back to article Ocean seeding a dead duck as carbon solution

Seeding the ocean with iron to encourage plankton blooms works – kind of – but as a carbon sequestration approach, it’s hugely expensive, inefficient and probably ineffective, according to a Sydney University researcher. The geo-engineering idea hit the headlines earlier this year when American Russ George dumped 200,000 pounds …

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Linux

I wonder if there is a way to process atmospheric CO2 into graphite?

If a cheap catalytic reaction could be found to process CO2 in the atmosphere into graphite and oxygen, that would be a money winner. But it makes no sense to mine iron ore, process it into iron sulfate, ship it to a port, load it on a ship and then dump it in the ocean. That has to take far more carbon emissions than it traps.

Penguin icon, because he and his buddies are going to otherwise need some sunscreen :)

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FAIL

Re: I wonder if there is a way to process atmospheric CO2 into graphite?

Bonding the carbon and oxygen atoms together produced the energy that's running the world. At least as much energy is needed to pull them back apart. There are solar powered devices that are not only capable of pulling the atoms apart, but can self-repair and self replicate. They're called plants.

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Re: I wonder if there is a way to process atmospheric CO2 into graphite?

And yet despite the presence of plants, atmospheric CO2 keeps climbing, which at the very least is causing ocean acidiphication. Maybe we need something more than plants.

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Re: I wonder if there is a way to process atmospheric CO2 into graphite?

Well we need to stop throwing away perfectly good cars, or building 'disposable' hardware with locked boot-loaders. (Germany recently threw away millions of perfectly good cars in an intervention to support the car industry. Of course the new cars didn't need considerably less gasoline than the old ones.)

Just cutting back on completely unnecessary use of resources would probably bring more any of those "let's push the problem into the future so we won't have to deal with it right now.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: I wonder if there is a way to process atmospheric CO2 into graphite?

"Maybe we need something more than plants" Perhaps, but your idea is simply stupid handwaving. You may as well say Let's convert the CO2 into diamonds.

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Re: I wonder if there is a way to process atmospheric CO2 into graphite?

"Maybe we need something more than plants."

Maybe we need more plants.

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Re: I wonder if there is a way to process atmospheric CO2 into graphite?

Agreed, difficult to enforce though.

It would be nice to have some sort of punitive tax on goods that can't be (easily) repaired, but then there'd have to be some sort of judgement (which would also have a cost) as to what "easily repairable" means.

I'm not a mechanic, but (to go with the car example) a limited set of standard form factors might be a good place to start, if you're on the list, you don't pay 100% VAT. If every type of component had specified dimensions and interfaces, car repair could be greatly simplified.

So, instead of needing an alternator for a 1995 Renault Clio Petrol 1.2L from the car parts shop, you'd need a 70A alternator, which could be made by anyone according to standards.

Am I pissing in the wind here, or is there some enforcer big and powerful and nasty enough to get the car firms to do this?

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Re: I wonder if there is a way to process atmospheric CO2 into graphite?

You don't have to go mining for this stuff. That red mud (the stuff that went splat over Hungary) is 40% Fe. And it's free: people will actually pay you to take it away.

As to this paper: if it's right, well, OK. But I'd rather like to see the assumptions before we all agree that it is right.

For at the start this process is incredibly efficient. 1 tonne of Fe should create 90,000 tonnes of CO2 in the bloom. The big question is how much of that ends up on the ocean bottom waiting to be turned into chalk?

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Ru

Re: I wonder if there is a way to process atmospheric CO2 into graphite?

If anyone ever manages to cobble together a nice nanoassembler that can do carbon fixing rather more efficiently than plants, there will be rather more substantial and useful side effects than merely reducing atmospheric CO2.

Of course, you can expect such things to become practical on a similar timescale to fusion power plants. Don't hold your breath.

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Re: I wonder if there is a way to process atmospheric CO2 into graphite?

Why graphite? What's wrong with charcoal? Pretty stable, can be buried, might even be used as fuel later. This is better than my other idea, which involves building big rafts of logs from conifer plantations, adding windsails and steering them quietly up to greenland to beach for a couple of hundred years. There is a carbon cost in the actual logging operation I admit, but that's where my third plan comes in, which is a sort of "job creation" scheme for large numbers of currently underused manual labourers...

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Re: I wonder if there is a way to process atmospheric CO2 into graphite?

That was beautiful. It was also wrong. The plants bond the Carbon and _Hydrogen_ atoms together, having received the hydrogen from water and carbon from the air. Oxygen is thereby released, not bonded, as the H2O molecule discards the unnecessary oxygen. The plants make _hydrocarbons_.

But I give you nine points for art. Though it was wrong, it was nicely done.

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Re: I wonder if there is a way to process atmospheric CO2 into graphite?

We already have plants - over 70% of the surface area of the planet converting all of the solar energy they can capture to more stable and portable forms.

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Joke

Re: I wonder if there is a way to process atmospheric CO2 into graphite?

The problem with converting CO2 into diamonds is not technical, it's the inevitable cease and desist order you'd be getting from DeBeers.

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FAIL

Re: I wonder if there is a way to process atmospheric CO2 into graphite?

I can only assume you are a troll, or an idiot.

Even if you were somehow able to convert carbon dioxide into carbon and oxygen with 100% efficiency (which is not only practivcally, but also theoretically impossible), you would need to use energy to break the strong C=O bonds, in order to produce the weaker O=O and C-C bonds. Given that the sources of energy we currently use are currently overwhelmingly carbon-positive (i.e. produce a net positive amount fo CO2), you would end up releasing more CO2 inot the atmosphere than you ever managed to convert back into carbon and oxygen. The innate inefficiencies in the system would waste some of the energy as heat, so you'd actually warm the planet some more while you were doing it.

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Re: I wonder if there is a way to process atmospheric CO2 into graphite?

> If every type of component had specified dimensions and interfaces, car repair could be greatly simplified.

IIRC that's been tried, and look what happened to the Soviet Union.

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Re: I wonder if there is a way to process atmospheric CO2 into graphite?

@ Mikel - You do not seem to have read Kevin's reply correctly. He was saying the CO2 came from bonding the carbon and oxygen together when fuel was burned to release energy, and the plants are breaking that bond to use the carbon and release the oxygen.

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What's the problem?

Lessee, way cool indirect method to get rid of carbon 'pollution,' check. No NIMBY issues, check. Economically inefficient method, good for huge tax increases, check. Not required to show any real results, check.

Sounds perfect, what are we waiting for?

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Scientists

If there weren't scientists around who actually checked how well it worked, it wouldn't have been a problem.

Just think of nuclear energy, nobody actually looks at how much CO2 is produced while mining the fuel or running the reactor. That's why it's al right, and people can still believe their naive "nuclear energy is CO2 free, because there's no carbon and oxygen reactions in the reactor" myth.

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Meh

Re: What's the problem?

"Lessee, way cool indirect method to get rid of carbon 'pollution,' check. No NIMBY issues, check. Economically inefficient method, good for huge tax increases, check. Not required to show any real results, check.

Sounds perfect, what are we waiting for?"

Voted up for nicely judged cynicism. Not because it's a good idea.

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Re: Scientists

There's enough nuclear fuel sat in Sellafield for at least fifty years of UK demand, possibly more.

Mining it takes relatively little energy because the fuel is so energy-dense - much less than the "ship wood chips over from Canada" idea that's keeping Drax open.*

The real question is whether Wind is carbon neutral, given the materials, maintenance and connectivity requirements coupled with the very low generation output and the need to always use it when available, regardless of actual demand.

* Glad it is staying open, as we'd be in the dark if it wasn't.

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Stop

Depends on the fuel

Thorium nuclear power, for example.

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IT Angle

Re: Depends on the fuel

This just in: current thorium designs have nuclear weapon proliferation issues.

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Re: Depends on the fuel

"This just in: current thorium designs have nuclear weapon proliferation issues."

Thorium breeder reactors produce Uranium 233, which, whilst theoretically capable of being made into a bomb, isn't for several reasons, not least of which is the production of U233 always produces small amounts of U232 which has highly hazardous decay products which emit gamma radiation, so any practical bomb would have to be encased in several metres of concrete.

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Stasis

Almost all energy received from the sun not immediately radiated away is metabolized in photosynthesis. As is heat radiated from the core of the Earth, which still has considerable contribution from infall friction. A temperature increase improves the habitat where algae grow, which is typically inhibited by cold. And so Algae will reverse this trend in time and sink all of the carbon that we produce.

It's neither a good nor a bad thing. Oil provides useful lubricants, and we should be mindful of that.

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Re: Stasis

Well of course, we now know that we probably won't be able to wipe life of the face of the earth, but we can easily cause the earth to be uncomfortable to us. So uncomfortable that we get _real_ problems.

Just look at the world. Economic power has always been linked to the local climate. If the climate changes, the economy will change, too. There may be mass migration or wars over water. All kinds of problems which could be prevented.

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@Christian

Let's assume that our over-simplified computer models and projections of technological and economic progress over the next 50-100 years are correct. There could indeed be many problems arising from climate change.

So all we need is a way to make substantial reductions in CO2 emissions without a disastrous reduction in the energy supply; which would of itself cause far greater problems, and in the short term, rather than a century's time. Suggestions welcome - they'd better not involve a wholesale reliance on windmills.

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Re: @Christian

Well the solution is somewhere in the middle. We gradually need to exploit cheap regenerative power plants like wind and solar. At the same time we need to invest in energy storage and energy saving. For example by building electric cars which are more efficient, can be used for energy storage and, since they are a lot less complex, will probably last longer. Another idea would be to have power lines above highways so trucks could additionally run on electricity and put their brake energy back into the grid.

Those are all tiny little things, but together they can change something. And no there is no single simple solutions.

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"Environmental Impact "

"The geo-engineering idea hit the headlines earlier this year when American Russ George dumped 200,000 pounds (more than 90,000 kg) of iron sulphate in the northern Pacific Ocean to spark a plankton bloom."

Well what kind of negative environmental impact could that possibly have, eh?

If I can cite (and slightly alter) a quote from the late Sixties: "We had to destroy the earth in order to save it".

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Re: "Environmental Impact "

>Well what kind of negative environmental impact could that possibly have, eh?

Lets say it acts like a fertilizer, which it's trying to in this case. It could cause low oxygen levels in the water by causing a growth bloom. That's about all. If you're worried about the environmental impact, you'd be far more worried (at least in the U.S. case) that we put 3,000,000,000 pounds of nitrogen a year in the Gulf, from just one river. Who knows how much phosphorus. All concentrated close to the shore where it kills everything off. The place where most sea life lives.

Vast portions of the oceans are desserts. http://dsc.discovery.com/news/2009/08/27/oecan-deserts.html Huge portions of the oceans don't have much life in them all all, mostly bound the the lack of iron. Dumping iron there is analog to watering the desserts on earth.

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Re: "Environmental Impact "

Turtle, adding on to my post. Yes, it has an environmental impact, some negative, but it would be like your MPs arguing about the impact of your neighbor Mrs Tuttleworth burning her rubbish bin while the entirety of London was a burning inferno year after year.

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Re: "Environmental Impact "

"Vast portions of the oceans are desserts"

I think we need more information here. What are we talking about, Jelly & Ice Cream? Cheescake? Sticky Toffee Pudding? Inquiring minds need to know, the mining possibilities are endless!

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@pixl97 Re: "Environmental Impact "

Thank you for the reply, it was quite interesting. However, the idea that was uppermost in my mind was that this was only a test on a very small scale, and my assumption is that, in order to sequester an amount of carbon sufficient to abate AGW (in which I am not a believer at all, although I do not think that that's germane to this discussion) the amount of iron sulphate that would need to be dumped into the oceans would be really enormous - would have to be on such a scale that it could not help but have a negative effect on the oceans - and not only on ocean life proper, but also on the circulation of water in the ocean, (the correct term for which simply escapes me at the moment.)

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Re: "Environmental Impact "

There was some controversy over whether he should have done it, but if it was done right, we can learn a lot about the effectiveness. I hope that it has been done right, with water samples and monitoring and all that. I'd want to have a full year of data from before the dumping, and at least a full year after, to be able to make a comparison, and I really doubt any of the results from that operation can have gone into the reseach reported here.

Thing is, 90 tonnes into a huge ocean is still a tiny test. But it's a step in size. The results will change as the tests get bigger. I'm not terribly worried about this, and if this sort of action can make a difference, both the economics and the environmental affects need to be worked on. This study depends on knowing what happens, and that depends on well-run trials.

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When Geo Engineering...

Wear a very big hard hat!

"Unknown unknowns" and all that. While they exist in every day life, they are much smaller when they fall on your head when compared to Geo-engineering.

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Idea that sounded pretty bonkers turns out to be pretty bonkers.

I hate it when that happens. Which is annoying because that's what happens 95% of the time.

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Boffin

Cheapest solution

The cheapest solution is to curb our addiction to burning fossil fuels, but various extremely powerful vested interests have effectively blocked that.

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Re: Cheapest solution

" but various extremely powerful vested interests have effectively blocked that." Including our desire to cook our food and keep warm in cold weather!

It's (artificial) fur lined!

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Pint

Spike aviation fuel with iron compounds

They fly over the oceans, etc. etc. etc.

By the way, anyone else notice the Iridium + ADS-B thingy that's coming? They plan to save many billions of dollars of aviation fuel over the first 12 years by simply knowing where the airplanes are mid-ocean. Yay!

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Asteroids

So lets find some iron asteroids and dump them into the ocean, climate change driving space exploration! At last all that green money coming to some good use.

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Boffin

I wouldn;t give up on the idae so quickly

Large areas of the oceans are effectively deserys, because they have no nutrients for life to survive on. In many places, the bottleneck is the availability of iron. Add that, and plankton can gorw. Add plankton, and the rest of the oceanic food chain, which depends on it, can move in.

It might not be massively effective at long-term carbon sequestration, but on the other hand, could have a marked effect on ocean productivity. Essentially, add iron, get more fish.

Interestingly, it has been hypothesised that whales may play an important role in the cycling of iron in marine ecosystems. Because they move up and down the water column, they feed in the depths where iron is more plentiful, and excrete the waste matter nearer the surface, thus transporting nutrients. This is an important counter-argument to that which certain countries put forward for controlling whale numbers by culling in order to increase fishery reserves. It turns out the opposite may actually be the case, and allowing whale numbers to recover could lead to greater ocean fertility, and thus productivity.

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Childcatcher

Re: I wouldn;t give up on the idae so quickly

Large areas of the oceans are effectively deserts, because they have no nutrients for life to survive on.

...or have too much of a good thing, as in the case of the rivers emptying large amounts of fertilizer into the sea. In other cases, it is a lack of oxygen that makes it difficult for life in affected areas.

Fertilising a square kilometre of the Southern Ocean would, he said, sequester only about 10 kg of carbon – far less than the fuel consumed by the boat on an out-and-back journey.

How would it stack up against running pipelines out and simply pumping the fertilizer or fertiliser (so both sides of the pond are motivated to down-vote this) directly to the target areas?

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Re: I wouldn;t give up on the idae so quickly

One way to fertilize large areas of ocean cheaply would be to supply iron as a aerosol and let the wind disperse it over the ocean. I think most of the experiments done with Fe fertilization have been of too limited a time and too high a concentration of iron. The time span needs to be longer so that the affected area can develop a proper local flora and fauna and the concentration needs to be low enough to fully utilize the iron while not out growing the other nutrients that may be limiting (such as fixed nitrogen and phosphorus

You could use a tethered balloon to apply the aerosol or you could add it to the stack gases from a power plant. A computer could control the supply of iron solution for different wind directions and speeds. I am sure there are people out there that could figure out the affected area with a profile of the concentration of iron delivered.

For those worried about geo-engineering I would point out this is very similar to the way iron is added to coastal waters by wind borne dust off the west coast of Africa. (Google wind borne dust iron africa ocean productivity).

For those who wonder what level of iron is needed the average concentration in algae is around .7 mg/gm dry weight, thus a kilogram of iron should support the growth of ~ 1.2 tons of (dry) algae. Of course in a developed ecosystem the iron may be utilized by numerous creatures along the food chain.

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Biochar to mop up wind energy

Production of biochar from agricultural waste may be the way to go. Besides producing gas, and something like diesel, in appropriate situations the residual carbon char can be used to improve the productivity of soil.

Coupled to low-cost wind energy this could provide genuine carbon capture and, perhaps more importantly, could mop up wind's wasteful spikes in energy production and keep the fluctuations off the grid.

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