Guest Post by Willis Eschenbach
I noted on the news that there is a new plan afoot to cool down the planet. This one supposedly has been given big money by none other than Bill Gates.
The plan involves a fleet of ships that supposedly look like this:
Figure 1. Artist’s conception of cloud-making ships. Of course, the first storm would flip this over immediately, but heck, it’s only a fantasy, so who cares? SOURCE
The web site claims that:
Bill Gates Announces Funding for Seawater-Spraying Cloud Machines
The machines, developed by a San Francisco-based research group called Silver Lining, turn seawater into tiny particles that can be shot up over 3,000 feet in the air. The particles increase the density of clouds by increasing the amount of nuclei contained within. Silver Lining’s floating machines can suck up ten tons of water per second.
What could possibly go wrong with such a brilliant plan?
First, as usual the hype in this seems to have vastly outpaced the reality. According to CBS News Tech Talk:
The machines, developed by a San Francisco-based research group called Silver Lining, turn seawater into tiny particles that can be shot up over 3,000 feet in the air. The particles increase the density of clouds by increasing the amount of nuclei contained within. Silver Lining’s floating machines can suck up ten tons of water per second. If all goes well, Silver Lining plans to test the process with 10 ships spread throughout 3800 square miles of ocean. Geoengineering, an umbrella phrase to describe techniques that would allow humans to prevent global warming by manipulating the Earth’s climate, has yet to result in any major projects.
However, this is just a quote from the same web site that showed the ship above. CBS Tech Talk goes on to say:
A PR representative from Edelman later sent me this note from Ken Caldeira of the Carnegie Institution for Science: “Bill Gates made a grant to the University of Calgary to support research in possible unique solutions and responses to climate change. Administrating this research funding, David Keith of the University of Calgary and I made a grant to Armand Neukermanns for lab tests to investigate the technical feasibility of producing the fine seawater sprays required by the Latham cloud whitening proposal, one of many proposals for mitigating some of the adverse effects of climate change. This grant to Neukermanns is for lab tests only, not Silver Lining’s field trials.”
So Bill Gates isn’t funding the ships, and didn’t even decide to fund this particular fantasy, he just gave money to support research into “possible unique solutions”. Well, I’d say this one qualifies …
Next, after much searching I finally found the Silver Lining Project web site. It says on the home page:
The Silver Lining Project is a not-for-profit international scientific research collaboration to study the effects of particles (aerosols) on clouds, and the influence of these cloud effects on climate systems.
Well, that sure sounds impressive. Unfortunately, the web site is only four pages, and contains almost no information at all.
Intrigued, I emailed them at the address given on their web site, which is info(a)silverliningproj.org. I quickly got this reply:
Delivery has failed to these recipients or distribution lists:
The recipient’s e-mail address was not found in the recipient’s e-mail system. Microsoft Exchange will not try to redeliver this message for you. Please check the e-mail address and try resending this message, or provide the following diagnostic text to your system administrator.
Hmmmm … not a good sign, four page web site, email address is dead … but onwards, ever onwards. Let’s look at a few numbers here.
First, over the tropical oceans, the rainfall is typically on the order of a couple of metres per year. Per the info above, they are going to test the plan with one ship for every 380 square miles. A square mile is about 2.6 square km, or 2.6 million square metres. Three hundred eighty square miles is about a thousand square km. Two metres of rainfall in that area is about two billion tonnes of water …
They say their ships will suck up “ten tonnes of water per second”. That’s about a third of a billion tonnes per year. So if they run full-time, they will increase the amount of water in the air by about 15% … which of course means 15% more rain. I don’t know how folks in rainy zones will feel about a 15% increase in their rainfall, but I foresee legalarity in the future …
Next, how much fuel will this use? The basic equation for pumps is:
Water flow (in liters per second) = 5.43 x pump power (kilowatts) / pressure (bars)
So to pump 10,000 litres per second (neglecting efficiency losses) with a pressure of 3 bars (100 psi) will require about 5,500 kilowatts. This means about 50 million kilowatt-hours per year. Figuring around 0.3 litres of fuel per kilowatt-hour (again without inefficiencies), this means that each ship will burn about fifteen million litres of fuel per year, so call it maybe twenty five million litres per year including all of the inefficiencies plus some fuel to actually move the ship around the ocean. All of these numbers are very generous, it will likely take more fuel than that. But we’ll use them.
Next, the money to do this … ho, ho, ho …
You can buy a used fire fighting ship for about fifteen million dollars, but it will only pump about 0.8 tonnes/second. So a new ship to pump ten tonnes per second might cost on the order of say twenty million US dollars.
You’d need a crew of about twelve guys to run the ship 24/7. That’s three eight-hour shifts of four men per shift. On average they will likely cost about US$80,000 per year including food and benefits and miscellaneous, so that’s about a million per year.
Then we have fuel costs of say US$ 0.75 per litre, so there’s about ten million bucks per year there.
Another web site says:
A study commissioned by the Copenhagen Consensus Centre, a European think-tank, has estimated that a wind-powered fleet of 1,900 ships to cruise the world’s oceans, spraying sea water from towers to create and brighten clouds, could be built for $9 billion. The idea would be to operate most of the ships far offshore in the Pacific so they would not interfere with weather on land.
My numbers say $38 billion for the ships … and “wind-powered”? As a long time sailor, I can only say “get real” …
However, that’s just for the ships. Remember that we are talking about $11 million per ship for annual pumping fuel costs plus labour … which is an annual cost of another $20 billion dollars …
Finally, they say that they are going to test this using one ship per 380 square miles … and that they can blanket the world with 1,900 ships. That makes a total of around three quarters of a million square miles covered by the 1,900 ships.
The surface of the world ocean, however, is about 140 million square miles, so they will be covering about half a percent of the world ocean with the 1,900 ships. Half a percent. If that were all in the Pacific Ocean per the citation above, here’s how much it would cover:
Yeah, brightening that would make a huge difference, especially considering half of the time it wouldn’t even see the sun …
See, my problem is that I’m a practical guy, and I’ve spent a good chunk of my life working with machinery around the ocean. Which is why I don’t have a lot of time for “think-tanks” and “research groups”. Before I start a project, I do a back-of-the-envelope calculation to see if it makes sense.
My calculations show that this will cost forty billion dollars to start, and twenty billion per year to run, not counting things like ship maintenance and redundancy and emergencies and machinery replacement and insurance and a fleet of tankers to refuel the pump ships at sea and, and, and …
And for all of that, we may make a slight difference on half a percent of the ocean surface. Even if I’ve overestimated the costs by 100% (always possible, although things usually cost more than estimated rather than less), that’s a huge amount of money for a change too small to measure on a global scale.
Now Bill Gates is a smart guy. But on this one, I think he may have let his heart rule his head. One of the web sites quoted above closes by saying:
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation did not respond to requests for comment on Tuesday, nor did U.S. entrepreneur Kelly Wanser, who is leading the Silver Lining Project.
Smart move … what we have here is a non-viable non-solution to a non-problem. I wouldn’t want to comment either, especially since this non-solution will burn about 27 billion litres (about 7 billion US gallons) of fuel per year to supposedly “solve” the problem supposedly caused by CO2 from burning fuel …