by: Jeff McMahon , CONTRIBUTOR Opinions expressed by Forbes Contributors are their own.
We're wasting time, former Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz says in a podcast released today, by not working fervently on four large-scale projects for managing the carbon responsible for anthropogenic climate change.
The Nobel Prize winning physicist sat down Friday to record a conversation with economist Michael Greenstone, the director of the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago, in which he pressed for urgent action on four carbon-management technologies. I recently became host of the EPIC podcast, Off the Charts, which published the episode yesterday.
In it, Greenstone asks Moniz about the diminishing opportunity the world has to achieve the international goal of limiting the increase in the global average surface temperature to no more than 2º C.
Later, Moniz becomes more animated about the need for these technologies.
"We’ve got to get on with that. We’ve got to get on with that. We’ve been wasting time, in my view. I mean we were doing things, but I think this needs to be a big push," he says.
1. Carbon Sequestration At Massive Scale — "You know, the scale isn’t fully appreciated," Moniz said. "If you have 1,000 megawatts of coal plant and you capture 90 percent of the CO2 for 50 years—let’s say the life of the plant—and you put that CO2 underground and it forms a reservoir, that reservoir would be equivalent to 2 billion barrels. From one 1,000 MW (plant)! That’s the size of a big oil reservoir. So it gives you an idea. Now if you need a thousand of those, this is a big deal, with lots of science problems and lots of policy problems, regulatory problems etc. to manage."
2. Carbon Utilization — "Then there is the science of can we do very large-scale utilization of CO2? I mean with reasonable economics." Excess atmospheric carbon could serve as a raw material for all sorts of products and processes—building materials, cements, chemicals, plastics, grid batteries, media for enhanced oil recovery, solar fuels.
3. Sunlight To Fuels — The Energy Department has managed an innovation hub called the Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis in California since 2010. It pursued solar generation of hydrogen until 2015 and is now focused on using sunlight to break CO2 into oxygen and carbon monoxide, which can serve as the basis for liquid fuels. Research is underway at many other institutions as well, but Moniz is calling for much greater investment, a much bigger push to develop solar fuels. "That's a big Holy Grail," he says.
4. Biological Carbon Management — The Earth already does us the favor of absorbing more than half of the carbon pollution humans emit every year, "sinking" the carbon into soil and ocean. Researchers are tinkering with those processes to develop more efficient sinks, through reforestation or improved grazing practices for example, or through fuels that recycle carbon because they are made from plants or algae instead of petroleum. "Can we manage the terrestrial system to fix a lot more carbon?" Moniz asks.
"There’s lots and lots to do here. We need to get on with that portfolio. I want to make it clear... we need to do all of them now."
By Jeff McMahon, based in Chicago.