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Can small nuclear reactors help Canada reach its net-​​zero 2050 goals? Some experts are skeptical

November 9, 2020: Canada has expressed interest in a new, smaller type of nuclear reactor that proponents say will be critical to help the country reach its target of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. But there is debate among researchers, advocates and other experts on whether these new reactors are necessary to reach net-zero — or whether it's better accomplished by focusing efforts elsewhere.

Daniel Kammen, a professor of energy at the University of California, Berkeley, cautions that any stance on the role small modular reactors will play in Canada's energy future depends on research and data that could still be years away. "We have a data set, currently, of zero," he told What on Earth. Screen Shot 2020-11-09 at 12.14.52 PM "You can forecast what they might be based on technical assessments ... but it's based on no real data. It's based just on what we hope will come out of different plans."
Daniel Kammen is a professor of energy at the University of California, Berkeley. (Elena Zhukova/Submitted by Daniel Kammen)
Small modular reactors, or SMRs for short, are smaller than a conventional nuclear power plant and can be manufactured in a factory before being transported and assembled elsewhere — something proponents say will lower costs. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the UN organization for nuclear cooperation, considers an SMR to be "small" if it generates under 300 megawatts of electricity, compared to traditional nuclear reactors that typically generate about 800 megawatts, or about enough to power about 600,000 homes at once (assuming that 1 megawatt can power about 750 homes). The federal government called it the "next wave of innovation" in nuclear energy technology and an "important technology opportunity for Canada." In October, the federal government announced it was investing $20 million into Terrestrial Energy to help the Oakville, Ont., company develop its design of a small modular reactor. Last December, Ontario Premier Doug Ford, New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs and Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe released a joint statement committing to developing SMRs in Canada. Alberta joined that agreement in August. While the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission is currently conducting pre-licensing reviews on several designs, forecasts suggest it could be years, perhaps 2030, before SMRs would be operating in Canada.
(CBC News)
According to the Canadian Nuclear Association's SMR roadmap, the small reactors would help replace energy capacity lost by closing coal plants, help power off-grid projects like mines and oilsands sites, and replace diesel fuel in remote communities. "We have not seen a model where we can get to net-zero emissions by 2050 without nuclear," Natural Resources Minister Seamus O'Regan told The House in September. "This is a zero-emission energy source." Nuclear energy is actually considered a low-emission — not zero-emission — energy source by the International Energy Agency (IEA), Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and others. While the nuclear fission that takes place inside a reactor doesn't emit carbon, greenhouse gas emissions result from the surrounding processes and operations: mining the uranium, building the reactor and its eventual decommission.
Benjamin Sovacool is the director of the energy group at the University of Sussex, and a lead author for the IPCC on how to mitigate climate change between now and 2050. (University of Sussex/Submitted by Benjamin Sovacool)
"When you look at the entire fuel cycle and you broaden the lens across it, you start to capture a whole host of emissions that are often excluded," said Benjamin Sovacool, director of the energy group at the University of Sussex, and a lead author for the IPCC on how to mitigate climate change between now and 2050. Sovacool said that renewables like solar and wind provide a bigger bang for the buck to lower emissions, and are widely available now, unlike SMRs. "Nuclear power is like fighting world hunger with caviar, it's like using the most expensive option when there are far more plentiful and nutritious options available when you account for the costs," he told What on Earth. John Gorman, however, is convinced nuclear power is the way forward — and that SMRs are a crucial part of the plan. He's the president and CEO of the Canadian Nuclear Association — but before that, he was head of the Canadian Solar Industries Association. "When I moved over from the renewable side, I had to do a lot of homework to really look into the technology, its track record, the way that it deals with some of the issues that are of most concern to people," he told Lynch. "I've come to the realization after all of that that really there is no way to net zero without nuclear. And secondly, it just is a really safe, remarkable technology." Gorman pointed to decades of North American experience working with nuclear energy, and affirmed the importance of going through the regulatory process throughout development to ensure SMRs are as safe and efficient as possible. He said the seven-to-10-year estimates for SMRs to become a reality in Canada are "a blink of an eye in terms of energy planning," and that they will become "a real, necessary tool" for Canada's net-zero targets. Kammen isn't convinced that SMRs have quite yet earned a green light. "You ... have to worry about the end of life and the risk issues that are not a feature of wind or solar," he said., "A bad batch of solar panels is actually a learning event, whereas a bad batch of components for a nuclear plant can be catastrophic." Kerry Blaise, staff lawyer at the Canadian Environmental Law Association, said SMRs and nuclear energy present "a dangerous distraction from real climate action." Her stance is echoed by more than 25 environment and citizens' groups, including Greenpeace, the Sierra Club and Equiterre, which released a statement in October. Blaise said the modular nature of SMRs means that fuel for the reactors — and, eventually, the radioactive waste they produce — will have to be transported more frequently, especially if they are deployed in remote locations like mines and Indigenous communities. She added that "the economics don't add up" regarding arguments that nuclear energy should be "part of the mix" along with renewable energy. "The cost of renewables continues to go down due to incremental manufacturing and installation improvements, while nuclear, despite having had half a century of industrial experience, continues to have costs that are rising," she said. Nuclear power has been declining worldwide for decades, and cost has been one challenge, according to a 2019 report from the IEA, which said "new projects have been plagued by cost overruns and delays." Kammen said he's seen a large amount of private sector investment in SMRs, which could help accelerate development to make it competitive alongside renewables like solar and wind. But it will be some time, he said, before anyone can guess what "mix of technologies" will be best. "These new nuclear plants need to perform at a cost level that we have not seen. They need to perform at a reliability level we haven't seen.... And then finally, the most critically, these plants have to be demonstrated to be operated safely during their lifetime and for the fuel management at the end of life cycle," he said. "That's a big list of ifs. So I'm rooting for nuclear, but I think that list of challenges is exceedingly long." _________ For the original CBC source: click here. Link:

Coronavirus epidemic snarls science worldwide

For the original in Science, click here.

Coronavirus epidemic snarls science worldwide

Robert F. Service

Like most universities in China, the campus of Huazhong University of Science and Technology in Wuhan is deserted.


The coronavirus epidemic now racing across China is forcing Jeffrey Erlich, a Canadian neuroscientist at New York University Shanghai, to weigh his science against concern for his staff. Erlich performs animal experiments at a neighboring university; as part of efforts to control the illness, known as COVID-19, officials there have asked him to halt the studies and use as few staff as possible to take care of his animals. But he is training mice and other species on very complex tasks; the interruption could set him back 6 to 9 months. “It's really hard balancing the research productivity of the lab and the safety and comfort of my staff,” he says. “When you've invested years of work into experiments, where do you draw the line about what's considered essential?”

Erlich is just one of thousands of scientists in China whose work is suffering. Universities across the country have been closed since the Lunar New Year, 25 January. Access to labs is restricted, and projects have been mothballed, fieldwork interrupted, and travel severely curtailed. Scientists elsewhere in the world are feeling the impact as well, as collaborations with China are on pause and many scientific meetings, some as far away as June, have been canceled or postponed.

The damage to research pales compared with the human suffering wrought by the virus. As Science went to press, the total number of cases had risen to 73,332, almost 99% of them in China, and 1873 deaths had been counted; the specter of a pandemic is still very real. Still, for individual researchers the losses can be serious—and stressful. “Basically, everything has completely stopped,” says John Speakman, who runs an animal behavior lab at the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) in Beijing. “The disruption is enormous. The stress on the staff is really high.” But Speakman says he understands why the Chinese government closed universities and institutes. “It's annoying, but I completely support what they have done,” he says.

Disruptions are particularly acute in Wuhan and other cities in Hubei province, the epicenter of the outbreak, which are almost completely cut off from the outside world. “I'm working more now than ever before the epidemic,” says Sara Platto, a professor of animal behavior at Jianghan University in Wuhan. But she faces major obstacles: Faculty and students living on campus are confined to their apartments, and Platto, who lives off-campus, can venture outside only once every 3 days. She is working with colleagues in Beijing who are studying the relationship of the novel virus to another coronavirus isolated from a pangolin. But a paper she is writing has been delayed because her notes are in her office and she can't get back on campus.

The situation is not much better in other cities. “Unfortunately, the virus is very annoying with regards to work,” says Jingmai O'Connor, a paleontologist at CAS's Institute for Vertebrate Paleontology in Beijing. “There is no one working the collection, no one to sign paperwork so things can't get done, overseas travel is canceled. … No samples can be analyzed, all we can do is work on preexisting data on our computers,” O'Connor says. “It sucks!”

Some researchers in China have switched from lab work to writing papers and grant applications. The National Science Foundation of China has postponed grant application deadlines by several weeks, giving researchers time to catch up. Online classes, which many universities and institutes have ramped up to keep students on schedule, are also keeping scientists busy. Poo Muming, a neuroscientist at CAS's Center for Excellence in Brain Science and Intelligence Technology, says he is teaching daily 2-hour neurobiology lectures: “Surprisingly, there are thousands of people tuning in each day.”

China's lockdown is felt even half a world away. Daniel Kammen, a renewable energy researcher at the University of California, Berkeley, says it is impeding his lab's efforts to help set up green transportation projects, including the rollout of electric taxis, throughout China.

But labs working on the fight against COVID-19 are in overdrive. At Tsinghua University in Beijing, Zhang Linqi has switched from HIV to the novel coronavirus; his lab members even decided to forgo the Lunar New Year celebrations last month. “[We] decided we would celebrate it by conducting research,” Zhang says. The team synthesized and characterized the “spike” on the coronavirus's surface, a protein that helps it enter human cells; Zhang's lab has joined industrial partners to develop a vaccine targeting the spike. Countless infectious disease labs in the rest of the world have put their regular work on hold as well. “The main effect has been the need to triage work, to push other projects to the back burner while we help our Chinese colleagues analyze the vast amount of new COVID-19 data,” says Christopher Dye of the University of Oxford.

The spread of the virus has upended plans for numerous scientific conferences. So far, more than a dozen have been canceled or postponed—not just in China but elsewhere in Asia and Europe as well. Among the casualties are the International Society for Stem Cell Research's international symposium, which was scheduled for March in Shanghai, and the 2nd Singapore ECS Symposium on Energy Materials in early April. Organizers of the International Congress on Infectious Diseases, planned for 20–24 February in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, postponed their meeting, saying the priority for its registrants is to fight the coronavirus outbreak in their home countries.

Concern is also rising that the epidemic could disrupt the global medicine supply. China and India produce an estimated 80% of all active pharmaceutical ingredients, the raw materials for antibiotics and drugs for cancer, heart disease, and diabetes. With many Chinese factories shuttered, stockpiles could run short. “This is a very acute issue now,” says Michael Osterholm, the head the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, which studies drug availability.

But Mariângela Simão, assistant director general for access to medicines and health products at the World Health Organization, says the agency sees no “immediate risk” of COVID-19 affecting supplies of essential medicines. Simão's team is in daily contact with international pharmaceutical associations, which track shipping disruptions from their member companies. Many companies stockpiled 2 to 4 months of their products prior to the Lunar New Year celebrations, she says. And while Hubei is home to some pharmaceutical companies, far more are in Shanghai and other parts of China that are less affected. But the picture could change if the virus isn't brought under control, Simão notes. “It will all depend on how the situations evolve with the outbreak.”

* With reporting by Dennis Normile, Gretchen Vogel, Jon Cohen, and freelance journalist Rebecca Kanthor in Shanghai.

Carbon capture: boom or boondoggle?

For US News & World Report, click here. by Alan Neuhauser

WHEN A CANADIAN STARTUP announced this spring that it would soon begin building a new type of facility that could remove carbon dioxide from the air, it sparked considerable fanfare. Screen Shot 2019-07-26 at 5.03.48 PM
Headlines declared the project, which this spring won $68 million in financing, a "potential solution to global warming." The design, the brainchild of an acclaimed Harvard physics professor and Time magazine "Hero of the Environment," won backing from Bill Gates.
Theoretically, such a facility could work virtually anywhere, extracting harmful greenhouse gases from the air on a massive scale. But the concept was embraced early on by oil companies, which quickly saw the possibility of liberating the drilling and extraction process from complaints about the emissions it generates. In fact, the plant under construction is being built in the heart of Texas oil country, in partnership with a subsidiary of one of the largest oil firms in the U.S., Occidental Petroleum. Occidental was one of three oil conglomerates to make sizable investments in the company.
The idea behind the facility, called carbon capture, isn't new: It's been in use for years at a handful of coal-fired power plants, oil and gas processing facilities and fertilizer plants in the U.S. The oldest operating site began vacuuming CO2 from a natural gas plant in 1972. Trees, which suck up CO2, could also be described as engaging in natural carbon capture.
What makes the Texas project different, though, is its promise to remove carbon dioxide through "direct air capture:" Rather than drawing CO2 from a smokestack, it instead pulls the gas from the open air regardless of location or even the gas's concentration. Carbon Engineering, the company behind the project, says that with little more than off-the-shelf industrial-scale fans, filters and common chemicals, it's solved a challenge long seen as beyond the reach of engineers or any reasonable budget.
"The idea of pulling CO2 out of the air has been around for 40-50 years, but what's the challenge is doing it at scale in a cost-effective manner," says Steve Oldham, the CEO of Carbon Engineering. "Hopefully we have the answer to that."
"In general, air capture and storage on a meaningful scale is a far tougher problem than CO2 capture at power plants and industrial facilities," says Edward Rubin, an environmental engineering professor at Carnegie Mellon University's Wilton E. Scott Institute for Energy Innovation. "Much harder to find the needle in a haystack that's 300 times bigger – hence, much more costly."
Another professor put it more bluntly. "A lot of numbers being thrown out there today are just unbelievable," says Howard Herzog, a senior research engineer at the MIT Engineer Initiative. "From what I've read, I've seen so many red flags that I'm totally shocked."

Carbon Engineering insists that its technology works. The carbon dioxide its Texas plant collects will be injected and stored underground, making the entire loop carbon-negative, the company says. By its calculations, the Texas plant will remove 500 kilotons of CO2 per year from the atmosphere – the equivalent of planting and nourishing some 20 million trees.

"Basically you have a carbon-neutral fossil fuel," Oldham says. "We have extracted from the air, in advance, an amount of CO2 that is more than the CO2 produced when you burn that crude."
The design is "deceptively straightforward," he says. The CO2 binds with a liquid chemical, the mixture then pushed through a filter. Carbon Engineering has been testing the approach since 2015, when a pilot facility at its headquarters outside Vancouver began pulling up to a metric ton per day of CO2 from the air. The planned site in Texas will aim to capture 500,000 metric tons a year, the company says – and, with expansions, perhaps as much as 1 million. "I actually used to work in satellites, so I can actually say it's not rocket science," Oldham says. "Our technology has always been designed for scalability. It's a question of repeating the same plant many times."
The goal, he says, is to buy time: To stave off the worst consequences of climate change as electric vehicles make inroads and solar panels, wind turbines and – more recently – battery storage expand and replace the coal, gas and oil plants that remain entrenched in the world's electric grids.
"We are not in a position as a society today to move off fossil fuels. So from an environmental perspective, we think this is worth doing," Oldham says.
The idea has found outside support. In a study this week in the journal Nature Communications, for example, a team of European scientists concluded that while technologies like those being developed by Carbon Engineering should "be developed and deployed alongside, rather than instead of, other mitigation options," they're still worth pursuing.
But concern remains that such technology could actually enable the continued use of fossil fuels rather than serve as a bridge to phasing them out. Occidental also plans to harness the gas captured by its new plant for what's known as "enhanced oil recovery," where CO2 is injected into deposits to make the company's drilling operations even more productive. The company is the biggest employer of enhanced oil recovery in the U.S.
There is also the issue of scale: Humans last year generated a record 36.2 gigatons of carbon dioxide – each gigaton 1,000 times the size of just one of the 500 kilotons that the Carbon Engineering plant aims to remove. Removing the CO2 from just 2018 alone would require planting close to a trillion trees. The Carbon Engineering plant, by comparison, would need to be replicated some 40,000 times – and even then, only if carbon emissions leveled off, which is far from certain.

"CO2 negative – yeah, right. It's a big sham ... There's no proof that there's actually anything captured by anything."

"Am I saying we should build 40,000 of our plants? God, I hope not, because that will mean we've failed in a lot of other measures," Oldham says. But, he continues, "it's less than there are water treatment plants, it's less than there are power stations – it's not totally ridiculous thinking about building that many. I hope that we don't have to, but if we do, our company wants to have that technology ready."
Other experts insist that no matter how many plants Carbon Engineering licenses or builds, the company will never accomplish what it claims – and, in fact, may simply generate more emissions. Carbon removal, at least as proposed by Carbon Engineering, as well as by two competitors in Alabama and Switzerland, remains firmly in the realm of alchemy, they argue, with one professor comparing the company's claims and resulting fanfare to Theranos, the startup that attracted billions of dollars in investment and press attention by claiming to remake blood-testing, but whose founders were later indicted on federal fraud charges.
Carbon Engineering's planned project, he contends, simply will not accomplish what the company has claimed: It requires so much energy – generated by burning natural gas – that anywhere from a third to three quarters of the CO2 the plant captures will effectively end up back into the atmosphere, Jacobson says. The claim that CO2 injected underground will remain there, meanwhile, has yet to be proven at scale, he argues.
"There's no proof that there's actually anything captured by anything," Jacobson says. "It's a gimmick that actually does not work."
Carbon Engineering maintains that its plans call for capturing any emissions from the natural gas plant. But while other academics have taken issue with Jacobson's math, but they agree that his conclusions are correct.
"On this point we agree: The numbers as far as how much Carbon Engineering and the Swiss company can capture – they are wrong," says Dan Kammen, a physicist and professor of energy at the University of California-Berkeley.
"Their assumptions about how much energy they're going to need are way underestimated. I don't even think they understand they have a problem. I don't think they'll ever get the commercial plant to work."
Carbon Engineering's planned Texas site wouldn't be the first ambitious, large-scale carbon capture facility in the U.S. In 2010, Southern Company, one of the country's largest electric utilities, broke ground for a new coal-fired power plant in Mississippi, one that would integrate carbon capture to prove the viability of so-called "clean coal." Seven years later, the Kemper project was $5 billion over budget, the subject of a Securities and Exchange Commission investigation and multiple lawsuits, and Southern Company pulled the plug. The plant now burns natural gas.
"They spent $7 billion to prove themselves – and this is not a startup company, this is one of the two biggest utilities in the U.S. They have their own engineering force. But they so overestimated this, they lost billions of dollars," Herzog says. "It's easy to fool yourself if you want to believe and you don't want to take a hard engineering look at it."
The Kemper project, he points out, was designed to be about 220 times larger than a pilot version of the planned carbon-capture facility. The Carbon Engineering site, by contrast, is a 2,500-fold leap.
"These are giant jumps," Herzog says. "So, as an engineer – this is crazy, alright?"
Carbon Engineering hasn't put a price tag on its Texas project; a spokeswoman says that "financing for the project will likely be in the hundreds of millions." The company meanwhile says that it's aware that such a large leap in scale from its pilot plant to the one planned for Texas presents significant challenges. The study in Nature Communications concluded that scale – not cost – probably presents the biggest hurdle to the technology's success. "Everybody acknowledges that risk, including Carbon Engineering. We don't hide from that risk at all," Oldham says. He vigorously disputed the professors' other critiques. "We've refined and updated and optimized our process significantly. To my knowledge, none of these people have come and actually talked to the company. Come and invite them, they're all invited to our facility, they can come and see our systems working, we have produced financial models ... the due diligence that we've done – come and look at it all. There's nothing to hide here."

A climate change solution slowly gains ground

For the original Washington Post, story, click here. Screen Shot 2019-04-22 at 9.58.46 PM   HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - At the end of a cul-de-sac called Fresh Way, two bright green structures the size of shipping containers gleam in the warm sunlight, quietly sucking from the air the carbon dioxide that is warming the planet. One structure houses computer monitors and controls. Atop the other, large fans draw air through slabs made of honeycomb-style ceramic cubes. The cubes hold proprietary chemicals that act like sponges, absorbing carbon dioxide at room temperature. Every 15 minutes, the slabs rotate and the cubes are heated, releasing a stream of 99 percent pure carbon dioxide into a shiny steel pipe.

This is Global Thermostat, one of just three companies at the leading edge of the hunt for ways of skimming carbon dioxide from the air. It is a tiny step, but a hopeful one, toward reducing global warming. Amid a steady drumbeat of grim news about climate change, more and more people are captivated by the idea that a feasible process can help offset decades of damage to the atmosphere. Some big deep-pocketed corporations - including oil companies - are looking, too. They are lured not so much by the virtues of fighting climate change but by the prospects of making money. Though long a prohibitively expensive technology, carbon capture has become a tantalizing possibility thanks to technological advances - and new generous government incentives. There's little time to spare. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has written that any hope to meet the 2 degree Celsius goal for global warming "will require measures to reduce emissions, including the further deployment of existing and new technologies." For a decade, the three companies - Carbon Engineering, Climeworks and Global Thermostat - have experimented with technologies such as the shape and chemical makeup of the spongelike membranes in an effort to reduce the towering cost of capturing carbon dioxide directly from thin air. Now their work is poised to move beyond the lab tables and prototypes.
"Our business plan is to show that cleaning the atmosphere is a profitable activity," said Graciela Chichilnisky, a Columbia University economics professor and one of the co-founders of Global Thermostat who estimates that CO2 could become a trillion dollar market. Over the past several years, the firms have vied to make technological progress. The cost of carbon capture has fallen from $600 a ton to as low as $100 a ton - and lower if a cheap or free source of heat or energy is available. Federal subsidies are just as important. New U.S. federal tax credits provide as much as $50 for every ton of carbon dioxide captured and stored underground in well-sealed geological formations.
Oil companies can use the credits to pay for turning captured carbon dioxide into transportation fuels, essentially recycling the CO2. That would help Big Oil meet California regulations requiring lower amounts of carbon in motor fuels. And the oil giants can also claim a $35-a-ton credit for enhanced oil recovery - injecting carbon dioxide into the ground to increase well pressure and boost oil production in old fields like the Permian Basin in west Texas. Oil companies currently extract natural carbon dioxide from natural reservoirs before pumping it back into the ground. The federal tax credits, known as 45Q credits, were slipped into the 2018 federal budget in the wee hours of Feb. 9, 2018, after a nine-hour government shutdown. It attracted support from both parties, with leading roles played by Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., whose state relies heavily on oil, gas and coal production, and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., who has spoken almost weekly on the Senate floor about the urgency of climate change and the danger of burning fossil fuels. One reason they agree: It's politically more appealing to give away money through a tax credit than it is to impose a carbon tax that takes money away. A carbon tax is levied on the carbon content of hydrocarbon fuels such as coal, oil or natural gas that emit carbon dioxide and it raises prices for products such as gasoline or electricity. Environmentalists are divided on the tax credits. Most want to bury captured carbon dioxide in geological formations underground rather than using it to produce more fossil fuels. "We concluded that it was not possible to square it with our work to end fossil fuel subsidies," said David Hawkins, director of climate policy at the Natural Resources Defense Council, which stayed neutral on the measure.
But of the 65 million tons of carbon dioxide that is pumped underground in the United States every year, about 60 million tons is for enhanced oil recovery, said Sally Benson, co-director of Stanford University's Precourt Institute for Energy. And demand is growing. Whitehouse said "at this point, the only revenue proposition for carbon capture is enhanced oil recovery." "As angry and frustrated I am at the behavior of these companies," he said, "if that's what it takes to save the planet I'm willing to make that investment." And Republican senators joined in the name of "innovation," and seemed unbothered that by putting a price on the credits they were flouting the Trump administration's effort to stymie any form of carbon tax. "People now understand the need for addressing climate change," Carbon Engineering's chief executive Steve Oldham said in an interview after testifying before a Senate committee. "When you don't have a solution, it's a scary thought." "We're trying to get the message out that there is a solution here," he added, "and it is not forcing everybody to buy a new car or stop taking airplanes." --- Oldham himself is a sign that carbon capture is closer to becoming a business. He only recently took the helm at the 10-year-old Carbon Engineering, which has built a prototype on a scenic spot near an old lumber town about 30 miles north of Vancouver. Oldham wasn't an expert on carbon capture, but he had worked at a big Canadian tech company raising money from government and commercial sources for complex projects such as large satellites and robotics. Carbon Engineering "has been R&D focused," Oldham said. "Now, they need a different skill set." The Squamish, British Columbia-based firm's early investors included Bill Gates. And Carbon Engineering recently raised $68 million with investments from tar sands financier and Calgary Flames co-owner Murray Edwards, Occidental Petroleum's Low Carbon Ventures, Chevron Technology Ventures, and BHP, an international mining and resources giant. Oldham said the firm will use the money to design a full-size commercial plant and that it has already identified fives sites in the United States and two in Canada. Drawing on research at the University of Calgary and Carnegie Mellon University, Carbon Engineering converts carbon dioxide into transportation fuels. It does that by combining CO2 with hydrogen - creating a carbon neutral cycle. That could help oil companies meet California's requirement to reduce the carbon intensity of motor fuels by 20 percent by 2030. Harvard University engineering and public policy professor David Keith, acting chief scientist and a board member at Carbon Engineering, estimated in a paper last year that using current know-how and existing components, the company could capture carbon dioxide at $94 to $232 a ton. Even if Carbon Engineering's technique is expensive, it might still be cheaper than alternative methods of meeting the California standards. In addition, by producing fuel, Carbon Engineering could make air travel carbon neutral without having to turn to biofuels or electrification that would be difficult to use in aircraft. "It gives you choices," Oldham said. --- Climeworks, based in Switzerland, was founded by two engineering graduate students, Christoph Gebald and Jan Wurzbacher. It became the first company to extract CO2 from the air and sell it to a commercial customer, albeit on a tiny scale. It sells about 900 tons a year - the equivalent of emissions from 200 cars - to a commercial greenhouse near Zurich that grows vegetables. The company has erected a vertical array of 18 fans, each the size of a full-grown adult that helps speed the capture process. The CO2 increases the greenhouse's crop yields by 20 to 30 percent. Climeworks has also forged an agreement to sell carbon dioxide to Coca-Cola HBC in Switzerland for sparkling drinks. Economics could drive future decisions. Last year Europe suffered carbon dioxide shortages when some British fertilizer plants that produce CO2 as a byproduct unexpectedly closed down for maintenance and Coke's CO2 supplies were threatened. Like Global Thermostat, Climeworks traps CO2 simply by exposing a filter to air. The filter contains amines, a derivative of ammonia. Once the filter is saturated, it is heated with steam past the boiling point of 100 degrees Celsius, hot enough to free the carbon dioxide so it can be pumped into pipes or storage tanks. Currently, the Climeworks uses free waste heat from a local incinerator, reducing its costs. --- Global Thermostat has a somewhat different model than the other two. The company is the brainchild of two Columbia University professors: Chichilnisky, an economist and mathematician who took part in the 1990s climate conference in Kyoto, and Peter Eisenberger, an applied physicist who has worked at Bell Laboratories, Exxon, Princeton and now Columbia University. With his flyaway hair, he bears a passing resemblance to Dr. Emmett Brown from the film "Back to the Future." "When Peter and Graciela first talked about this, people thought it was crazy," said Miles Sakwa-Novak, the plant's young engineer. He says that Carbon Engineering essentially takes two mature processes and combines them in a new way, but that Global Thermostat is developing something new. "We literally farm the sky," Chichilnisky says in a company video. The company's early investors included the Canadian tycoon Edgar Bronfman and the utility NRG, one of the biggest U.S. emitters. The company's process uses devices called monoliths that look like sponges to maximize surface area. That area is covered with amines, the nitrogen based chemical that naturally absorbs carbon dioxide from the air. The monoliths are similar to those used in catalytic converters and Chichilnisky says that the manufacturer Corning has provided key materials. The next step - prying the carbon dioxide loose - is harder and more expensive. Yet Global Thermostat only needs to heat up its amine cells to 80 degrees Celsius, less than what it takes to boil a cup of tea, lower than its competitors and thus relatively cheaper. This is the dark secret of virtually all carbon capture techniques: They tend to use large amounts of energy, which adds to carbon emissions and costs. Some say they can be combined with solar installations. So far, Carbon Engineering has tapped into cheap Canadian hydro power. Many analysts wonder why the direct air capture companies don't place their devices near the exhaust of a natural gas or coal plant. Chichilnisky explains that sometimes lower concentrations work better, just as gasoline in a combustion engine needs oxygen. She said that their process requires less energy and works best at concentrations found in the air at 400 parts per million, 300 times more diffuse than in power plant smokestacks. The compact size of the Global Thermostat project could be part of its appeal, Chichilnisky says. Companies with modest CO2 needs - such as soft drink bottlers or oil field service firms - can move Global Thermostat's equipment to a site without having to worry about building pipelines. Global Thermostat is already in talks with a soft drink maker and a major oil company. --- Chichilnisky is optimistic about Global Thermostat, but she's worried carbon capture will be too little too late. "The real problem with climate change is time," she says. Time and scale. The carbon capture enterprises are minuscule compared to the global crisis. In 2018, mankind pumped about 37.1 gigatons of carbon dioxide into the air. One of Global Thermostat's container size units would capture just 4,000 tons; to offset all global emissions would take 9 million of the units. Climeworks says it can manufacture 100 to 150 CO2 collectors a year, each one capable of sucking up the emissions of 250 cars. A unit with six Climeworks filters would fit in a shipping container. In order to meet its goal of capturing 1 percent of growing global emissions, Climeworks would need to fill up 750,000 shipping containers. Arguing that is doable, Climeworks notes that it is equal to the number of shipping containers that pass through Shanghai harbor every two weeks. Carbon Engineering is planning on much bigger projects, each costing close to $600 million, about the same as a coal-fired power plant. Oldham estimates that it would take 5,000 of his company's plants to offset U.S. carbon emissions - 5.3 gigatons - at a cost of $3 trillion. That's why, he says, "the real answer is a combination" or cutting emissions and building carbon capture. What that means, Chichilnisky says, is that the fight to reduce emissions must continue. The danger of progress on carbon capture is that people will see it as a reason to relax their efforts. Until now, carbon capture has been a bad bet financially. Since 2010, the Energy Department spent about $1.1 billion to help nine carbon capture and storage demonstration projects, the General Accountability Office said in a report. Private industry chipped in $610 million. But most found the cost way too high and abandoned the projects; only one power plant was still active at the end of 2017, GAO said. Many coal companies see the federal carbon credits as a new lease on their lives. "The coal lobby was always in our office" seeking credits, said a former Energy Department official from the Obama administration who spoke on the condition of anonymity. But, he said, "carbon capture and storage makes coal more expensive, not less." Dan Kammen, professor of energy and public policy at the University of California at Berkeley, says that carbon capture is diverting attention from cheaper and more scalable ways to taking carbon dioxide out of the air. "The prices [of carbon capture] would have to fall a huge amount for it to be part of our near-term portfolio, meaning 2050 or sooner," Kammen says. Carbon capture from the air "can be an arrow in the quiver," he says. But he adds that changing land use and forestry, using known techniques for taking CO2 from the air and storing it, "would be the best investment in carbon capture today." "I recommend the boring Charlie Brown strategy," he says. "When is the best day to plant a tree? Yesterday. Second best? Today." New carbon capture technology is "the shiny new object on the table," he says, but "with the 30-year clock more than ticking we have to scale up technology. We absolutely need to invest in carbon capture because we will have to do a good deal more of it."

RAEL contributes to Chapter 3: Energy systems. In State of the Carbon Cycle Report (SOCCR2): A Sustained Assessment Report for the United States

To access the Energy Sector chapter, click here.

  1. In 2013, primary energy use in North America exceeded 125 exajoules,1 of which Canada was respon- sible for 11.9%, Mexico 6.5%, and the United States 81.6%. Of total primary energy sources, approxi- mately 81% was from fossil fuels, which contributed to carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e)2 emissions lev- els, exceeding 1.76 petagrams of carbon, or about 20% of the global total for energy-related activities. Of these emissions, coal accounted for 28%, oil 44%, and natural gas 28% (very high confidence, likely).
  2. North American energy-related CO2e emissions have declined at an average rate of about 1% per year, or about 19.4 teragrams CO2e, from 2003 to 2014 (very high confidence).
  3. The shifts in North American energy use and CO2e emissions have been driven by factors such as 1) lower energy use, initially as a response to the global financial crisis of 2007 to 2008 (high confidence, very likely); but increasingly due to 2) greater energy efficiency, which has reduced the regional energy intensity of economic production by about 1.5% annually from 2004 to 2013, enabling economic growth while lowering energy CO2e emissions. Energy intensity has fallen annu- ally by 1.6% in the United States and 1.5% in Canada (very high confidence, very likely). Further factors driving lower carbon intensities include 3) increased renewable energy production (up 220 peta- joules annually from 2004 to 2013, translating to an 11% annual average increase in renewables) (high confidence, very likely); 4) a shift to natural gas from coal sources for industrial and electricity production (high confidence, likely); and 5) a wide range of new technologies, including, for example, alternative fuel vehicles (high confidence, likely).
  4. A wide range of plausible futures exists for the North American energy system in regard to carbon emissions. Forecasts to 2040, based on current policies and technologies, suggest a range of carbon emissions levels from an increase of over 10% to a decrease of over 14% (from 2015 carbon emissions levels). Exploratory and backcasting approaches suggest that the North American energy system emissions will not decrease by more than 13% (compared with 2015 levels) without both technological advances and changes in policy. For the United States, however, decreases in emissions could plausibly meet a national contribution to a global pathway consistent with a target of warming to 2°C at a cumu- lative cost of $1 trillion to $4 trillion (US$ 2005).
Note: Confidence levels are provided as appropriate for quantitative, but not qualitative, Key Findings and statements.
Contributing Authors
Peter J. Marcotullio, Hunter College, City University of New York (lead author)
Lori Bruhwiler, NOAA Earth System Research Laboratory; Steven Davis, University of California, Irvine; Jill Engel-Cox, National Renewable Energy Laboratory; John Field, Colorado State University; Conor Gately, Boston University; Kevin Robert Gurney, Northern Arizona University; Daniel M. Kammen, University of California, Berkeley; Emily McGlynn, University of California, Davis; James McMahon, Better Climate Research and Policy Analysis; William R. Morrow, III, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory; Ilissa B. Ocko, Environmental Defense Fund; Ralph Torrie, Canadian Energy Systems Analysis and Research Initiative.  
Recommended Citation for Chapter: Marcotullio, P. J., L. Bruhwiler, S. Davis, J. Engel-Cox, J. Field, C. Gately, K. R. Gurney, D. M. Kammen, E. McGlynn, J. McMahon, W. R. Morrow, III, I. B. Ocko, and R. Torrie, 2018: Chapter 3: Energy systems. InSecond State of the Carbon Cycle Report (SOCCR2): A Sustained Assessment Report [Cavallaro, N., G. Shrestha, R. Birdsey, M. A. Mayes, R. G. Najjar, S. C. Reed, P. Romero-Lankao, and Z. Zhu (eds.)]. U.S. Global Change Research Program, Washington, DC, USA, pp. 110-188,   Screen Shot 2018-11-23 at 12.23.02 PM

In The Guardian: EU must not burn the world’s forests for ‘renewable’ energy

December 14, 2017 - The Guardian

A flaw in Europe’s clean energy plan allows fuel from felled trees to qualify as renewable energy when in fact this would accelerate climate change and devastate forests The European Union is moving to enact a directive to double Europe’s current renewable energy by 2030. This is admirable, but a critical flaw in the present version would accelerate climate change, allowing countries, power plants and factories to claim that cutting down trees and burning them for energy fully qualifies as renewable energy. Even a small part of Europe’s energy requires a large quantity of trees and to avoid profound harm to the climate and forests worldwide the European council and parliament must fix this flaw. European producers of wood products have for decades generated electricity and heat as beneficial by-products, using wood wastes and limited forest residues. Most of this material would decompose and release carbon dioxide in a few years anyway, so using them to displace fossil fuels can reduce the carbon dioxide added to the atmosphere in a few years too. Unfortunately, the directive moving through parliament would go beyond wastes and residues and credit countries and companies for cutting down additional trees simply to burn them for energy. To do so has fundamentally different consequences because the carbon released into the air would otherwise stay locked up in forests. The reasoning seems to be that so long as forests re-grow, they will eventually reabsorb the carbon released. Yet even then, the net effect – as many studies have shown – will typically be to increase global warming for decades to centuries, even when wood replaces coal, oil or natural gas. The reasons begin with the inherent inefficiencies in harvesting wood. Typically, around one third or more of each tree is contained in roots and small branches that are properly left in the forest to protect soils, and most of which decompose, emitting carbon. The wood that is burned releases even more carbon than coal per unit of energy generated, and burns at a lower temperature, producing less electricity – turning wood into compressed pellets increases efficiency but uses energy and creates large additional emissions. A power plant burning wood chips will typically emit one and a half times the carbon dioxide of a plant burning coal and at least three times the carbon dioxide emitted by a power plant burning natural gas. Although regrowing trees absorb carbon, trees grow slowly, and for some years a regrowing forest absorbs less carbon than if the forest were left unharvested. Eventually, the new forest grows faster and the carbon it absorbs, plus the reduction in fossil fuels, can pay back the “carbon debt”, but that takes decades to centuries, depending on the forest type and use. We conservatively estimate that using deliberately harvested wood instead of fossil fuels will release at least twice as much carbon dioxide to the air by 2050 per kilowatt hour. Doing so turns a potential reduction in emissions from solar or wind into a large increase. Time matters. Placing an additional carbon load in the atmosphere for decades means permanent damage due to more rapid melting of permafrost and glaciers, and more packing of heat and acidity into the world’s oceans. At a critical moment when countries need to be “buying time” against climate change, this approach amounts to selling the world’s limited time to combat climate change under mistaken claims of improvement. The effect on the world’s forests, carbon and biodiversity is likely to be large because even though Europe is a large producer of wood, its harvest could only supply about 6% of its primary energy. For more than a decade, the increased use of biomass has been supplying roughly half of Europe’s increase in renewable energy. To supply even one third of the additional renewable energy likely required by 2030, Europe would need to burn an amount of wood greater than its total harvest today. This would turn a likely 6% decrease in energy emissions by 2050 under the directive through solar and wind into at least a 6% increase. Europe’s own demand for wood would degrade forests around the world, but if other countries follow Europe’s example, the impacts would be even more dangerous. Instead of encouraging Indonesia and Brazil to preserve their tropical forests – Europe’s present position – the message of this directive is “cut your forests so long as someone burns them for energy”. Once countries are invested in such efforts, fixing the error may become impossible. To supply just an additional 3% of global energy with wood, the world needs to double its commercial wood harvests at great costs to carbon and wildlife. Neither a requirement that forests be managed sustainably nor any other “safeguards” in the various working drafts would stop this. For example, the directive would ban wood if harvests undermined “the long-term productivity capacity of the forest”. Although that sounds good, preserving the capacity of trees to grow back still leaves more carbon in the air for at least decades. Restricting wood harvests to countries with net growing forests – another idea – would still take carbon that forests would otherwise add to their storage and instead put it in the air without meaningful global limits. The solution is to restrict eligible forest biomass to its traditional sources of residues and waste. Legislators will likely be able to vote on such an amendment in the parliament’s plenary. By 1850, the use of wood for bioenergy helped drive the near deforestation of western Europe even at a time when Europeans consumed relatively little energy. Although coal helped to save the forests of Europe, the solution is not to go back to burning forests. As scientists, we collectively have played key roles in the IPCC, in advising European governments, and in forest and climate research. We encourage European legislators and other policymakers to amend the present directive because the fate of much of the world’s forests is literally at stake. Prof John Beddington, Oxford Martin School, former chief scientist to the UK government; Prof Steven Berry, Yale University; Prof Ken Caldeira*, Stanford University and Carnegie Institution for Science; Wolfgang Cramer*, research director (CNRS), Mediterranean Institute of marine and terrestrial biodiversity and ecology; Felix Creutzig*, chair Sustainability Economics of Human Settlement atBerlin Technical University and leader at the Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change; Prof Dan Kammen*, University of California at Berkeley, director Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory; Prof Eric Lambin Université catholique de Louvain and Stanford University; Prof Simon Levin, Princeton University, recipient US National Medal of Science; Prof Wolfgang Lucht*, Humboldt University and co-chair of Potsdam Institute for Climate Research; Prof Georgina Mace FRS*, University College London; Prof William Moomaw*, Tufts University; Prof Peter Raven, director emeritus Missouri Botanical Society, recipient US National Medal of Science; Tim Searchinger, research scholar, Princeton University and senior fellow, World Resources Institute; Prof Nils Christian Stenseth, University of Oslo, past president of the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters; Prof Jean Pascal van Ypersele, Université Catholique de Louvain, former IPCC vice-chair (2008-2015).   Those marked * have been lead authors on IPCC reports.   For more on Professor Kammen and the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory's work on biomass, click here and search 'biomass'   _____________________________________________________   If you would like to sign on to this open letter o amend a Renewable Energy Directive under debate so that the directive does not encourage the burning of wood harvested just for that purpose.    The letter closely tracks the following editorial recently published in the Guardian by several prominent scientists and economists.  
Europe is currently considering a renewable energy directive that would raise the requirements to use renewable energy from a level of roughly 17% of final energy demand today to a level of 27-35% by 2030.   While this target is laudable, the directive counts as fully qualifying renewable energy the use of wood harvested for that purpose, and not merely residues and waste. The previous renewable energy directive has already led European power plants, factoring and heating installations to shift to wood, importing much of that in the form of wood pellets from the U.S. and Canada. Many academic papers have calculated that any wood harvested for burning, even if trees are allowed to regrow, would result in increases in greenhouse gas emissions for decades to centuries even compared to the use of fossil fuels.
The major consequences of the new directive result from the sheer scope of the potential wood requirements. Although biomass has been supplying around half of Europe's growth in renewable energy (from 11% in 2007 to  around 17% today), if wood biomass supplied even one third of the future required growth by 2030, the directive would require an amount of wood greater than all annual European wood harvest, which also roughly equals all annual U.S. and Canadian wood harvests combined.
The directive will be voted on probably the third week in January in the European Parliament, and there will be an amendment to restrict forest biomass to residues and wastes. There have been previous letters by 100 or more scientists on this issue to European leaders, and we are hoping for more this time. If you are a scientists and would like to sign on, please also consider encouraging other scientists you know as well.
If you would like to sign on, please send an email either to Greg Davies or Zuzana Burialova at Princeton University at or, who will be keeping track.
The final sign-on date will be January 5, 2018.
  SCIENTIST EU FOREST BIOMASS SIGN-ON LETTER   To Members of the European Parliament, As the European Parliament commendably moves to expand the renewable energy directive, we strongly urge members of Parliament to amend the present directive to avoid expansive harm to the world’s forests and the acceleration of climate change. The flaw in the directive lies in provisions that would let countries, power plants and factories claim credit toward renewable energy targets for deliberately cutting down trees to burn them for energy. The solution should be to restrict the forest biomass eligible under the directive to residues and wastes. For decades, European producers of paper and timber products have generated electricity and heat as beneficial by-products using wood wastes and limited forest residues. Since most of these waste materials would decompose and release carbon dioxide within a few years, using them to displace fossil fuels can reduce net carbon dioxide emissions to the atmosphere in a few years as well. By contrast, cutting down trees for bioenergy releases carbon that would otherwise stay locked up in forests, and diverting wood otherwise used for wood products will cause more cutting elsewhere to replace them. Even if forests are allowed to regrow, using wood deliberately harvested for burning will increase carbon in the atmosphere and warming for decades to centuries – as many studies have shown – even when wood replaces coal, oil or natural gas. The reasons are fundamental and occur regardless of whether forest management is “sustainable.” Burning wood is inefficient and therefore emits far more carbon than burning fossil fuels for each kilowatt hour of electricity produced. Harvesting wood also properly leaves some biomass behind to protect soils, such as roots and small branches, which decompose and emit carbon. The result is a large “carbon debt.” Re-growing trees and displacement of fossil fuels may eventually pay off this “carbon debt’ but only over long periods. Overall, allowing the harvest and burning of wood under the directive will transform large reductions otherwise achieved through solar and wind into large increases in carbon in the atmosphere by 2050. Time matters. Placing an additional carbon load in the atmosphere for decades means permanent damages due to more rapid melting of permafrost and glaciers, and more packing of heat and acidity into the world’s oceans. At a critical moment when countries need to be “buying time” against climate change, this approach amounts to “selling” the world’s limited time to combat climate change. The adverse implications not just for carbon but for global forests and biodiversity are also large. More than 100% of Europe’s annual harvest of wood would be needed to supply just one third of the expanded renewable energy directive. Because demand for wood and paper will remain, the result will be increased degradation of forests around the world. The example Europe would set for other countries would be even more dangerous. Europe has been properly encouraging countries such as Indonesia and Brazil to protect their forests, but the message of this directive is “cut your forests so long as someone burns them for energy.” Once countries invest in such efforts, fixing the error may become impossible. If the world moves to supply just an additional 3% of global energy with wood, it must double its commercial cuttings of the world’s forests. By 1850, the use of wood for bioenergy helped drive the near deforestation of western Europe even when Europeans consumed far less energy than they do today. Although coal helped to save the forests of Europe, the solution to replacing coal is not to go back to burning forests, but instead to replace fossil fuels with low carbon sources, such as solar and wind. We urge European legislators to amend the present directive to restrict eligible forest biomass to appropriately defined residues and wastes because the fate of much of the world’s forests and the climate are literally at stake. Initial signers: John Beddington, Professor, Oxford Martin School, former Chief Scientist to the government of the United Kingdom Steven Berry, Professor, Yale University, former Chairman, Department of Economics, fellow American Academy of Arts and Sciences, winner of the Frisch Medal of the Econometric Society. Ken Caldeira – Professor, Stanford University and Carnegie Institution for Science, Coordinating lead author or lead author of multiple IPCC reports. Wolfgang Cramer, Research Director, CNRS, Mediterranean Institute of marine and terrestrial Biodiversity and Ecology, Aix-en-Provence, member Académie d'Agriculture de France France, Coordinating lead author and lead author of multiple IPCC reports, Felix Creutzig, Chair Sustainability Economics of Human Settlement at Technische Universität Berlin, Leader, leader Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change, Lead author of IPCC V Assessment Report and coordinator of appendix on bioenergy. Phil Duffy, President, Woods Hole Research Center, former Senior Advisor White Office of Science and Technology Policy, Contributing author of multiple IPCC reports Dan Kammen – Professor University of California at Berkeley, Director Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory, Coordinating lead author or lead author of multiple IPCC reports. Eric Lambin – Professor Université catholique de Louvain and Stanford University, member European and U.S. Academies of Science, 2014 laureate of Volvo Environment Prize Simon Levin – Professor Princeton University, Recipient, U.S. National Medal of Science, member U.S. National Academy of Sciences Wolfgang Lucht – Professor Humboldt University and Co-Chair of Potsdam Institute for Climate Research, lead author of multiple IPCC reports Georgina Mace FRS, Professor, University College London, Lead author IPCC report and Winner International Cosmos Prize William Moomaw – Emeritus Professor, Tufts University, Coordinating lead author or lead author of multiple IPCC reports Peter Raven – Director Emeritus Missouri Botanical Society, Recipient U.S. National Medal of Science and former President of American Association for Advancement of Science Tim Searchinger - Research Scholar, Princeton University and Senior Fellow, World Resources Institute Nils Chr. Stenseth, Professor of Ecology and Evolution, University of Oslo, Past president of The Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters, member Royal Norwegian Society of Sciences and Letters, The National Academy of Science (Washington), French Academy of Sciences, and Academia Europaea Jean Pascal van Ypersele, Professor, Université catholique de Louvain, Former IPCC Vice-chair (2008-2015), member of the Royal Academy of Belgium, lead author or review editor of multiple IPCC reports

Program on Conflict, Climate Change and Green Development

[caption id="attachment_1915" align="aligncenter" width="640"]IDP camp in Malakal, South Sudan, following February 2016 violence Camp for internally displaced persons in Malakal, South Sudan, following February 2016 violence[/caption]   For a brief video introduction to the program, click here. Launched in May 2016, this new ini­tia­tive focuses on the increas­ing over­lap of con­flict and cli­mate change, and the potential of renewable energy as a tool for peace building and conflict prevention. The pro­gram will com­bine research, policy-​​based advo­cacy and oper­a­tional pro­gram­ming in conflict-​​risk coun­tries. The empha­sis of the pro­gram is on action with three related goals: First, to build stronger links between the com­mu­ni­ties work­ing on con­flict pre­ven­tion and those work­ing on cli­mate change. Sec­ond, to help encour­age the use of clean energy devel­op­ment pro­grams as accepted tools for peace build­ing and con­flict pre­ven­tion, including through pilot projects in conflict-risk or crisis settings. Third, to high­light the oppor­tu­ni­ties for peace build­ing and inclu­sive polit­i­cal mobi­liza­tion that come from a shared threat of cli­mate change.  

The Challenge

Climate change is having a significant impact on livelihoods and natural resource scarcity, contributing to conflicts in countries such as Sudan, Syria, Somalia and Nigeria. Many of the worst affected geographies – in Africa, the Middle East and South Asia - include countries with a history of conflict. Existing international institutions are often siloed in their approach to cross-cutting issues such as climate change. Conflict-risks are usually met with security-first solutions, such as peacekeeping missions, and the relevant international institutions have yet to adapt to the growing impacts of climate change as a driver of conflict. Given that the negative impacts of climate change are expected to increase, we anticipate the role of climate change as a driver of conflict to grow, particularly in the most fragile states. Though these States are minimally responsible for climate change and global greenhouse gas emissions, they currently receive only a small fraction of the global climate-related financing, while often struggling to attract outside investment, and thus are likely to remain vulnerable to potentially worsening climate change-related cycles of conflict. Despite this worrying trendline, there is not yet a meaningful response to these new risks.  

The Solution

The Program seeks to address this gap by harnessing the potential of renewable energy in conflict-affected areas based on the following assumptions:
  • Recent advances in renewable energy technology, declining costs and international mobilization following the Paris Climate Agreement present a unique and potentially revolutionary new opportunity to address problems associated with intractable conflict, particularly in climate-affected states. Renewable energy can offer cheap, clean and reliable power to millions of people without access to electricity in parts of Africa and Southeast Asia, two of the regions most severely impacted by climate change;
  • Renewable energy provides a unique opening for pro-peace, pro-development investment in climate-impacted conflict-risk countries. Investment in renewable energy has dramatically increased and now comprises approximately 75% of all global climate-related financing. However, the global response to climate change has been overwhelmingly focused on the worst polluting countries rather than the worst affected: less than 10% of all global climate financing goes to Africa, the Middle East and South Asia combined.
  • Renewable energy provides a potentially powerful new entry-point for peace building by facilitating cooperation between conflict parties on an issue, and creates energy infrastructure that is reliable, clean, scalable and easily distributed.

The Approach

We have developed three initial models for delivering energy/peace benefits, in order to help prove the concept and demonstrate the potential opportunities. We are also working on developing a new financing mechanism that is designed to specifically support the deployment of renewable energy in conflict and crisis-risk settings. Model 1, Relief camp settings: We are launching pilot projects in large Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps in South Sudan, and a cluster of refugee camps in Chad and Kenya. Leveraging the international humanitarian footprint, we will demonstrate how a transition to solar power in such contexts can offer both a cheaper energy solution, while building long-term energy infrastructure and building blocks for peace for local communities. We are also exploring the applicability of this approach in other settings, including Northern Iraq and Myanmar. Model 2, Integrating renewable energy into peace building and conflict prevention programming: We are partnering with the international NGO Nonviolent Peaceforce, a leader in unarmed civilian protection, to test this model through pilot projects in South Sudan and Myanmar. Model 3: Renewable energy as a peace dividend strategy: We are promoting the use of a renewable energy as highly visible, quick impact and meaningful tool in the peace dividend toolkit – which seeks to deliver development gains to help support recently concluded, or soon-to-be finalized peace agreements. We are exploring the applicability of renewable energy to support local agreements in Central Nigeria, and at the national level in support of Myanmar’s peace process. Peace Renewable Energy Credit (PREC): We are developing a new financing mechanism specifically designed to support renewable energy investment and deployment in conflict and crisis risk settings. The PREC will help address some of the financing challenges unique to these settings, in order to help draw a greater share of global renewable energy investment to the places that need it most.


Under the overall leadership of Dr. Dan Kammen, the found­ing direc­tor of RAEL and pro­fes­sor of Energy, our team includes experts in renewable energy and climate change, as well as conflict prevention and peace building. David Mozersky is the Founding Director of the Program on Conflict, Climate Change and Green Development. An expert on Sudan and South Sudan, he has been involved in con­flict pre­ven­tion efforts in Africa since 2001, with a specific interest in mediation, negotiation and peace processes. He has worked with the Inter­na­tional Cri­sis Group, the African Union High-Level Panel on the Sudans, and Human­ity United, among others. He has written extensively about the conflicts and peacemaking efforts in the Horn of Africa, and has testified or presented before the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, the Canadian Parliament, and South Sudanese Parliament. David has authored and co-authored more than two dozen International Crisis Group reports and briefing papers, and his writing has appeared in the Harvard International Review, International Herald-Tribune, Financial Times-Europe, and other publications. Senior Fellows
  • David Williams was selected as one of Time Magazine’s Innovators of the Year. He has been an advisor for US Department of State, merit reviewer for the US Department of Energy's SunShot program, technical reviewer for Sandia National Laboratory, solar advisor for USAID, and contributor to National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Mr. Williams has been involved in developing renewable energy projects in the Caribbean, Americas, Europe, Middle East, Asia and Africa.
  • Sherwin Das most recently served as the Chief of Political Affairs for the United Nations Regional Office for Central Africa. He has designed and implemented conflict prevention and peace building strategies, policies and programming for the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations, the UN Department of Political Affairs and the United Nations Development Programme in the Balkans, Eastern Europe and Africa. Following a stint in the UN’s Mediation Support Unit in New York, he served as the UN’s Peace and Development Advisor in Moldova.
  • Alex Thier is a leading thinker and policy maker on international development, poverty reduction, and inclusive growth. As Founder and CEO of Triple Helix, Alex is working with a variety of organizations on expanding renewable energy access, strategic planning, and addressing fragile states. As a senior U.S. government official from 2010 to 2015, he led internal and external policy-making, reform, and implementation for USAID representing the U.S. government at the highest levels of international engagement on development policy and finance and managing a $10 billion+ portfolio of programs. He played a leadership role in the creation and implementation of several major US and international initiatives, including the Vision to End Extreme Poverty, the Sustainable Development Investment Partnership, and Power Africa. Alex has held leadership positions in the UN, Stanford University, USIP, and several NGOs. He’s authored and co-authored books, articles, and op-eds in The New York Times, Foreign Affairs, and Foreign Policy, and appears frequently in international media.
Advisory Board
  • Elliott Donnelley is a Founding General Partner of White Sand Investor Group, LG, a fifth generation investment partnership of the Chicago-based RR Donnelley family. In this role, he has increasingly focused on the nexus between investment for financial return and investment for social and environmental impact. Elliott is an advisor and/or co-founder of a number of ventures, including Ethic Inc., My Bliss, The China Philanthropy Forum, and KD Venture Partners. He is also on the boards of trustees of Synergos and the Philanthropy Workshop, and on the board of Stanford’s Global Project Center, where he promotes research on innovative models in philanthropy and impact investing. Elliott is a graduate of Yale University and spent years living and working in Beijing, where he still has strong ties in the philanthropy and impact investing industries.
  • Dr Youba Sokona has over 35 years of experience addressing energy, environment and sustainable development in Africa, and has been at the heart of numerous national and continental initiatives. He coordinated the scoping, framing and development of the “Africa Renewable Energy Initiative”. Reflecting his status, Dr Sokona was elected Vice-Chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in October 2015. Prior to this, Dr Sokona was Co-Chair of IPCC Working Group III on the mitigation of climate change for the Fifth Assessment Report after serving as a Lead Author since 1990. In addition to these achievements, Dr Sokona has a proven track record of organisational leadership and management, for example as Inaugural Coordinator of the African Climate Policy Centre (ACPC) and as Executive Secretary of the Sahara and the Sahel Observatory (OSS). Dr Sokona’s advice is highly sought after, and as such, he is affiliated with numerous boards and organisations, including as a Member of the Board for the Institute of Development Studies, as a Honourary Professor at the University College London (UCL), and as a Special Advisor to the African Energy Leaders Group.

RAEL Launches new program on Conflict, Climate Change and Green Development, welcomes David Mozersky as Director

June 1, 2016 – Clean Energy Ministerial (CEM7), San Francisco, CA UC-Berkeley’s Renewable and Appropriate Energy Lab (RAEL) launches Program on Conflict, Climate Change and Green Development, welcomes David Mozersky as Director.   Berkeley and San Francisco, California – David Mozersky has been appointed Founding Director of the Program on Conflict, Climate Change, and Green Development.  This new program will be under the leadership of Professor Dan Kammen, Director of the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory (RAEL; at the University of California, Berkeley.  Kammen is currently serving as the Science Envoy for the U. S. State Department for climate change with a focus on Africa and the Middle East.   “Energy, natural resources and conflict have long been connected and the source of local to global-scale disputes. These challenges will accelerate as demand for energy and water is increasing and available resources constrained. It is increasingly apparent that a rapidly changing climate strains these already delicate relationships and is creating conflicts.  We are excited to have Mr. Mozersky to lead this new initiative and hopeful to create meaningful action,” said Dan Kammen, who is a Professor in the Energy and Resources Group, the Goldman School of Public Policy, and in the Department if Nuclear Engineering at UC Berkeley.   Professor Kammen elaborated, “Mr. Mozersky has extensive experience in conflict prevention, negotiation and peacebuilding.  He brings to RAEL a strong vision for how clean energy and green development may help mitigate the conflict drivers associated with the impacts climate change.” He has worked extensively across Africa in a varied conflict prevention programs since 2001. Mr. Mozersky has testified before the US Congress and Canadian Parliament on issues relating to conflict as an internationally recognized expert in the challenges facing the region. Most recently, he has been leading a partnership to develop a clean energy development framework in South Sudan. “This program will conduct research, develop partnerships, and support practitioners in efforts to work on the growing nexus of conflict and climate change. There is a clear role for renewable energy and green development as a tool for peacebuilding and conflict prevention,” stated Mr. Mozersky.   The emphasis of the program is on action with three related goals: First, to build stronger links between the communities working on conflict prevention and those working on climate change.  Second, to help encourage the use of clean energy development programs as accepted tools for peace building and conflict prevention. Third, to highlight the opportunities for peace building and inclusive political mobilization that come from a shared threat of climate change.   Climate change and climate induced natural resource scarcity is a contributing factor in some of the world’s most devastating conflicts over the last decade. Energy scarcity is likely to increase with the escalating impacts of climate change and subsequent conflict. Countering this trend will require the adoption of new multi-sector strategies. The Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory and the program on Conflict, Climate Change, & Green Development will work with a wide range of partners to develop solutions and accomplish these goals.   The Program on Conflict, Climate Change and Green Development team invites inquiries and looks forward to partnerships with energy access and conflict resolution programs worldwide.   CONTACTS:   David Mozersky, Program Director Program on Conflict, Climate Change and Green Development Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory Tel: +1-510-642-1760 University of California, Berkeley Berkeley, Calif. 94720-3050 Email:   Professor Daniel M. Kammen Founding Director, Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory University of California, Berkeley Tel: +1-510-642-1760 Email: Twitter: @dan_kammen   Screen Shot 2016-06-01 at 7.12.01 AM Images (Left): Deserted town center in South Sudan following civil conflict.  Rebuilding with clean-energy provides a means to develop sustainable infrastructure that blends current needs and long-term reconstruction in post-conflict states; (Center) Program Director David Mozersky; (Right) Professor Dan Kammen   Reference: Kammen, D. M. (2015) “Peace through grids”, MIT Technology Review, May/June, 2015.

Keystone XL pipeline rejection signals US taking lead on climate change fight

In The Guardian (November 7, 2015) The symbolism was everything. Standing before a portrait of Teddy Roosevelt, the conservationist president who 104 years ago busted the Standard Oil monopoly, Barack Obama made his own tilt at an environmental legacy. The proposed 1,179-mile Keystone XL pipeline, which Obama rejected on Friday, would have borne more than 800,000 barrels of exceptionally high-carbon oil from Canada’s tar sands fields in Alberta to refineries on the US gulf coast each day. It should have been a shoo-in for presidential approval. Conservatives and many labour unions loved it. According to a State Department reportin 2014, environmentalists’ claims that it would reduce emissions from tar sands were unfounded. Keystone XL is just one of many pipelines being built across North America. If it was not built, the Canadians would simply ship it from elsewhere. So how did Obama come down on the side of a coalition of students environmentalists, farmers and indigenous nations who admit that when they started this fight seven years ago, they had no hope of winning? “America is now a global leader when it comes to taking serious action to fight climate change. And frankly, approving this project would have undercut that global leadership,” said the president on Friday in an address to the nation. It is here that the iconoclasm of Obama’s decision reveals itself. Climate change has become such an overwhelmingly mainstream political and diplomatic imperative that it overrides traditionally unbeatable domestic interests. The president said he had weighed the familiar arguments – jobs, gas prices, energy security – and had been swayed by none. Building the pipeline would have done little to benefit the US, he said. More oil from Canada was not going to make pump prices cheaper or help the US cut its reliance on foreign oil. That has already happened thanks to the fracking boom. Since 2008, the US has increased the yield of its domestic oil fields by a massive 173%. “There’s no shortage of oil and gas here, so it seems particularly crazy to be importing crap when we have lots of our own fossil fuels,” said professor Daniel Kammen, co-director of the Berkeley Institute of the Environment. Screen Shot 2015-11-09 at 7.45.59 AM On jobs, Obama said the pipeline was insignificant and that his mooted infrastructure plan would create 30 times more jobs. But jobs are jobs and the US’s major construction union called the Keystone decision “shameful”, adding that defining jobs as insignificant just because they are temporary amounted to throwing workers “under the bus”. Professor Robert Stavins, the director of Harvard University’s environmental economics program, told the Guardian he was not aware of any reliable assessment of the project’s employment impact. But he added that “Keystone would have created a relatively small number of jobs, and only during its construction phase.” Obama also had some harsh words for those in the environmental camp. The pipeline was not “the express lane to climate disaster” they had proclaimed. Canada’s tar sands are undeniably dirty. They come to the surface in the form of a sticky and impure mixture of clay, sand, water and bitumen. These are expensive and carbon-intensive to refine. Now, with a chronic oversupply and low prices, tar sands have become less attractive. Oil major Royal Dutch Shell has recently pulled out of two projects in oil-rich Alberta, writing off billions of dollars worth of initial investment. Environmentalists argued oil producers would not be able to pay the extra costs of shipping by train or truck, meaning crude that would have run through Keystone XL will now stay safely under the soil. But Stavins said this argument relied rather too much on the unknowable future wanderings of the oil price. “It may mean less CO2 emissions in the long term, but we don’t really know,” he said. “When oil prices were higher last year, Keystone would not have made any difference, because the oil would have been developed and sent to refineries with or without Keystone. But that is less clear with the much lower oil prices we now have. In any event, this is a long-term and uncertain consequence.” Obama had opened his remarks by pouring scorn on the totemic importance the pipeline has attained. “Now, for years, the Keystone pipeline has occupied what I, frankly, consider an over-inflated role in our political discourse. It became a symbol too often used as a campaign cudgel by both parties rather than a serious policy matter,” he said. And yet the president was engaging in his own signification, standing in front of Theodore Roosevelt, killing Keystone because of how it would look to the rest of the world. “We’re going to have to keep some fossil fuels in the ground rather than burn them and release more dangerous pollution into the sky,” he said. Cynics have pointed out that Obama could have made his brave stand four years ago, instead of kicking the pipeline into the bureaucratic long grass and ensuring it was no impediment to his second election. But leading Democratic candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have already stated their opposition to Keystone XL, indicating it may no longer be a poisoned chalice. Suddenly, environmentalists believe they are winning. The Democratic senator Sheldon Whitehouse, who has long fought against Keystone in Congress, said he “wasn’t really sure it could get much better” on Thursday, after the New York attorney general launched a potentially era-defining investigation into ExxonMobil’s climate denial. “And then today’s news came”. Whitehouse, who represents Rhode Island, likened Obama’s decision to the Battle of Gettysburg, where the American civil war swung in favour of the union. “The town of Gettysburg itself was not the point,” he said. “The tide has turned,”’s Bill McKibben told journalists on a press call. “Just in the last 36 hours we’ve had the New York attorney general subpoena the largest, richest, most powerful fossil fuel company on earth. Now we’ve had the first rejection of a major fossil fuel infrastructure project that I can think of. That is a sign that we are moving into a new era.” Linking the decision to the upcoming United Nations climate negotiations in Paris, Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune said the decision “will reverberate from Washington, to Ottawa, to Paris and beyond”. “Keystone is such a touchstone issue because it flies in the face of the new United States position being a climate leader,” said Kammen. With the rejection, he said, Obama was “backing words with actions”. Obama has increasingly pinned his legacy to the outcome of those talks, striking emissions deals with China and the G7 and forcing through the strongest-ever domestic cuts to US power emissions. Uncharacteristically commenting on a member country’s internal politics, the UN’s climate chief, Christiana Figures, also tied the Keystone decision to the Paris talks, tweeting: “Just in the last 24 hours Exxon subpoenaed, Keystone rejected. We may finally have understood the risk of inaction on climate. Now to action.” “The symbolic value is significant because it will position the United States in a more favourable light with those countries and those activists who favour strong action on climate change,” said Harvard professor Stavins. The boost to US credibility would allow it to drive through a more effective deal in Paris. On Friday, Republicans called for back-up to mount a challenge to the rejection of Keystone in the Senate. TransCanada, the company behind the pipeline, tried to staunch its bleeding share price by saying it would “review all of its options”. However these amount to reapplying for a new presidential permit – a costly process that will most probably depend on whether a Republican or Democrat takes over the White House in 2016. But even if the project is somehow resurrected, it will face infinitely stronger opposition. Environmentalists, who once thought taking on Keystone XL was an unwinnable fight, will now know for sure that it is only a pipeline.
“We’re going to have to keep some fossil fuels in the ground rather than burn them and release more dangerous pollution into the sky,” he said. Cynics have pointed out that Obama could have made his brave stand four years ago, instead of kicking the pipeline into the bureaucratic long grass and ensuring it was no impediment to his second election. But leading Democratic candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have already stated their opposition to Keystone XL, indicating it may no longer be a poisoned chalice. Suddenly, environmentalists believe they are winning. The Democratic senator Sheldon Whitehouse, who has long fought against Keystone in Congress, said he “wasn’t really sure it could get much better” on Thursday, after the New York attorney general launched a potentially era-defining investigation into ExxonMobil’s climate denial. “And then today’s news came”. Whitehouse, who represents Rhode Island, likened Obama’s decision to the Battle of Gettysburg, where the American civil war swung in favour of the union. “The town of Gettysburg itself was not the point,” he said. “The tide has turned,”’s Bill McKibben told journalists on a press call. “Just in the last 36 hours we’ve had the New York attorney general subpoena the largest, richest, most powerful fossil fuel company on earth. Now we’ve had the first rejection of a major fossil fuel infrastructure project that I can think of. That is a sign that we are moving into a new era.” Linking the decision to the upcoming United Nations climate negotiations in Paris, Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune said the decision “will reverberate from Washington, to Ottawa, to Paris and beyond”. “Keystone is such a touchstone issue because it flies in the face of the new United States position being a climate leader,” said Kammen. With the rejection, he said, Obama was “backing words with actions”. Obama has increasingly pinned his legacy to the outcome of those talks, striking emissions deals with China and the G7 and forcing through the strongest-ever domestic cuts to US power emissions. Uncharacteristically commenting on a member country’s internal politics, the UN’s climate chief, Christiana Figures, also tied the Keystone decision to the Paris talks, tweeting: “Just in the last 24 hours Exxon subpoenaed, Keystone rejected. We may finally have understood the risk of inaction on climate. Now to action.” “The symbolic value is significant because it will position the United States in a more favourable light with those countries and those activists who favour strong action on climate change,” said Harvard professor Stavins. The boost to US credibility would allow it to drive through a more effective deal in Paris. On Friday, Republicans called for back-up to mount a challenge to the rejection of Keystone in the Senate. TransCanada, the company behind the pipeline, tried to staunch its bleeding share price by saying it would “review all of its options”. However these amount to reapplying for a new presidential permit – a costly process that will most probably depend on whether a Republican or Democrat takes over the White House in 2016. But even if the project is somehow resurrected, it will face infinitely stronger opposition. Environmentalists, who once thought taking on Keystone XL was an unwinnable fight, will now know for sure that it is only a pipeline.

UC’s investments in fossil fuels are hurting the planet

Today, UC Berkeley and most institutions are financially invested in destroying our future.

This may sound a little bit surprising to some — even unfounded. Let me explain. When it comes to climate change, the scientific community has presented a clear, unambiguous message: Human burning of fossil fuels — coal, oil and natural gas — is putting our world at risk.

And this, in fact, is a needless risk. By immediately reducing greenhouse gas emissions, we can reduce the damages that we are currently on the path to creating. Typhoon Haiyan, Hurricane Sandy, Hurricane Katrina and many of the costly recent fires and droughts around the world have been exacerbated — caused, to one degree or another, by the changes in the climate that our reliance on fossil fuels has caused.

Though UC Berkeley and the UC system are leaders in addressing the climate crisis through groundbreaking research and education, the companies they have invested in continue to leave a significant “carbon signature” on the environment. Many of these investments were made before the full impact of these choices on the climate was clear. Continuing the financial investment in companies like Exxon, Chevron and ConocoPhillips — even though some of these companies have made a start in greening their portfolio — sends the wrong message. These companies, and many more, have the capacity and the opportunity to evolve from stalwarts of the old energy order that must change, into supporters of a new clean-energy system that California and the world desperately need.

The 200 largest fossil fuel companies hold, in the form of projects and assets, about five times the amount of carbon in their reserves that the scientific community has deemed responsible to even consider burning in order to avert runaway climate change. The several thousand researchers on the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change have determined with greater than 95 percent certainty that human activity is currently causing climate change. Researchers from across the entire UC system and our state government are critical leaders in efforts to advance both climate science and climate solutions, as well as the adaptation side of the equation.

The overwhelming majority of major energy companies, however, has shown far too few signs of transitioning to low-carbon projects. The fossil fuel industry collectively spends more than $600 billion per year exploring for new hydrocarbons and, in some cases, very significant amounts of money on climate denial, lobbying Congress to maintain fossil fuel subsidies and other efforts that work against the needed and feasible clean-energy transition. These companies are publicly traded and investor-owned, supported in large part by institutional investors like UC Berkeley and the University of California.

Instead of funding the problem, we should be investing in solutions that at once aid the transition to a low-carbon economy and grow our university’s bottom line. There is no lack of financially and environmentally sustainable reinvestment opportunities; as of yet, there is only a lack of leadership.

UC Berkeley has played a vital role as a leader in financial and social accountability. When other institutions refused, the campus listened to its students and the international calls for divestment from companies tied to grave social harm and injustice. As was similarly expressed during the South Africa, Sudan and tobacco divestment campaigns, students at UC Berkeley believe that their campus’s investments should reflect its values of social responsibility and environmental sustainability.

In the case of fossil fuel investments, divesting is not only the moral thing to do but is also financially prudent. As fossil fuel companies continue expanding their search for more hydrocarbons, the world’s carbon budget is shrinking. From Canadian tar sands to shale oil, the ”bottom of the barrel” is proving to be increasingly dirty. When government regulation aligns with this reality — and it must — the vast majority of reserves will have to stay in the ground unburned, rendering them stranded assets. Remaining invested in fossil fuels is a bad bet all around.

With a new chancellor at UC Berkeley and a new UC president, both of whom are leaders in clean energy and climate protection, divestment at UC Berkeley and across the UC system will send a resounding message that the university takes all facets of its leadership position seriously. It will also encourage other institutions to do the same and build pressure for regional and global climate action.

As a faculty member who understands deeply the challenge climate change poses and the urgency with which action must be taken, I call on my fellow faculty to stand with the students of Fossil Free Cal and Fossil Free UC in calling on Chancellor Dirks, President Napolitano and the president of the Berkeley Foundation to be on the right side of history by moving our endowments away from fossil fuels and reinvesting in a sustainable future. Visit and sign on if you are as concerned as I am.

Daniel M. Kammen is a distinguished professor of energy in the Energy and Resources Group and in the Goldman School of Public Policy and is the envoy to the Americas for Clean Energy and Development.  

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