Guest essay by Eric Worrall
If you thought the planned Canadian $50 / ton for carbon will be painful, a study published in Nature explores optimal carbon sequestration technologies at various much higher carbon price points. It concludes conventional carbon sequestration – burying CO2 in a disused gas well – offers poor returns below $1000 / ton. Below $400 / ton your only hope of making profit is to burn biomass to ash (and claim the carbon you burn is renewable). But at $400 / ton, Biochar – burying residual charcoal after volatiles are extracted and burned – is the technology of choice.
Optimal bioenergy power generation for climate change mitigation with or without carbon sequestration
Restricting global warming below 2 °C to avoid catastrophic climate change will require atmospheric carbon dioxide removal (CDR). Current integrated assessment models (IAMs) and Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change scenarios assume that CDR within the energy sector would be delivered using bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS). Although bioenergy-biochar systems (BEBCS) can also deliver CDR, they are not included in any IPCC scenario. Here we show that despite BECCS offering twice the carbon sequestration and bioenergy per unit biomass, BEBCS may allow earlier deployment of CDR at lower carbon prices when long-term improvements in soil fertility offset biochar production costs. At carbon prices above $1,000 Mg−1 C, BECCS is most frequently (P>0.45, calculated as the fraction of Monte Carlo simulations in which BECCS is the most cost effective) the most economic biomass technology for climate-change mitigation. At carbon prices below $1,000 Mg−1 C, BEBCS is the most cost-effective technology only where biochar significantly improves agricultural yields, with pure bioenergy systems being otherwise preferred.
Read more: http://www.nature.com/articles/ncomms13160
Can you imagine a world where carbon is priced above $1000 / ton? People would be selling the bodies of their dead relatives to help cover funeral costs. No home would be able to afford heating, unless your rooftop solar array was having a good day. Yet this is the world government policy planners are embracing as a future goal.
Environmental planners are well aware that double digit carbon pricing, say the Canadian $50 / ton, isn’t really going to make that much difference. People will simply swallow the pain and keep driving their cars.
But $50 / ton creates acceptance of the new tax, just as the original small income tax in Britain, to pay for British intervention in France, acclimatised people to the concept of paying part of their income to the government.
In America’s case, paying for the Civil War was the original excuse for an income tax – until the 16th Amendment enshrined the right to gather the new income tax into the American Constitution.
At $400 / ton, or $1000 / ton, or more, which is where carbon pricing is heading if greens get their way, the pain really kicks in. People would have to give up home heating and driving. Everything will become hideously expensive. The modern world will be swept aside, and replaced by the destitution and hardship our ancestors experienced.
But by then, we’ll probably have a new amendment to the US constitution, and the painful new Carbon tax will be with us for always.