - but - microalgae is special since food, medicine, biodiesel and biochar can all be produced from the species! Near-coastal ponds growing the microalgae would ideally be on low productive land not competing with other intact ecosystems. The Traditional Owners would also need to approve any development on their land which is a major issue for Australian mining.
Then there's Aussie politics. I used to believe in the Carbon Tax (with direct dividend to the consumers who purchased the goods - Dr Paul Taylor's idea). I used to believe in Government subsidies for Carbon offsets until they privatised them and the value of the credits dropped substantially. Maybe its a question of not whether there should be Gov intervention or non-intervention but to what extent should She intervene? What would be the biggest ethical bang for buck for C removal and offsetting? It makes sense to leave Carbon removal to the private sector (see Carbon Removal Martketplaces (CRM) list below) but for Carbon offsetting tech such as CCS maybe the Gov should intervene because no one else will pay the fossil companies adopting it? But why should the fossil companies need taxpayers money with increasing shareholder pressure and large profits that can drive their own CCS research, development and deployment? But it's not that simple. I noticed Woodside Energy's evasive response to their shareholders request for more action on climate. Could this be a turning point for fossil energy companies (internal dissent? Pretty unlikely I imagine), or at least Woodside Energy? The latest Carbon credit scheme is under debate, originally engineered by the Liberal party with the objective of funnelling cash to their fossil mates ?for CCS (part of the 'Climate Safeguard Mechanism' (CSM) - in my opinion, a Bureaucratic minefield riddled with caveats) - or something else. I also don't understand how the Gov could budget for an unlimited number of carbon credits according to The Guardian but according to the Climate Council there is a C budget.
Maybe there could be two categories of C polluting companies, with two separate budgets. One category for fossil energy and one category for everyone else aka non-fossil companies, and possibly not limited to the arbitrary modelling number of the top 215 C polluting companies in the future. For eg., if the non-fossil companies in the top 215 are making good progress with the C offsets over, say, 5 years, then the budget could increase for the next ?number of non-fossil companies, or whatever new modelling suggests is the best bang for buck. Why should the non-fossil companies on the list do the heavy lifting for exisiting fossil companies (but could still save money with a cleaner operation)? The Greens 'No new coal and gas' idea is more than a slogan - it's backed up by scientific research around the world. If more fossil projects go online, the C budget will be blown for every company on the list if they share the same pool of C credits - so, a separate C budget for established fossil companies could generate a sense of urgency (money) to compete for what C credits are available knowing that they might not be increased. This gives fossil power stations and refineries (what's left of them) more time to perfect their CCS tech - but - as I asked previously, should CCS R&D (a bottomless pit) be supported with taxpayers money? Note that CCS will probably never be perfected with only incremental improvements over time. The next problem is whether other new fossil projects eg. coal mining (reinvented with 'clean hydrogen'/'grey hydrogen'), fracking (water trigger?), get access to the same pool of C credits, the C budget is increased, they get no money (using their own profit to voluntarily decarbonise operations UPDATE: they will have to pay their way annually to reach 'Net-zero' C emissions for operations) or they get blocked?
From my research over the years, fossil energy companies seem to have a unique set of technology problems and are the most difficult to decarbonise. After all, their main product for sale is Carbon, which produces C emissions anywhere it is combusted and contribute to climate heating! So, what I'm thinking is a possible ban on new coal and gas projects (the UN position, the 'Greens' position, the 'Australia Institute' position and my position) or a prospective ban on all future fossil exports or fossil companies could pay for exported C emissions (a 'Fossil C Export Tax' indexed to a global CO2 price). Check out some Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) studies of fossil fuel operations. Paying tiny corporate taxes probably hasn't raised much Gov revenue relative to their profit margin so a new tax is needed. In this scenario, the export business model may prove to be uneconomic over time (unless operations were scaled up eg. a 4km long fracking machine from the U.S., to maintain high profit margins to offset the tax but then they might get blocked anyway by a future Federal EPA. The clock is ticking for Beetaloo Basin) and Oz fossil consumed in Oz would be cheaper than fossil imports (yes, we import fossil) which is slightly more sustainable too and more economically stable until we finally transition away. The tax could finance the CSM, C removal technology start-ups and go towards building those million houses (previously blogged about). But, there are 24 X the CSM C emission cuts, with 116 new fossil projects proposed, in the pipeline by 2030 adding an ecocidal 4.8 billion tonnes of CO2 to the atmosphere according to the Australia Institute which could possibly be stopped with a stroke of a pen. The Greens predict they have stopped half of them but Labor wants to approve the rest of them. According to Greens leader Adam Bandt, "Negotiating with Labor is like negotiating with the political wing of the coal and gas corporations". The 'hard cap' on C emissions (presumably operations - not product) negotiated is probably as good as it gets for now. I predict the Green party will only get stronger over time with increasingly more robust negotiating power as the oasis of a sustainable economy becomes closer. There seems to be a signpost with 3 directions: 1-'renewable energy superpower' (election night coolade for a possible political endgame?), 2-'renewable energy superpower' transitioning away from 'fossil fuel superpower' (possible, optimistic), 3-'double dealing with 'renewable energy superpower' and 'fossil fuel superpower' (cynical paradox). Also, could decarbonising election campaign finance with a 20k donation cap in future elections be part of the political solution?
More regulation rather than free cash? From what I've seen over the years, more regulation is pretty toothless with relatively tiny fines for non-compliance to environmental standards. Maybe make the fines larger? In the case of natural gas, if the companies have to pay for their pollution they will probably just increase the price of their products for the domestic market given the reduction in supply over the last year and still record windfall profits. Albo temporarily fixed this logical problem in December last year with a gas cap for 12 months but why not go further with a National guarantee of gas supply eg.15% (successful in WA) of natural gas mined in Australia to stay in Australia since scarcity is artificial - most of our natural gas gets exported. No need for new fracking fields! Or the 'Fossil C Export Tax' is introduced as mentioned above. But really, we should just transition away from the fossil bandwagon altogether, possibly with a climate/'Just Green Transition' plan that I have previously blogged about or something similar.
A Carbon emissions reduction target (as opposed to a plan) of 43% by 2030 is a good start but it's 2005 baseline was an 'unusually high year for Australia's C emissions' according to the Climate Council in 2015. Why not 80% by 2030? I don't think there's anything unethical about being potentially over ambitious, especially when small and giant technological leaps are being announced on almost a daily basis. Modelling, though good as a bearing, can't predict future progress very accurately and I'm optimistic that many of the C solutions we still don't have will be found in addition to all the ones we already do have. Most of the open energy loops, including fossil hydrocarbon combustion, will eventually be closed with mostly new technologies eg. Taking an LCA approach: 'Low C' tech - 'Green Methanol', 'Green Hydrogen', microalgae biodiesel (as a last resort) for the fossil combusting stragglers); possibly 'C neutral' tech eg. A 'new material' (previously blogged) with integrated solar harvesting and energy storage (known to me now as a 'quantum battery') built into a C fibre chassis frame of an EV (using biochar as a feedstock for the C fibre, according to Bates and Draper, 'Burn: Using fire to cool the Earth', 2018). Until the quantum battery tech is perfected (which could take a decade if at all), a 3D printed solid state Li or Na 'battery' could be built into the C fibre chassis (cell to chassis); 'C negative' tech - biochar (via Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS), DOC (better used for Methanol rather than locking it away for no purpose), enhanced rock weathering (ERW) and more...
How? Why not funnel some of the offset money from new operations (that pay their way annually to maintain a 'Net-Zero' C emissions operation) to C removal startups with reasonable appropriate technology criteria to get them through the 'Valley of death' between labs/design and prototypes but it doesn't stop there. Getting a prototype to the commercialisation stage takes cash too which many startups, like myself, can't make that giant leap. I don't think anyone yet understands how the C credits/offsets will be applied. I imagine Labor is probably considering tree monocultures which don't perform well ecologically and only drawdown C in the short-term for most of the tree species commonly selected eg.blue gums (that also kill the soil), with marginally longer periods if harvested for buildings and furniture. I wouldn't complain too much if the C offsets were used to establish seawater industrial ecologies with biochar being the end product that could be used to establish Regenerative Agroforestry Systems (RAS) for tree polycultures and food and medicine production. Additionally, RAS could also be integrated with an expansion of biological corridors, with a combination of native and economic/'Permaculture' species (that don't become a 'weed') to link up forests. The corridors also provide an escape route for animals, insects etc during bushfires which are expected to increase with climate change acceleration. Forestry waste from the RAS/corridors could then be pyrolysed in 'Oregon hybrid'/Flat-Tiki 'Carbon' biochar kilns for additional biochar to expand the RAS/corridors.
In a new report published by the Australian Academy of Science (announced in 'The Guardian' (1/3/23)), it is suggested that we have Carbon removal targets for the atmosphere on top of C emission reduction targets and renewable energy targets. I think it's a great idea, though a little confusing, as I've been thinking since the Paris Climate Agreement (2015) that net-zero targets don't take into account removing the excess C already in the atmosphere. I don't believe though, as suggested by the AAS, that we should throw any C removal tech at it - what's the point if the removal tech is inefficient eg.DAC or unsustainable? I should note too that CCS is a C offsetting technology - not a C removal technology. CCS will never see the light of day in the CRMs. The AAS seemed to avoid using the word 'biochar' in the press release - they may have been alluding to it with 'increased soil C' but it shouldn't be understated how many applications there are for biochar in addition to increasing soil C twice (if that's it's final C sink), once with biochar (eg.within Biochar Mineral Complex added to compost - see the link to Tim Marshall below) and once with increasing biomass in the soil/soil C over time as a direct result of the biochar present in the soil.
There are 3 great independent Carbon removal marketplaces (CRM) available right now:
carbonassetsolutions.com (field Neutrino scanning Carbon reserves a foot down, which can be increased to greater depth with some clever mods)
In the industrial ecology proposed, Carbon credits or CORCs could be earned twice - once from DOC (but not ideal) and once from biochar produced from pyrolysed microalgae biomass. An appropriate biochar kiln may already be out there (see the BECCS list below) but would most likely need to be purpose built for microalgae biomass and the chemicals that need to be recovered (see next blog for possible tech specs).
I hope this map inspires your imagination of what's possible and helps take us out of fossil gridlock i.e. if any budding billionaire philanthropist (or Gov) wants a crack at a microalgae pilot project for starters, I'm all ears. I need help designing and financing the kiln. Eventually, it could be a fossil free industrial ecology for the future.
Google search 'Quantum batteries'
Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS)
Microalgae (a diatom)
Google search' Handbook of microalgae processes and products'
Google search 'Pyrolysis of microalgae'