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CO2 Fool’s Errand

May 21, 2012

The UN claims that developed countries, including the United States, must cut their CO2 emissions 80% by 2050 or there will be a climate catastrophe.

It follows that if these countries can’t cut their CO2 emissions 80%, there will be an unavoidable climate catastrophe.

Can the United States cut its CO2 emissions 80%?

The answer is no, and this group of articles will explain why.

It then follows that it’s wasted effort and money to attempt to cut CO2 emissions, and that this effort should be used, instead, to grow the economy.

The source of CO2 emissions in the United States are approximately as follows:

  • 40% from generating electricity
  • 20% from using gasoline for cars
  • 40% from all other sources

CO2 emissions from generating electricity and from gasoline must be cut 80% or it will not be possible to achieve an overall 80% reduction by cutting the remaining emissions more than 80%.

Let’s deal with the electricity generation segment first, and the gasoline segment in the next article.

Figure I shows how electricity was generated in the United States in 2011.

Figure II shows that coal produced 81% and natural gas 18% of CO2 emissions from the generation of electricity.

Figure III projects that total generating capacity will need to increase by over 600,000 MW by 2050. This reflects a 1% growth rate as predicted by the Energy Information Administration (EIA) through 2030 and extrapolated to 2050. This growth rate is essentially the same as the population growth rate to 2050 and reflects the EIA’s estimates of energy savings through 2030.

This growth does not include any additional generation required for charging batteries on electric vehicles (EVs).

The projected increase in electricity generation will increase rather than cut CO2 emissions.

In 2050, total CO2 emissions from generating electricity must be reduced to 411 MMT from 2054 MMT in 2011. Figure II indicates that existing natural gas units already produce nearly all the CO2 emissions that will be allowed in 2050.

The fundamental questions are:

  1. How will this additional generation be accomplished?

How can CO2 emissions from existing coal-fired and natural gas power plants be cut 80%?

CO2 and generation

Co2 emissions and generation

Figure IV shows the predicted outcome based on four assumptions.

  1. Carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) is possible for coal-fired power plants, but not natural gas combined cycle (NGCC) plants. While carbon capture is still experimental for coal-fired power plants, there’s been no credible process demonstrated for capturing CO2 from NGCC plants.
  2. Carbon capture results in the derating of existing coal-fired power plants by over 30%. In other words, coal-fired power plants will produce 30% less electricity for the grid when equipment is installed to capture around 90% of the CO2 emissions produced by coal-fired power plants.
  3. While some existing nuclear power plants will be retired by 2050, it’s assumed that sufficient new nuclear plants will be built to offset these retirements.
  4. That wind and solar can produce 20% of the forecast generation requirements. This is the theoretical maximum percentage that the grid can tolerate from wind or any unreliable method for generating electricity.

    CO2 emissions in 2050

    Electricity shortfall in 2050

Figure IV shows that there will be at least a 24% shortfall in electricity, while Figure V shows that existing NGCC power plants produce virtually all permissible CO2 emissions in 2050. No new NGCC plants can be built. Note that over 600,000 new 1.5 MW wind turbines (average size of current units) would have to be built.

Eliminating the 24% shortfall would require building over 300 new nuclear or Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle (IGCC), 1,000 MW power plants.

IGCC power plants capture around 80% of CO2, which must then be sequestered underground if CO2 emissions are not to exceed the permissible level in 2050. IGCC power plants cost about the same as nuclear power plants.

It should be noted that around 20,000 miles of new high pressure (approx.2,000 psi) pipelines must be built to transport the CO2 to where it can be sequestered.

Without building over 300 new nuclear or IGCC 1,000 MW power plants, the 24% shortfall in electricity would require rationing.

Effect without CCS

Figure IV assumes that carbon capture of coal-fired power plants and sequestration is possible. Carbon capture is still experimental and may not work.

Even with carbon capture, the unvarnished truth is that sequestering 1,640 MMT of CO2 emissions from power plants underground, every year for centuries, and expecting them to remain there for thousands of years without leakage of CO2 back into the atmosphere is unproven and probably not possible.

Without sequestration, the permissible level of CO2 emissions in 2050 would require eliminating all coal fired power plants, including IGCC plants.

Eliminating all coal-fired power plants would result in an over 40% shortfall in electricity and a need to nearly double the number of nuclear power plants that would have to be built.

Without building 500 or more new nuclear power plants, electricity would be in very short supply and the economy would be crippled.

Conclusion for Electricity Generating Segment

It may not be theoretically impossible to cut CO2 emissions from this segment by 80%, but it’s impractical and virtually impossible. And we must still cut CO2 emissions from the use of gasoline and from the other segments of the economy that produce CO2 emissions, such as trucks, railroads, airplanes, heating of homes and industry.

It’s really a fool’s errand to attempt to cut CO2 emissions 80% by 2050.

The next article will examine whether CO2 emissions from gasoline can be cut 80% by 2050.



MMT = million metric tons

Additional information is in Carbon Folly available at Amazon. It contains actual emission data for 2004.

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7 Comments leave one →
  1. May 22, 2012 11:05 pm

    What is missing is the foolish belief in a ‘carbon footprint’ being bad.
    Added CO2 in the atmosphere is very beneficial. There are
    hundreds of studies that show how plants everywhere are now
    growing faster, bigger, and in expanding areas. And what little
    temperature increase there’s been has also benefited plants.
    Vern Cornell San Diego

  2. May 27, 2012 2:13 pm

    Reblogged this on SMIPP Ltd..

  3. May 27, 2012 3:25 pm

    Smipp Ltd::
    Thanks for reblogging the article.

    You are correct; CO2 is crop friendly and beneficial for crop growth.
    Thanks for your comment,

  4. May 31, 2012 8:42 pm

    Good stuff Donn. Hope you don’t mind that I reblogged all three of your links on CO2.
    All the best. Bud Bromley

    • June 1, 2012 10:17 am

      No, I appreciate your reblogging them.
      The more people who can see the information, the better.


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