Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Report from China Energy and Environment Summit: Frontiers of US-China Clean Technology Cooperation

CGS last week attended the China Energy and Environment Summit, hosted by, among other agencies, China's National Development and Reform Commission. Although the summit featured several interesting presentations, CGS, as is its wont, will focus on implications for international energy cooperation.

In this vein, the most notable presentation, in CGS's humble opinion, was that of Julio Friedmann, Director of the Carbon Storage Initiative at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL). Mr. Friedmann began by emphasizing that cooperation should be aimed at making clean technologies cost-competitive; if they are not, Mr. Friedmann stated, the money might well be better spent on vaccines or foreign aid programs. This is a bold, though thoroughly sensible, statement, and one which CGS believes ought to guide priorities in clean technology cooperation.

Carbon Capture and Storage

Mr. Friedmann went on to describe LLNL's work in carbon capture and storage (CCS), a technology concept that traps carbon dioxide from a point source before it is emitted into the atmosphere, and prevents it from escaping. Most CCS schemes envision injecting the captured carbon deep underground, into geological formations that will prevent leakage. Such formations are finite, leading Mr. Friedmann to describe them as a "resource, like oil or gold, that can be monetized." Such a characterization may help to persuade developing countries, such as China, invest in CCS projects- for which LLNL is well-positioned to assist. Mr. Friedmann described some cutting-edge work in membrane nanofabrication and dual-use desalinisation to assist in carbon dioxide separation , which could do much to make CCS a cost-effective reality in developing nations.

Wind, etc.

Mr. Friedmann concluded by identifying other fruitful areas for expanded US-China technology cooperation. These include bulk electrical storage, such as better batteries for vehicles, and underground coal gassification, which gassifies coal in situ, both goals Mr. Friedmann suggested be pursued through the public-private Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate.

Mr. Friedmann was most optimistic, however, about the potential for joint wind energy research. Several challenges were highlighted that cooperation would aid in solving, including managing wind intermittency, the need for high-quality modelling tools to proscribe turbine spacing, height, and placement, and the need for wind-forecasting technology with a resolution on the scale of a 1/2 square km grid. Mr. Friedmann also noted some astounding progress in wind power technology, including airborne wind turbines which have generated sustained baseload power from great heights (none are in permanent operation due to safety concerns).

It's worth noting that Mr. Friedmann's emphasis on wind comes on the heels of an important paper by Stanford's Mark Jacobson, which concludes that wind energy is overall the most sustainable raw energy source.

Going Forward

CGS emerged from this and other presentations convinced of the need to ramp up international cooperation on CCS and wind. Sadly, as Mr. Friedmann noted, the delegates to the recent climate negotiations in Poznan specifically excluded CCS from the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) program scope. Given the importance of the CDM in financing existing clean technology cooperation, this is a great shame. At least until next year, we may have to look less to the UN, and more to individual governments.

America, as Friedmann has noted elsewhere, leads the world in enhanced oil recovery, a technique akin to CCS. A newly reinvigorated approach to clean technology development and deployment, which hopefully will occur in Steven Chu's Energy Department, should thus incorporate a strong focus on cooperation with China. If Chinese and other developing-country stakeholders and researchers are included as an integral part of wind and CCS research in America, we stand a far better chance of realizing these technologies' potential to help absolve the carbon sins of the developed and developing world.

No comments:

Post a Comment