French Senate Report Calls for EU Action to Counter Climate Change, Peak Oil
04 July 2006
|France in 2000 as an example. Transportation has a double problem: the largest amount of CO2 emissions, and almost entirely from petroleum. Click to enlarge.|
A report on sustainable development prepared by two French Senators for the French Office Parlementaire D’Evaluation des Choix Scientifiques et Technologiques (OPECST) calls for the EU to lead a global energy transition to avoid the worst impact of climate change and an oil shock they predict occurring by 2020 at the latest.
The report by Senators Pierre Laffitte and Claude Saunier calls for financing the transition by taxes that would be dedicated to promoting renewable energies, buildings insulation, biofuels, hybrids and electric cars and other low fossil-carbon technologies, particularly in the transport sector.
The Senators assert in the report that:
There is a real risk of a level of climate change for which the physical and financial consequences are very underestimated. The economic cost of climate change could increase to 2.5 to 3% of world GDP, they conclude.
The combination of an insufficient supply of oil and ongoing demand from the US, China and India will create by 2020 an oil shock of great reach that will push the price of oil to more than $150/barrel. That shock will take another 2% out of global GDP.
The senators argue that while the transition away from fossil fuels is an urgent requirement, it also offers opportunities for developing new industries. They also assert that the technologies required either exist or are close to being market-ready.
They estimate that their financing schemes could raise about €4-5 billion (US$5.1-6.4 billion) to be applied to the development and deployment of such solutions.
Ah, if only we could all run our cars on French dirigisme.
Note that the EU's budget for farm subsidies is EUR 400 billion for the 2007-2013 period. France is the biggest net recipient. The budget is supposed to be reviewed in 2008/2009 when Frere Jacques' term limit is up but I'm not holding my breath. There is a chance that some of the money will diverted away from food to energy crops. The WTO recently prohibited further mollycoddling of Europe's sugar barons. The sugar can be turned into ethanol or butanol to bypass the restriction. Rape seed is another popular energy crop, especially in biodiesel-mad Germany and Austria.
In an ideal world, we'd be importing biofuels from tropical countries in e.g. Africa to supplement domestic production and give the people there a reason to stay put instead of becoming illegal immigrants. Sadly, it is the Amazon rainforests that are still being cut down to plant soy for the European cattle herd - as if there wasn't enough space for them to roam freely in Eastern Europe.
Posted by: Rafael Seidl | 04 July 2006 at 09:47 AM
Quick question. What is dirigisme?
Posted by: Neil | 04 July 2006 at 10:15 AM
dirgisme = government telling businesses what to do.
Posted by: Rafael Seidl | 04 July 2006 at 10:17 AM
Maybe a little off topic, but what about this item frightens people more, CO2(global warming) or Peak Oil(economic problems due to high energy prices).
Posted by: Neil | 04 July 2006 at 10:43 AM
I'm more worried about Peak Oil, myself. But I also think algae for BTL or oil would pretty much solve both problems.
Posted by: Cervus | 04 July 2006 at 10:48 AM
Cervus, have you seen Al Gore's film? If not do yourself and the rest of the world a favour.
Posted by: marcus | 04 July 2006 at 11:00 AM
Do yourself a favor and look up Dr. Richard Lindzen and Dr. Roger Pielke. But as I said, algae would solve both problems.
Posted by: Cervus | 04 July 2006 at 11:19 AM
Spain is trying out sweet sorghum. It has much better energy balance and uses less water than either sugar beet or corn. The yields (gallons/acre) for ethanol from sweet sorghum is ~2x corn (300-400), and on par or better than sugar beet (~600). The issue is that much of Spain is dry, and will require irrigation. However, even the ethanol (or butanol) from this would not totally replace European imports of oil/diesel from oil/diesel exporters.
___As to biofuel from 3rd world countries, there are issues of corruption, and environmental destruction to be dealt with. Changing/uncertain rainfall patterns may make this risky, even foolhardy.
___Germany, and Austria could try making algae biomass/oil from nito/mineral/ organic carbon rich agricultural runoff/ sewage. Add in CO2 from all those fossil energy plants and presto, you got fuel, sort of. Use waste heat to dry the algae, and there goes another energy intensive step. This could be done in eastern Germany to revive the moribound economy there. Repeat in Eastern Europe, and across southern Europe (Portugal to Turkey). Use brownfields, and other contaminated sites for production locations. Pay for cleanup/ construction via subsidies, bonds, and maybe IPO's.
___Another way would be using less productive farmland to be converted to celluostic biofuel/biomass/ethanol when the tech arrives. Biomass for sequestation via burying it. A more destructive method would be to take those less productive farmland and turn it to algae production.
___On a side note, the US govt. pays for farmers not to use tens of millions of acres of farmland. Some of it is in drier areas. IF the top/subsoil could be saved, and then the land be developed, then a large source of land for algae production could be had. The land could be downstream of a major city, like Denver, or Oklahoma City, and be used for final stage sewage treatment too. _
___Usage of water saving methods for algae production is needed too. The huge Ogallala Blue aquifer is running out in many places. A switch over to less water intensive crops and practices is warranted. This may mean desert irrigation practices, and a switch in crops (ie from corn to sweet sorghum). If the aquifer becomes unusable, 1/5 the food supply for US that is from the high plains would be diminished. Major meat industries would be damaged, and the cost of meat will rise. Then there are the 1.9 million people in cities and towns there. They depend on the water from the aquifer.
___Europe will problems for clean water supply as well. As the rainfall pattern may change, meeting proposed green energy objectives may prove to be even more challenging. There are also enormous aquifers in North Africa from the wetter periods 5,000+ yrs ago. Libya has tapped into it.
___Here is a link to soil bank info I'm talking about:
The Ogallala aquifer:
Europe water problems and possible solutions:
Lybian fossil water:
Posted by: allen Z | 04 July 2006 at 12:00 PM
You can pont me to a few fringe scientists claiming this kind of stuff but the Scientific consensus is absolutely crystal clear. I am a scientist and I read peer reviewed scientific journals. This is where the consensus is.
If you had seen Gore's film you would have been informed of the fact that while no peer-reviewed scientific articles published in recent years express any doubt that climate change is happening, more than 50% of news media coverage of the issue includes the oil industry's position on the subject.
Just as there are a few fringe scientists claiming evolution is lie, the same can be said of climate change. Unfortunately however the consequences of listening to these fringe dwellers are a lot more serious.
Again I urge you to go see the film.
Posted by: marcus | 04 July 2006 at 12:06 PM
Lastly I also point you to this commetry on the film.
Posted by: marcus | 04 July 2006 at 12:21 PM
Marcus: How many times do I have to say "algae would solve both problems"?
Posted by: Cervus | 04 July 2006 at 12:34 PM
Whatever the outcome of the warming situation, I would say it is a mistake to impose new or higher taxes and dedicate, which I assume means, spend the money on renewables.
It they want the new tax then they should cut taxes elsewhere and not earmark the revenue. When money is earmarked you create a lobby for the favored activity. This makes it almost impossible to later correct mistakes.
Consumers, both individuals and companies, will shift the market to renewables automatically when carbon is taxed more or prices rise. Public transportation is pretty much all government anyway so there the government has an obligation to make the decisions.
Posted by: K | 04 July 2006 at 12:37 PM
in France it's probably CO2. They have a large nuclear industry that would very much like to persuade voters to let them get back to building more reactors. Conservative politicians in Germany also want to revisit the previous governmnet's commitment to abandon nuclear power, as does PM Blair of Britain. Eastern Europeans and Finland have never had much of a problem with the technology.
Peak oil, in the sense of factually declining output, is simply a reality over here. For example, Norway will run out of oil in the next decade. They've known this for some time and have put the proceeds in a piggy bank for future generations. The UK has not been so prudent, yet its oil wealth will not last much longer, either.
In terms of general energy security, there is a new sense of vulnerability wrt natural gas. This is used for space heating and cooking throughout much of Western Europe. Domestic supplies are either non-existent or being drawn down rapidly in most countries. With Europes economies so intertwined, an energy crisis in any one given country would have immediate ramifications for the whole continent. The gas crisis of January 2006, brief though it was, therefore sent shock waves through the continent. It is not currently in Russias interest to disrupt supplies, but clearly gas is a weapon at the disposal of what was once a democracy. Still-communist Belarus is a pipeline transit country, as is fragile Ukraine (newly-restored PM Yulia Timoshenko, who made her own fortune in brokering gas, has vowed to revisit last winter's dodgy gas deal).
Similarly, Europe recognizes is it at a disadvantage against the military might of the US, which (believes it) can secure access to oil by the use of force. Plans to construct the Nabucco pipeline to tap into Middle East gas reserves are on hold due to problems in Iraq and Iran - problems that have been exacerbated by the Bush administration. The fossil fuel alternative is GTL or LNG terminals, of which there are only a few in Europe so far. Coal is not a major factor as most of the easily recoverable reserves have already been used up.
Another alternative, favored by greens and Big Agro (an odd couple), is biofuels. The EU has set itself the goal of 20% alternative fuels by 2020, a target in which renewable fuels feature prominently. Sweden has gone even further. At the same time, there is a clear realization that renewable fuels cannot be produced in arbitrary quantities. This, as much as the GHG issue, is prompting the EU commission to demand new registration average targets of 120 g/km (~50 MPG) by 2012 and 90 g/km (~66 MPG) by 2020.
Posted by: Rafael Seidl | 04 July 2006 at 12:37 PM
Ok Cervus, lead me to some algae links. I understand that we can make biofuels from algae and that algae use up CO2. But to have absolute faith that this one proposed technofix is going to solve all the problems seems like wishful thinking to me! How much algae is going to be required to stablilize CO2 emissions? Who is gearing up to do it? Where is this going to happen? Also, if you burn up algae to make biofuels that make CO2 that the algae absorbs again the net change in CO2 is zero. That still doesn't sound like a reducing strategy to me. Inform us of your vision!
Posted by: marcus | 04 July 2006 at 12:42 PM
Better a carbon-neutral technology than an increase, right? Besides, you wouldn't want the amount of CO2 to go too low, either. Also, I still think it's as much in our interest to prevent another Ice Age.
August 2004 article by Mike Briggs of the UNH Biodiesel Group. He details in this article what would be needed for a total transportation fuel replacement. Briggs and UNH are currently working on a system for using wastewater for algae. There's a forum over on BiodieselNow.com, which Briggs runs, dedicated to the topic.
GreenFuel Technologies has a system that uses flue gasses from coal and natural gas powerplants to accelerate growth. This reduces the emissions from said powerplants by 40%. GreenShift is another company working on a similar process, but their web site seems to be down. While neither tech is actually carbon-neutral, we're not going to stop using coal anytime soon and this is a good way to mitigate emissions while also turning a profit. GreenFuel has also gotten about $16 million in venture capital over the past year.
We've also seen a couple articles here on GCC on companies getting into algae. Two on the same day, in fact. Here and here. Also, a New Zealand company has recently produced biodiesel from algae (Also detailed here, but I don't have the link handy)
As far as oil yields are concerned, nothing else holds a candle to algae. The best we can do with common crops in the US is canola/rapeseed, which has a yield of about 120 gallons per acre. The range for yields for algae is 5,000-20,000 gallons. And it has the advantage of not needing farmland, so it won't displace food crops.
Maybe I am hanging my hopes on this technology too much. But given its potential, I don't think I'm being unreasonable.
Posted by: Cervus | 04 July 2006 at 01:02 PM
Thanks Cervus for the info.
I agree it sounds pretty good and I am sure that as long a gasoline prices remain high or get higher it will be part of the solution. What I worry about more than gasoline is coal (because I suspect gasoline prices will continue to go up and spur alternatives such as algae). Without a carbon tax how are we going to reduce coal emissions? Any suggestions there?
Posted by: marcus | 04 July 2006 at 01:16 PM
Raphael: Who are we to blame European countries for supporting their farmers and industries. In USA and Canada, we all know that our farmers, and oddly enough, our very profitable Oil Industries, are very heavily supported (subsidized) by different levels of government. It is difficult to determine who gets the most but we are certainly just as guilty.
We can't rely 100% on private industry (especially oil industries, sympathetic administrations and oil producing countries dictators) to protect the environment. All governments (on both sides of the Atlantic) must enact stricker standards and implement them more rigorously now, because 10 to 20 years from now, it will hurt much more.
Posted by: Harvey D. | 04 July 2006 at 01:16 PM
Now for the caveat:
While Cervus was right that Algae derived biomass/biofuel may solve the GHG and growing energy demand problems, it will require investments on the order of hundreds of billions of dollars over a generation (~25 yrs). The only people who might have this kind of money ar govt, and big corporations. There is a possibility of an enormous internet linked mass investment by people worldwide (300 million, $1,000 each). But then again, there would need to be a way for verifying the trustees. Then there is the issue of land area. Whether using federal land, or private land, there is a price. Then there is the water problem, and processing problem. The infrastructure needed would resemble part sugar operation, part oil operation. Then, there are regulations, and political land mines. Algae energy may qualify for disruptive technology. There are so may consequences (positive and negative) that must be dealt with. Often, it is only economic, or scientific that is covered. Social aspects often are only addressed wen something goes wrong. One aspect would be what would all those employees from fossil energy companies do when laid off rom exxon or a coal mine? How will society deal with an enormous shift in winners and losers? All I'm saying is that this point must not be brushed off. As we shift sources of a fundamental facet of our economy, it should not be tunnel visioned.
Posted by: allen Z | 04 July 2006 at 01:27 PM
As far as coal is concerned, there are some promising solar technologies that may be cost-competetive enough to compete and displace it. Notable is Stirling Energy Systems. They have contracted to build up to 1,500+ MW of solar energy in Southern California using their very efficient stirling engine solar thermal generators.
Posted by: Cervus | 04 July 2006 at 01:28 PM
Some very good points. Such a transition, if we end up going for algae with all cylenders, would be very rough on everybody.
Posted by: Cervus | 04 July 2006 at 01:31 PM
Kwikpower and PetroSun Drilling are two companies that are picking up where the NREL left off. Scroll down on this summary page to see the details:
Algae do have a lot of potential because they can produce 30x the per-hectare yields (much of it as starch or lipids) of regular crops, provided they get enough water, sunlight and CO2.
CO2 sequestration usually refers to pumping exhaust gases from coal power stations into structures that are supposed to contain them essentially forever: spent natural gas fields, oil fields past their prime (where the gases improve viscosity and tertiary yields), brine aquifers, even the deep ocean.
An alternate strategy is to recycle the CO2 into algal biofuels. This is not sequestration in that the carbon enters the atmosphere when the fuel is burnt. However, you avoid the CO2 normally produced by mineral fuels burnt in addition to the coal. Ergo, algal biofuels would slow down the rate of net CO2 release.
True CO2-neutral algal oil would require vast surface areas, perhaps in ponds on the open ocean. Even that would merely help stabilize atmospheric CO2 levels, though.
Permanent sequestration of CO2 already in the atmosphere is substantially more difficult, unless you decided to pump valuable biofuels into spent oil & gas fields.
Still, it could perhaps be done, albeit indirectly: solar electricity produced in desert regions close to an ocean (North Africa, Namibia, South Africa, Australia, Mexico, Arabian penisula, ...) could be used to grow vast artificial limestone structures underwater. The primary application for this biorock has been reef restoration for the sake of coral biodiversity. It has been shown to be more effective than other artifical reef strategies. However, coral reefs are also important fish nurseries and sequester CO2 in mineral form (limestone).
The process is slow, though, as is the absorption of atmospheric CO2 into the oceans in the first place. Another downside is the need for electrodes to produce the biorock. Nevertheless, I did see a report some time ago suggesting the method could be used to literally grow the foundations for a bridge between India and Sri Lanka.
Posted by: Rafael Seidl | 04 July 2006 at 01:40 PM
Rafael - I agree with your first comment; it makes more sense to import biofuels from tropical countries than to grow them in Europe - but only if wealth is equitably distributed in those tropical countries. Currently, Chavez in Venezuela is doing a good job of that, but sadly via fossil fuels :(
Posted by: JN2 | 04 July 2006 at 02:55 PM
While I agree that there are many promising technologies for sequestration of CO2 from coal emissions or production of energy from biofuels and solar, what I am concerned about is the lack of incentive for industry to use them if it happens that it is cheaper to burn coal without sequestration. At present there is one Futuregen demonstration coal plant planned for construction of the many hundreds of dirty plants in the pipelines for the coming decade. Many of these plants are already under construction and it will be expensive to retrofit them for CO2 scrubbing. If it is expensive why will they do it? The only way CO2 levels can be brought under control is if the US and at least China implement a serious carbon policy which means including a stick as well as carrot. The GHG problem is a coal problem.
Posted by: marcus | 04 July 2006 at 03:29 PM
Yes, it is expensive. And such expenses would naturally be passed on to the consumer in the form of much higher electricity rates. Power companies are understandably unwilling to do this. I read somewhere that the clean coal plants are something like 60% more expensive to build than conventional ones.
A possible solution is to provide tax incentives for the power companies that would alleviate the cost of the initial investment.
On the other hand, GreenFuel's process can tap into pre-existing ports in the powerplant's exhaust stream. The only question is a matter of local land space available. The company claims there's about 1,000 nationwide with enough land for their system, enough for a production of 40 billion gallons of biodiesel and a similar amount of ethanol.
I suppose if you can't easily sequester it, you might as well use the CO2 twice.
Posted by: Cervus | 04 July 2006 at 03:48 PM
I recommend these two articles for a discussion on coal's future...
and I will correct myself by saying that 140 new plants are planned for the US at the moment.
Posted by: marcus | 04 July 2006 at 03:51 PM