Tag Archives: carbon emissions

Slow progress replacing 150 year old infrastructure

Photograph of salvaged section of original gas mainThe Liverpool Gas Light Company was formed in 1816, just as the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere started to rise above the pre-industrial revolution level of 278 ppm. A rival Oil Gas Company was formed in 1823 and became the Liverpool New Gas and Coke Company in 1834. The two rival companies merged in 1848. Last year a piece of cast iron gas main from around this period was salvaged while replacing a gas main on the Dock Road in Liverpool. It was date-stamped 1853. For the last month, works have been underway to replace the original gas main in our street which appears to be of a similar age. The concept of gas-fired central heating using pressurised hot water was developed in the 1830s by Angier March Perkins [1838 US patent], amongst others; but did not become fashionable until the 1850s which coincides approximately with laying of the original gas main in the road outside our house. There is a cavernous coal hole under the pavement (sidewalk) in front of our house which would have been used to store coal that was burned in fireplaces in every room. So, we can deduce that the house, which was built in the early 1830s, did not initially have gas-fired central heating but that it could have been installed sometime in the second half of the 19th century, just as the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere started its exponential increase towards today’s level of 412 ppm [monthly average at Mauna Loa Global Monitoring Laboratory for August 2020].  Carbon dioxide represents about 80% of greenhouse gas emissions, according to the US EPA, and heating of commercial and residential properties accounts for 12% of these emissions in the US and for 32% in the UK.  Hence, before our house is two hundred years old, it is likely that we will have converted it to electrical heating in order to reduce its carbon footprint.  We have made a start on the process but it is pointless until our power supply is carbon neutral and progress towards carbon neutrality for electricity generation is painfully slow in the UK and elsewhere [see ‘Inconvenient facts‘ on December 18th, 2019].

You can check live carbon dioxide emissions from electricity generation and consumption using the ElectricityMap.

Nuclear winter school

I spent the first full-week of January 2019 at a Winter School for a pair of Centres for Doctoral Training focussed on Nuclear Energy (see NGN CDT & ICO CDT).  Together the two centres involve eight UK universities and most of the key players in the UK industry.  So, the Winter School offers an opportunity for researchers in nuclear science and engineering, from academia and industry, to gather together for a week and share their knowledge and experience with more than 80 PhD students.  Each student gives a report on the progress of their research to the whole gathering as either a short oral presentation or a poster.  It’s an exhausting but stimulating week for everyone due to both the packed programmme and the range of subjects covered from fundamental science through to large-scale engineering and socio-economic issues.

Here are a few things that caught my eye:

First, the images in the thumbnail above which Paul Cosgrove from the University of Cambridge used to introduce his talk on modelling thermal and neutron fluxes.  They could be from an art gallery but actually they are from the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland and show the geometry of an advanced test reactor [ATR] (top); the rate of collisions in the ATR (middle); and the neutron density distribution (bottom).

Second, a great app for your phone called electricityMap that shows you a live map of global carbon emissions and when you click on a country it reveals the sources of electricity by type, i.e. nuclear, gas, wind etc, as well as imports and exports of electricity.  Dame Sue Ion told us about it during her key-note lecture.  I think all politicians and journalists need it installed on their phones to check their facts before they start talking about energy policy.

Third, the scale of the concrete infrastructure required in current designs of nuclear power stations compared to the reactor vessel where the energy is generated.  The pictures show the construction site for the Vogtle nuclear power station in Georgia, USA (left) and the reactor pressure vessel being lowered into position (right).  The scale of nuclear power stations was one of the reasons highlighted by Steve Smith from Algometrics for why investors are not showing much interest in them (see ‘Small is beautiful and affordable in nuclear power-stations‘ on January 14th, 2015).  Amongst the other reasons are: too expensive (about £25 billion), too long to build (often decades), too back-end loaded (i.e. no revenue until complete), too complicated (legally, economically & socially), too uncertain politically, too toxic due to poor track record of returns to investors, too opaque in terms of management of industry.  That’s quite a few challenges for the next generation of nuclear scientists and engineers to tackle.  We are making a start by creating design tools that will enable mass-production of nuclear power stations (see ‘Enabling or disruptive technology for nuclear engineering?‘ on January 28th, 2015) following the processes used to produce other massive engineering structures, such as the Airbus A380 (see Integrated Digital Nuclear Design Programme); but the nuclear industry has to move fast to catch up with other sectors of the energy business, such as gas-fired powerstations or wind turbines.  If it were to succeed then the energy market would be massively transformed.

 

No snow at Christmas?

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Norwegian Arctic (Image by Sarah)

The algae in the Arctic Ocean are blooming earlier every year at the moment because the sea ice melts more quickly each Spring as a consequence of global warming. This observation was made by Kevin Arrigo, a biological oceanographer at Stanford University and confirmed by Mati Kahru, an oceanographer at the University of California, San Diego using satellite imaging. But what’s good for algae is not good for polar bears or us because less ice deprives polar bears of a hunting platform and raises sea levels globally. A 1m rise in sea level would displace 145 million people, or the equivalent of about half the population of the USA. A 2 degree temperature rise would make the Earth as warm as 3 million years ago when sea levels were between 25m and 35m higher – the temperature in the Arctic in last month was 2.22°C above average for the time of year.  The extent of the sea ice in October was 28.5% less than average for the month. So while there will be snow at Christmas in the Arctic, there might not be in the future.

Our current engineering technology is both contributing to climate change and is inadequate to mitigate the consequences. These issues present a series of great opportunities disguised as insoluble problems (quoting John Gardiner), and given the predictions of the UN Intergovernmental Panel, we have less than 40 years to replace the equivalent of 200 years of engineering development (paraphrasing Yoshiyuki Sakaki). So, the generation of students entering engineering at the moment are going to be engaged in race that’s more challenging and more important to society than the race to the moon that preoccupied the generation that preceded mine.

Sources

Carl Zimmer, Global warming altering the Arctic food chain, Taipei Times, November 27th, 2016.

Blockstein DE, Weigman L, The Climate Solutions Consensus. Island Press, Washington, 2010.

John Gardiner, founder of Common Cause cited in Friedman, Thomas L., Hot, Flat and CrowdedWhy we need a green revolution and how it can renew America, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, New York, 2008.

Yoshiyuki Sakaki, President, Toyohashi University of Technology, Japan, Keynote presentation at ICEE/ICEER conference in Seoul, Korea, 25th August 2009.

Climate change and tides in Liverpool

image-20141201-20565-1eoo7rhIf you live within sight of the sea, as we do, then your life is probably influenced, to some degree, by the rise and fall of tides.  In Liverpool, we are lucky to have a particularly long historical record of tidal heights and one of my colleagues, an oceanographer, Professor Ric Williams has used this record to discuss climate variability.  The record was started and maintained between 1768 and 1793 by Captain William Hutchinson whose achievement is commemorated with a fountain in Liverpool’s historic docks, which are a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

A few weeks ago I listened to a talk by Prof Williams, in which he described how there is a rather simple relationship between surface warming and the effect of future emissions of greenhouse gases.  If the predictions of surface warming are plotted as a function of how much carbon is emitted to the atmosphere, rather than time, then a simple response emerges: the more carbon we emit, the warmer it will get. Associated with the surface warming, there is an expected sea level rise from the expansion of the water column augmented by the effect of addition of freshwater from melting of land ice. Watch Prof Williams’ Youtube video to find out more.

Sources:

Woodworth, P.L. 1999. High waters at Liverpool since 1768: the UK’s longest sea level record. Geophysical Research Letters, 26 (11), 1589-1592.

Goodwin, P., Williams, R.G. & Ridgwell, A., Sensitivity of climate to cumulative carbon emissions dues to compensation of ocean heat and carbon uptake, Nature Geoscience, 8,29–34(2015).

Image: http://theconversation.com/our-equation-proves-climate-change-is-linked-to-emissions-34897