Jim Hurt: Can Gov. Scott and the Climate Council please just get along?

This commentary is by Jim Hurt of Woodstock.

One way to make America great again is to create green jobs for all kinds of Americans, including new immigrants. Except for Native Americans, we are a nation of immigrants and their children, after all. America can be great again if we unite with native people for free and fair elections. Climate justice and civil rights should come hand in hand.

Vermont’s Global Warming Solutions Act is all about reducing CO2 emissions but excludes active removal of CO2 from the air, perhaps because it is considered too costly and for other understandable misgivings addressed below. 

Complicating matters, Vermont’s Climate Action Plan was recently upended after Connecticut and Massachusetts pulled out of the Transportation & Climate Initiative Program (TCI-P), which was set up to boost electric vehicles. The climate council must now find other ways to reduce CO2 emissions by about 1 million metric tons by 2025. 

Renovating Vermont’s two wood plants can cover that gap and meet new demand for electric cars and heat pumps.

Ideally, CO2 reduction should come hand in hand with active removal of CO2 from the sky simultaneously and profitably. Reports from the IPCC and COP26 suggest that reduction without removal is like digging a hole in the sky and filling it again. 

COP26, also known as the 26th Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, was recently held in Glasgow, Scotland, with mixed results and no new solutions. The missing ingredient that Gov. Scott and Vermont utilities can bring to the table is a profitable plan for CO2 removal. 

Central plants can be transformed in two stages into negative emission, power and storage stations that reuse CO2 for supplemental fuel and make other synfuels and products, such as plastic, concrete, fertilizer, graphene and carbon fiber. Besides, central power and storage support rapid growth of distributed, intermittent renewables and electric vehicles.

Unfortunately, many environmentalists have thrown the green baby out with the greenwashing. Progressives and Democrats alike do not trust “CO2 Capture” scenarios to save climate for fear of greenwashing by fossil companies who make no secret they want to capture CO2 emission to frack for natural gas or for enhanced oil recovery. 

Greens view enhanced oil recovery as evil, oily and regressive for good reason. Isn’t it too convenient to claim carbon offsets while pushing more oil and gas out of the ground and more CO2 into the atmosphere? Ditto for clear cutting entire forests.

Clearly, we should reject the misuse of CO2 chemistry to greenwash enhanced oil recovery and fracking by oil and gas companies. Instead, let’s apply the new chemistry by design to reduce CO2 emission and remove CO2 from air simultaneously. 

Carbon forests need protection. Hemp and softwoods are cheap to grow for fuel and very good at pulling CO2 out of the air to make carbohydrates. The diesel engine was invented to run on peanut oil and other biofuels, including hemp biodiesel. Think what a different world it would be if that had become the norm. Both Ford and Diesel liked industrial hemp to make biofuels, car parts and other products before a flood of cheap oil washed over them.  

This essay covers main points from a “CO2 Reuse” research summary written for the Renewable Nations Institute, posted under “Comments” on the council website. It advocates for the profitable renovation of central plants — like Vermont’s wood plants and Vermont Yankee — to make them “carbon neutral” first and then “carbon negative” in two stages within 10 years. Over 60 articles, lab reports and links are cited on a) how best to capture CO2 and b) how best to catalyze CO2 into synthetic fuels and feedstocks. 

New catalysts convert CO2 and water into hydrogen in two steps or into methane, methanol, ethanol and/or gasoline in one step. Or hydrogen can be had in one step using advanced electrolysis to make ammonia. 

If said fuels and feedstocks are responsibly utilized,then negative emissions can be actuated, monitored and certified at utility scale. The overall plan is to replace fossil fuels with a mix of efficiency, wind, solar, storage, synthetic fuels made from CO2 emission, and biofuels made from industrial hemp and other, sustainably cultivated biomass. Vermont farmers and most farmers need new cash crops.

To sum, recent advances in chemistry and agriculture can accelerate and expand cultivation of food and fuel crops that replace fossil fuels directly. If only one-third of all vehicles in 10 years are electric and one-third are plug-in hybrid-electrics, then demand for transportation fuel will crash as demand for watts sharply increases. 

In that case, biofuels can easily cover remaining fuel demand for conventional vehicles and heavy machinery. Then too, much underused farmland in the U.S. and many countries can be put back to work. Likewise, new ways to irrigate deserts beckon to us. Greening deserts is crucial to cool climate and feed the world. Monoculture agribusiness can give way to large-scale, diversified farming interspersed with wilderness reserves that nurture birds and bees. 

Let Einstein’s warning about the bees be our guide. Imagine if Monsanto supported sustainability and diversity instead of pushing a monopolistic, monoculture plot to corner the world wheat market. Will Bayer, its new owner, set a new course? 

Finally, here is some good news on the cost of CO2 capture from the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. In a study published last March, reviewed by Robert Service in Science Magazine, the lab team reported that its new EEMP solvent absorbs CO2 from flue gas and releases it as pure CO2 for as little as $47.10 per metric ton. That number is within arm’s reach of cost-effective CO2 capture. 

Gov. Scott and the Vermont Climate Council should be actively investigating these matters with an eye toward transforming Vermont Yankee and Vermont’s two wood plants into negative emission plants. Though small, 30 and 50 megawatts, these two wood plants put out over 600,000 metric tons of CO2 per year. 

Or they can be profitably retrofitted to remove most of that amount from the sky, thereby making a combined difference, for the good, of at least 1 million metric tons or about one-tenth of Vermont’s yearly CO2 emission. That would go a long way toward covering the emissions gap left by the implosion of TCI-P.

Let’s face it. Net-zero emission by 2050 is too slow. We need to begin net-negative carbon emission by 2030 or 2035 at least. Therefore, COP26 and 27 are in trouble. The Vermont Climate Council needs help. 

Gov. Scott and Vermont utilities should now come to the rescue with a profitable plan to renovate Vermont’s power plants to reduce CO2 emissions and remove CO2 from the sky and, by doing so, set the right example to the nation, the world and Joe Biden too.

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