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Mission critical for carbon management

Unprecedented collaboration among science, policy and industry vital to reduce the effects of carbon emissions on the climate

February 17, 2008 Share This!

BOSTON – Integrating science and public policy with the needs of consumers and the global economy is critical if we have any chance of reducing the effects of carbon on the climate, say scientists at the 2008 Annual Meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

“Dramatic changes are in store for the global energy system,” says Mike Davis, who leads the Energy and Environment Directorate at the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. “Collaboration among scientists, policy makers and industry must happen at unprecedented levels with science providing the basis for viable solutions.”

Scientists from around the globe will discuss the role of science, technology and policy in developing solutions to manage carbon during the AAAS symposium The Carbon Journey: Understanding Global Climate Effects and Advancing Solutions.

Davis moderated the symposium with presentations from Michael Mudd of AEP and FutureGen, Douglas Ray of PNNL, Robert C. Marlay from the U.S. Climate Change Technology Program, Xinhe Bao of the Dalian Institute of Chemical Physics and V. Ramanathan, from the University of California San Diego.

Globally, 85 percent of energy comes from hydrocarbons – coal, oil, natural gas and biomass. As demand for energy continues to rise, carbon emissions will increase. PNNL organized the symposium to provide an overview of the scientific, political, industrial and international perspectives related to climate change and carbon management challenges.

“To have a meaningful impact on managing carbon emission, we need to think about the problem globally,” says Davis. “The solutions have to work for China, India, our own country and many others. Solutions have to be realistic and respect standards of living, the economy and national security.”

Ray, who leads PNNL’s Fundamental and Computational Sciences Directorate, gave an overview of scientific questions that must be answered to "limit this uncontrolled experiment with the carbon cycle. The technologies we'll need in 50 years are going to be based on fundamental discoveries we need to be making now," he says.

Future technologies will require research that scientists are just now starting to explore and other findings that we can only imagine at the moment. For example, accurate modeling of the entire Earth's system -- which includes air, land and ocean -- now requires making sense of petabytes of data (a billion times more than mega).

Capturing carbon dioxide that continues to be generated will require new chemical processes to cheaply and efficiently snag the gas before it disappears into the air. And storing it safely and effectively will require a better understanding of the chemical reactions that happen between carbon dioxide and other compounds in the ground. Being able to predict how stored carbon will affect its surroundings is key to tackling global warming. Ray touched on additional challenges and the science needed to meet them as well.

Edmonds, an economist and environmental scientist from the Joint Global Change Research Institute, discussed the latest findings from the Global Energy Technology Strategy Program, a decade of research on climate change technologies. Analyses make it clear that to reduce carbon dioxide to levels at which warming ceases, we need to stop carbon dioxide from hitting the air -- as soon as possible. Tapering usage is one way, but we can't give up our gas-powered cars overnight -- instead we need to take the long view to make the transition to a carbon emissions-free world, researchers say.

In order to have the greatest impact long-term, we need to invest in technologies already available. For example, good carbon sequestration technologies already exist -- and are being used -- but not on a scale that makes a dent in the problem.

The findings also suggest that modeling carbon prices on other pollutants, such as sulfur permit prices, isn't accurate. And unlike new technologies -- which start expensive and get cheaper over time -- the value of carbon itself will always go up, doubling every 15 years. The fewer carbon emissions allowed, the more expensive they get. “We’re presenting insights that other people haven’t caught up to yet,” says Edmonds.

The panel provided an international perspective on the carbon management challenge. Bao discussed the fundamental research underway in China to address separation and transfer of CO2 as it relates to carbon capture and sequestration. Ramanathan provided insight on The Surya project, a comprehensive and rigorous scientific monitoring of soot emission in India that will have fundamental policy implications for reducing black carbon.



The symposium was held at the 2008 Annual Meeting in Boston, Mass., on Sunday February 17, 2008, at 8:30 a.m. in Hynes Convention Center, third level, Room 306.

The Global Energy Technology Strategy Program is an international research effort led by the Joint Global Change Research Institute, a partnership between the U.S. Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and the University of Maryland.

Tags: Energy, Environment, Fundamental Science, National Security, Biomass, Emissions, Carbon Capture and Sequestration, Climate Science

Interdisciplinary teams at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory address many of America's most pressing issues in energy, the environment and national security through advances in basic and applied science. Founded in 1965, PNNL employs 4,300 staff and has an annual budget of more than $1 billion. It is managed by Battelle for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science. As the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States, the Office of Science is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information on PNNL, visit the PNNL News Center, or follow PNNL on Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn and Twitter.

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