Nature’s (Not-Quite) Perfect Battery
by Indur M. Goklany
The major drawback of solar power and other renewables is that they cannot be relied on to deliver energy at their rated capacity for every hour of every day of the full year. Hence, the dollars, effort and human capital devoted to developing more efficient and low cost batteries.
But Nature has already solved this problem for us a very long time ago. It developed a system to capture solar energy and store it underground for future use in gas, liquid or solid form — to be used any time or anywhere we want, in rain or shine or in windy or calm conditions.
We call this energy capture system, “photosynthesis”, and this battery, “fossil fuels”.
Nature would never have thought that elements of humanity would look this gift horse in the mouth. That—even as they use it to turn night into day and make their labor more productive, allowing them to devote much of their waking hours to activities more fulfilling than the constant pursuit of food and sustenance—they would complain about returning the basic building block of its energy store, CO2, back to the atmosphere whence it came, particularly, since this building block sustains much of the living world, including humanity itself.
Some human beings have gone so far as to favor newer storage sources (AKA biomass) over fossil fuels. But biomass itself returns its carbon to the atmosphere. So long as one uses carbon-based combustion, the chances of reducing CO2 emissions are nil, whether one uses new biomass or a fossil fuel. In fact, since newer carbon sources are also associated with higher moisture content in the fuel, burning them would increase CO2 per unit of usable energy.
But Nature’s battery is not perfect, it does release air pollutants. However, CO2 isn’t a pollutant. And the air pollutants that it emits are today cleaned relatively easily without suffering a massive energy or economic penalty.
Should we not celebrate Nature’s (not quite perfect) battery, even though it isn’t perfection itself?