Tag Archives: climate change

A Stinky Subject

This isn’t about sex, murder, war, politics, or Donald Trump, so if that’s all that interests you, you may as well stop reading now.  It’s about landfill gas recapture and utilization, a subject that makes my engineering friends yawn but fascinates me.

It links my interests in environmental toxins, garbage disposal, and multi-purpose innovation to address commonly acknowledged problems.  While the political scientists debate whether the Earth is undergoing “climate change” and, if so, whether humankind is causing it, I’m looking at litter in the streets; noting the extraordinary growth of plastic and single use packaging; and throwing away heaps of junk mail in post office recycling bins.  At least the PO has recycling bins, a forward shift in consciousness, according to me, within the past ten years.  Not only does the post office subsidize this mountain of murdered trees by reduced rates, but my various alma maters and professional organizations are the worst perpetrators of this global plot to deforest the planet and speed up the global warming agenda.  One would think the ivory-tower elitists would be the first to rail against this glut of self-serving propaganda, but alas, they can’t afford to support their tenured positions and building campaigns with mere tuitions.  They must perpetually dun their graduates—and their graduates’ offspring—for money, if only to prove how cost-ineffective and eco-unfriendly they are.

So, rather than spend money supporting those who can’t support themselves, I choose to educate myself without cost in ways to reduce all my problems and the world’s problems at the same time.  A tall order, perhaps, and maybe a futile one, considering the stinky subject of landfill.  Nobody wants to touch it, unless, of course they can get government funding.

To get government funding, one is obliged to package the idea in terms that make the government look good.  For instance, did you know the United States has 2000 regulated landfills, the most in the world?  By 2006, the US generated 413 million tons of municipal solid waste, and 64% went into landfill.  70 percent of this was composed of food, paper, and corrugated cardboard, and 15 percent was of petrochemicals, mostly plastic.

Biogas, including carbon dioxide and methane, are emitted from decomposition of organic materials in landfill.  Aerobic decomposition of waste generally leads to the production of carbon dioxide (CO2), and anaerobic decomposition produces methane (CH4). Methane is also known as natural gas. MSW (municipal solid waste) landfill gas is comprised of 45-60% methane and 40-60% CO2.

Methane is believed to be at least 24 times more potent than carbon dioxide in its global warming effects.  About 50 million tons of methane are generated annually by municipal solid waste, but only 5 million tons are captured.

Landfills generate a maximum of methane at five years, then the amount begins to decline.  Landfill gas utilization is a process by which methane is captured and used to generate electricity or heat, or upgraded for inclusion in commercial natural gas products.  In 2006, there were 325 landfills in the US that collected biogas, up from 231 in 1999.  California had the most:  65 landfill gas facilities, followed by Illinois, Michigan, New York, and Pennsylvania.  In 2001, there were 955 landfills that recovered biogas, with the most in the United States, followed by Germany and the United Kingdom.  In the United Kingdom, the number of facilities went from 329 in 2005 to 519 in 2009.

There are two methods for capture of methane from landfill, closed and open capture.  Closed capture refers to gas extraction from landfills that have been closed and can be capped.  It is considered more efficient than capture from open landfills, at 84% and 67% respectively.  Methods for capture including drilling wells either vertically or horizontally.  Equipment needed for utilization depends on the size of the landfill.  Smaller facilities can employ reciprocating engines; medium-sized facilities can use turbines; and steam cycles are used for the largest deposits.

General Motors has significantly reduced its energy costs by using landfill gas to power some of its production facilities.  As of August, 2016, the General Motors Orion plant in the Orion Township of Michigan boasted that landfill gas was supplying 54% of its electricity.  The gas comes from two open landfills nearby, owned by Waste Management and Republic Services, respectively.  The GM plant also has a 350 kW solar array.

There are incentives from the Treasury Department, Department of Energy, the Agriculture Department, and the Department of Commerce for landfill gas extraction.  Landfill gas is considered a renewable form of energy.  The US EPA operates a landfill Methane Outreach Program.

Opponents of landfill gas utilization include such organizations as the Energy Justice Network, which claims that landfill gas has contaminants that are either inherently toxic or combine into toxic substances when burned.  Although “non-methane organic compounds” (NMOCs) comprise less than one percent of landfill gas, there are also non-organic toxic substances, such as mercury and tritium, in minute amounts.  Also, when halogens–like chlorine, fluorine, and bromine– are combusted with hydrocarbons, they can produce dioxins and furans, some of the most toxic substances known.  While other sources state that a burning temperature of 850 degrees centigrade can destroy dioxins, Energy Justice Network claims these can be re-formed in the cooling process.

At the same time, Energy Justice Network admits that methane is responsible for 10.6 percent of global warming from US human sources, with 35.8 percent of this from landfill gas.  It also claims that if landfill gas is to be utilized for energy, boilers offer the safest mode, with turbines, then internal combustion engines less desirable.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

What is Truth? What is Real?

DSC02013

Climate change?  Does it matter?   The storm surge from Hurricane Irma flooded my crawl space, water heater, and outside air conditioner, and I’m still cleaning up the debris.  kco091117 

Information.  Misinformation.  Disinformation.  News.  Fake News.  Opinion.  Generalization.  Prediction.   Propaganda.  Lies.  Advertising.  Gossip.  Second guesses. Stereotypes.  Assumptions.

I feel overwhelmed by the glut of demands on attention and allegiance.  What to believe?  What not to believe?   To believe everything and nothing at the same time?  To trust my own judgment or to doubt?  I long for escape, to screen it all out, to hear only the sounds of birds and wind through the trees, to see only the clouds floating by or the filigree of Spanish moss.  Nature speaks her own language, full of mystery, but without hypocrisy.

Consensual science says the climate is changing, and it’s man’s fault.  “Climate deniers,” some with the same education and backgrounds, say the whole idea is a hoax.

The public and the media seem obsessed with the president of the United States, as if he alone has the power to bring on the Apocalypse.

I look at my immediate, media-avoidant home and see the reality of today’s chores awaiting me. The frenzy that has gripped the world in fear of terrorism, Congressional bickering, North Korea, “climate change,” the latest hurricane, and what gaffe the “Orange Tweet” has committed now. . . all seem far away, surreal, and not my concern.

My “scientific inquiry” has a more practical bent.  How to repair the broken handle on my favorite plastic thermal mug, so that it will hold.  Scientific experiment number one only worked a few days.  Scientific experiment number two added rubber bands to hold the handle while epoxy dried.

DSC02016

The word “science” comes from the Latin, “sciere,” “to know,”  but I contend knowledge is forever evolving and changing, based on new data, new perspectives. Lately, I’ve had to accept that much of what I thought I knew no longer applies.  Not only that, I’ve found those who speak with the most authority often believe they know more than they do.  Are they lying?  Not if they believe they know.  Who knows?

They say “knowledge is power.”  I’ve found knowledge also brings the responsibility for decisions about what to do with it.  Each action or non-action leads to unforeseen probabilities.  We can never know the paths not taken.

Lately, I’ve had to question everything I’ve been taught, especially within the field of medicine, but also regarding history and politics.  While they may seem to be different areas of concern, they have merged as two inextricably linked paradigms regarding the human body and mind, as they relate to the greater social family of humanity.

I feel a greater need to understand than to know.  To understand is eventually to love, according to one of my favorite philosophers.  To believe I “know” is an exercise in hubris, maybe, and this is where official “science” and I part ways.  How do you know you know?

Maybe I’m psychic.  Maybe I’m psychotic.  Maybe there’s no difference, from an internal perspective.  I’ve always relied on what I call a “vibrational perception” that tries to attune to “energy fields” of emotion:  the frenetic human angst in the city, the mood of a room, the quality of the sounds in the atmosphere, the body language of someone I’ve unwittingly offended.  I feel things I can’t verify.  I dream of things—usually minor things—before they happen.  I believe I live many lives, not in a sequential way, but in a group of parallel lives in a “spacious present” where “bleed throughs” regularly occur.  I believe time is an illusion, so we are all essentially immortal, thrust together in multiple contexts until we figure out how to get along.  I believe ghosts talk to me, although I’ve never seen one.  I feel them in my “vibe space.”  They like to mess with me.

I can’t “prove” any of this, nor do I care to try. Maybe it’s imagination, but imagination gives things their own validity. I still have a physical body in the physical world we breathing human beings agree exists, the “reality” that depends on physical senses for information.

I contend there is no objective reality, that we are all subjective, with unique perspectives, experiences, orientations.  I believe life is universal and provides the energy of the cosmos.  Some people call it god.  Some call it “qi.”  Some may not think of it at all.

I read today that many people feel a strong need to be “right.”  They screen out conflicting evidence and dig their heels into defending ossified conclusions.  That was my father’s way.  He was a proud “rational scientist,” scornful of the “emotional irrationality” of women, generally, and my mother, specifically.  To be wrong around him was a character flaw, never to be lived down, so it became an exercise in pride never to admit error.  Ghosts don’t exist, he claimed, until he became one, witnessed by a friend of science, after he died.

So who really knows?  Maybe we’re in the throes of a massive paradigm shift, in which the desire to understand begins to surpass the futile attempt to know.  I don’t believe the future is fixed or predictable.  There are many probable futures, I hope, but the present is a good place to start.

In Defense of Carbon

carbfoot071817

Carbon is the basic building block of life.  It is an element, indestructible.  We have the same amount of carbon on earth now as always.  It goes through a cycle.  Because it is so versatile, it can join with numerous other atoms to create complex structures.

I’m a climate change agnostic.  I know the climate changes every day and every season.  Whether human beings are changing the climate in a significant way is the subject of heated debate.  I do know humans are poisoning the environment, but the most dangerous chemicals involved are not carbon dioxide or methane.  These two are naturally occurring substances that are intimately involved in the cycles of life and death.

Organic chemistry is based on whether the compounds under study contain carbon.  Photosynthesis is the means by which plants use energy from light to convert water and carbon dioxide to food for the plant.  In this process, water is hydrolyzed (meaning broken down into its constituent atoms) with the hydrogen joining with carbon to form sugars, such as glucose and sucrose.  The sugars contain energy that fuels plant growth, maintenance and manufactures the substance of the plant itself, like cellulose.

That plants can make their own food from light, carbon dioxide and water is a marvel of solar technology, because all food ultimately comes from plants.  The mechanism of photosynthesis, according to my botany text (Botany:  An Introduction to Plant Biology, 6th edition, T., Elliot Weier, et al., 1982) took almost 200 years to be understood, and it still contains undiscovered secrets.  Researchers are now working on harnessing the 100% efficiency of plants to make electricity.  In contrast, solar panels are only between 15-20% efficient.

According to Botany, a series of discoveries beginning in 1700 led to the eventual understanding of how photosynthesis works.  In 1700, a Flemish physician and chemist Jan van Helmont grew a willow branch in measured soil and water.  It grew from five to 169 pounds in five years, but used only two ounces of soil.  In 1772, Joseph Fleming noted a sprig of mint could restore confined air that had been made impure by burning a candle, but in 1779 Jan Ingen-House noticed air was only revitalized when the green portion of the plant was exposed to light.  In 1782, Jean Sonebier discovered carbon dioxide was necessary in the “fixed air” supply of the green plant, and in 1796 Ingen-House determined the carbon went into the nutrition and structure of the plant.  In 1804, Nicholas Th. de Saussure observed water was also involved in the photosynthetic process, and in 1800 chemists discovered that carbohydrates were formed.  Experiments using “heavy oxygen” (oxygen with atomic weight of 18 rather than the usual 16) proved the oxygen liberated in photosynthesis came from water rather than CO2.

The basic chemical reaction for converting carbon dioxide and water to glucose is:

6CO2 + 6H20 +686 kcal –> C6 H12 O6 + 6O2

The oxygen is released into the atmosphere.  Plants also release water vapor through evaporation, and this induces liquids and nutrients to move upward through the xylem (the plant’s substance, including transportation “vessels”).

The glucose produced is used directly, or stored as insoluble starch.  It’s used to make cellulose and other structural components, or is combined with nitrogen, sulfur or phosphorus to make proteins.

When a plant or any life form dies, the stored carbon is either consumed by another life form or it is released as CO2 and methane (CH4), among other substances.

Igniting the hydrocarbon molecules reverses the photosynthetic process in a one-to-one ratio.  CO2 and water are re-created, and the energy bound up in the molecule is released as heat or used to do work.

The chemical reaction when the simplest hydrocarbon, methane (natural gas), is burned is:

CH4 + 2O2 –>  CO2 + 2H2O

Natural gas, oil, coal, ethanol, and plastic, to name a few, have the same carbon and hydrogen building blocks, in different combinations.  All have high energy contents and produce CO2 and water when burned.

Ethanol—which is now a federally mandated gasoline additive—has a lower energy content than gasoline so lowers gasoline efficiency. Ethanol, also called “ethyl alcohol,” is old-fashioned grain alcohol, the same substance distilled by farmers in Revolutionary War days, and the stuff that led to the Whiskey Rebellion when the whiskey tax was passed in 1791.

Plastic has a high energy content and burns hot.  Plastic waste is accumulating around the planet, in huge ocean “gyres,” as well as other bodies of water, sewage and drainage systems.  Its breakdown products are associated with endocrine (hormonal) changes in people and animals.

The main weakness of the climate change initiative is that the focus on “greenhouse gases” diverts attention from more immediate and ongoing threats to the planet.  The use of single-use packaging, for instance, uses valuable natural resources, such as paper, and environmentally harmful industrial products, such as plastic, that end up in landfill or in rivers, lakes, and oceans.

The ethanol mandate, passed in 2007, is a particularly toxic piece of legislation.  Under this scenario, farmland is used to produce corn, soy, or other carbon-containing plant matter, to be distilled into alcohol for burning in cars.  Not only does this deplete soil that might otherwise be used to grow food, but it requires massive amounts of water, time and money, so is a pox on the planet and on the engines that use it. It is particularly harmful in small engines, like lawnmowers, so conscientious users must use ethanol-free gas to protect their engines.  That Archer Daniels Midland, the main corporate beneficiary of the ethanol mandate, is set up to distill ethanol for cars as well as ethanol for drinking, should provide clues as to how regressive this mandate is.

In summary, I contend that, “climate change” includes changing the political climate to recognize that growing trees is better for the planet than giving corporations “carbon credits” not to cut them down.

Political Climate Change

I’ve followed the “global warming,” then the “climate change” controversy for a number of years and have a number of reservations about the terms being used, the focus on “greenhouse gases,” and the almost religious fervor “climate scientists” adopt when pushing their agenda.

I’m an amateur scientist, at best, a “life scientist,” who still believes observation is the best science there is.  I can’t deny the environment is changing, becoming de-vitalized, and I also believe mankind plays a significant role.  That and other transgressions against fellow man and nature have made me ashamed to be human. I look to my pets and nature to restore my belief that nature will survive, even if humans poison or nuke themselves out of existence.  It may take awhile, and the earth may generate a variety of mutant life forms, but nature will win in the end. Best to make a friend of her.

While I am no scientist, I’ve taken more undergraduate and post graduate science courses than most Americans have.  I’ve taken biology, botany, inorganic and organic chemistry, physics, biochemistry, and a variety of medical science courses. I’ve done published research, too.  The last showed me the limitations of the “scientific method,” which assumes cause and effect and must control for variables. The primary rule in Western scientific research is that you can have no more than one variable.  You begin with a hypothesis that you want to prove or disprove.  You “control” for variables, meaning you have a treatment group and a “control group.” In other words, you create artificial circumstances to suit your study design and outcome you want or expect.

Contrast this with the Oriental pattern-based approach, which embraces variables and looks for patterns among them.  The presumption is nature is composed of interactive processes that enhance or mitigate each other.  Everything is connected in a large, multi-dimensional web.

When it comes to the environment, it’s impossible to limit research to one variable and determine cause and effect.  We know what came before, and we use computer models to predict what will come next.  We want to attribute causes to “climate change,” and have focused on CO2 and other “greenhouse gases,” specifically methane/natural gas (CH4).

I contend this is too simplistic.  First we are technically at the end of an ice age, so planetary warming is at least partly natural.  Carbon is the basic building block of life, an element, that can combine with many other atoms to create a variety of molecules.  The difference between inorganic and organic chemistry is based on whether the substance under study has carbon.  Methane/natural gas is the simplest hydro-carbon there is.  It is part of the life-cycle, and every decaying life form produces it.  Cow farts (which have been blamed for adding to greenhouse gases) and human farts all contain methane, as do other life form farts.  It rises from the marsh and from landfill.

Carbon dioxide, CO2, the demonized poster child of the “climate science” religion, is the chief nutrient of plant photosynthesis, the process that combines carbon from the air with light to create food for the plant, and thus for every creature that eats plants.  Carbon dioxide comprises significantly less than one percent of the atmosphere.  By comparison, oxygen makes up 21 percent.  If carbon dioxide is the primary culprit in climate change, then overpopulation, with more people exhaling CO2 and farting methane, is a significant factor in the production of greenhouse gases CO2 and methane.

No one of the scientists has addressed the fact that burning one molecule of methane/natural gas (CH4) produces two molecules of water for every one of CO2. Apparently none of the computer models programmed to track carbon emissions and predict climate change factors in the enormous amount of water added to the environment with the burning of fossil fuels.  Water vapor is another “greenhouse gas” in fact, as anyone who has ever visited a greenhouse knows.  What is the effect of cloud cover on the earth below?  What is the effect of all the mass of buildings, highways, and parking lots?  These have replaced forests and fields, which played a role in keeping the earth cool and absorbing rainwater before it flooded.  Has anyone accounted for the thermals (vortexes of hot air rising from cities) creating fronts that change weather patterns all around?

The Industrial Revolution begun with the cheap abundance of coal and is intricately intertwined with its advance.  This closely followed major other changes in paradigms, specifically Isaac Newton’s discovery of gravity, and the subsequent mechanistic view of the universe.  The mechanistic paradigm brought “determinism,” which separated life (and god) from science.  The idea that the universe functions like a machine, with everything governed by knowable physical laws, contradicted the Biblical presumption of free will.

We have made a quantum leap from Newtonian physics with Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity and quantum mechanics.  At the atomic and subatomic level, there is enormous variation and spontaneity within a larger order.  All of a sudden, free will becomes scientifically valid again, the experimenter does influence the experiment by expectation or desire, and cause-and-effect paradigms begin to lose relevance.

I’m more concerned about the effects of environmental toxins than the buildup of greenhouse gases.  The industrial revolution has led to unsustainable levels of toxic waste in air, water, and land, and we continue to dump poisons way worse than carbon dioxide into the world environment.  We are poisoning ourselves along with the insects, but insects reproduce faster and develop immunity quicker than human beings do.  Plastic, also containing hydrocarbon chains, release toxic chemicals, especially when heated, that Americans blithely drink in their bottled water.  We’re increasingly afraid of tap water because of contaminants in pipes and groundwater that we’re only beginning to recognize.

Yes, we are devitalizing and perhaps even killing the earth, but we need to broaden our scope to look at multi-factorial contributors.  It’s not a government problem to solve.  We should look to ourselves as individuals, a nation of excess and waste. Don’t depend too much on salaried scientists, whose primary obligation is to their government, university, and corporate employers.  They agree with each other in finding simple targets and ignoring the greater industrial pollution that continues as fast as it can generate profits on Wall Street.