COP20 / CMP10 Lima Peru In Summary

The COP20 CMP10 had just ended in Lima, Peru on 12 Dec. I was nominated to join as a youth delegate but was unfortunately unable to attend. However, I’ve heard many things from people about this year’s conference. Quite frankly, whenever it comes to UN conferences on climate change, my skeptical mode switches on. From last few years’ learning from conferences such as the one in Copenhagen, it seemed like all talk, little achievements and no solid conclusions. It has been notoriously known that countries come together not to work in peace and harmony on a coordinated plan to mitigate climate change but rather to pit against each other with their own interests.

What have been agreed

  • US: Committed to cut their emissions (Also first time that the US Secretary of State engaged directly in climate talks, giving a lot of teeth in the negotiations) by shuttering hundreds of coal-fired plants
  • China: Offered to set date of 2030 for peak emissions
  • EU: 40% cut in emissions by 2030 and new targets w.r.t. renewable energy.

What haven’t been agreed

  • No obligation from BRICs to cut emissions, but accepted that world needs a cap as whole
  • Developed countries’ commitment to the emerging economies to assist and provide funds for their carbon-cutting initiatives

The Kyoto Protocol was set in 1997 to engage countries (mostly developed) in the common bid to fix global temperature rise to 2 degree celcius and 350ppm as carbon output level. The commitment will expire on 2020. The 194 countries who attended the Lima conference reached key decisions that will influence the climate change pact for the 2015 Paris conference, and hopefully by 2020 the world shall see the results that it had set out to achieve more than 20 years back.

Turning ordinary waste into jet fuel

Here’s a cool interview with the UK Institution of Mechanical Engineers on the process of converting landfill waste into usable jet fuel I caught on BBC radio.

What is this process? Why do we want to do this?

Processing landfill waste into green fuel. The resulting fuel is a good quality one and is better than conventional jet fuel. This green fuel can be easily blended into existing fuel so it is straightforward in the pov of the engines. This will help in a reduction in landfill and greenhouse gas emissions.

Challenges?

The raw materials coming in is not controlled. One day there could be a lot and the next you might not get the equal amount. The inputs are variable and stuff in there may be contaminated.

What is the process?     

The main process is called the Fischer-Tropsch.

First – High Plasma Gasification. Breaking down rubbish into simple molecules.

Second – Clean the gas (one of the most important steps). Free the gas from harmful trace materials.

Third – Build up the small molecules to large again. Chemical synthesis to make it into well-defined product.

Is any type of waste usable? 

Glass, sand, metals are removed. Only the organic part goes in. Plastics, paper, food waste are ok.

This is dependent on the taxation regime and the need for carbon taxes to subsidize what they do. There are huge taxation being put on landfill, emissions trading scheme, carbon target. And incentives to do things like not throwing away waste and filling landfills. But it depends on the taxation regime and the need to subsidize what they do.

The Fisher-Tropsch process, started in 1930s, was originally was intended to turn coal into liquids, then gas into liquids. Now waste is being made into liquids.

What’s the difference between waste and biomass?

Waste is in smaller quantities.

How much fuel can be produced?

A typical plant produces half million tonnes waste a year, which converts to 100,000 tonnes of fuel: half jet fuel, half diesel.

The Fisher-Tropsch process started in the 1930s but did not catch on. Is there any new tech now to make the process more efficient?

Most of the inefficiency comes at the beginning. About 2000 tonnes of waste is blasted through the plasma per day. A lot of energy is needed – approx. 12 megawatts of plasma needed to combust the waste initially. You put in 1/3 electricity that you get produced at the end.

Does it make economic sense?

There are internal processes that can recycle the energy that is created to power back into the gasification process. The idea is to squeeze the most valuable output out of the waste. There aren’t many alternative ways. In order to get a sustainable jet fuel, it has to be good quality. You need to accept certain energy loss on the way to achieve that goal.

Isn’t it just displacement of CO2? The energy you use has to come from somewhere else, what if it’s from a coal-burning electricity plant? 

No, it is a sustainable process.

Is there any waste from the process?

There’s not a lot left. That’s a small percent of about 1-2% of the 2000 tonnes a day coming in. The key bit is, it’s a complex process. It produces 1% of British Airways demand for jet fuel. 99% are not using it. We need to do these to get it up 2-3%. 1% of one airline is not going to make a lot of difference.

Conclusion

Once the concept is proven it can be rolled out on a larger scale, a higher impact can be made. Cities produce rubbish and cities need airports — this is a natural connection. Hopefully more cities will adopt this process and make it more sustainable.

Obama’s Climate Bill – Cutting Coal 30% by 2050

Cheer-worthy news: for the first time in history, an American president is showing care (to some extent) about the environment.  Mr Obama announced a new environmental regulation to reduce overall carbon emissions by a whopping 30% by 2030.

Apparently, they are already a third of their way towards meeting the goal of 30% cut.

However, the amount of coal reduction that each state would need to achieve varies. EPA made a fantastic virtual interactive map of where power plants reside and the detailed analysis + breakdown of the current and targeted emissions levels. For a table of states and their proposed levels of reduction click here. States such as West Virginia would be subjected to a smaller percentage cut of less than 20% while states like Washington would be 70%. Each state’s luck depends on how energy dependent they are on coal and how ready they are for the switch.

Again, for your ease of info-digesting and for those lazy to read chunks of words such as yours truly, here are some breakdown of the pros and cons of this new regulation. FYI – For your crunching. Not to be accepted as hard facts.

Against:

  • Create an energy crisis and lead to power shortages
  • Inflate electricity prices
  • Job losses

For:

  • Lower medical bills and fewer trips to the emergency rooms, especially for kids with asthma, the elderly and infirm.
  • Environmental justice- lower-income families and communities of color are hardest-hit by climate change
  • Reduce smog and soot, avoiding premature deaths from heart attacks and lung disease.
  • Energy efficiency leading to lower cost, greater competitiveness.
  • More jobs would be created in the deployment of clean energy usage.

Facts:

  • There is no regulation or cap as to the amount of CO2 that can be allowed in the atmosphere at the moment in America.
  • Power plants are the largest source of pollution, contributing roughly about 40% of greenhouse gas emissions.
  • 1600 power plants, 600 of which are coal-powered.

To help ease the process of transition, the kind EPA provided a few broad solutions for power companies panicking at the moment:

1) switching from coal to cleaner-burning natural gas

2) forming cap-and-trade markets

3) expanding renewables such as wind and solar power

4) encouraging customers to use less energy by moving to more efficient heating and cooling systems and appliances

Basically, no matter what you do, you have to comply with it.

Of course, the country is divided on this new law as to whether it is a boon or bane to the future. Taking into account the amount of time that Obama is giving heavily-polluting companies to wake up and respond, I would say it’s a fairly generous move. Plus, they get 10 years between 2020 and 2030 to meet that goal. In total, they have about 15 years to think about how to rectify any reckless polluting behaviours. Sweet.

Sources: Guardian, Climate Progress, Vox, EPA