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Tell us about carbon sequestration again

31 Aug 2022 | News Roundup

One of those quirky stories you’re tempted to scoff at, tweet and then forget is that American craft breweries are in trouble because of a shortage of CO2. Yes, the stuff we’re supposedly all in trouble because of a surplus of. But there’s a serious point here: If it’s really true that carbon sequestration is a feasible technology, that you can produce energy at a profit even after the effort of taking the CO2 out as garbage and disposing of it somewhere at a dead loss, why isn’t there a ready “trash to treasure” supply of the stuff for sale to anyone willing to pay for it instead?

In case you haven’t spent much time wondering where food processors, including breweries, get their bubbles, or assumed it was just natural fermentation, well, welcome to the post-Henry-Ford world of mass production. According to NBC, the CO2 shortage is “a slow-moving crisis that became worse this summer as reports emerged that the carbon dioxide sourced at Jackson Dome in Mississippi, one of the nation’s largest gas production hubs, had been contaminated.” With what, one is tempted to ask, some of that notorious “carbon pollution”? But seriously, folks, the source in question is, revealingly, not a facility that produces CO2 by capturing it from some industrial process. It is, get this, a natural CO2 field. That’s right. They have to go and get it out of the ground because well um it’s the only good source.

The firm says they’re looking for industrial ones too. Which they would. But as noted, why is the search hard? If it’s really possible to turn a fiscal and physical profit, indeed to turn a fiscal profit because the energy balance remains positive, while not just throwing CO2 away but paying to bury it, why on Earth or under it aren’t there all kinds of people keen to sell their carbon garbage to brewers for ready cash instead?

The Jackson Dome natural reservoir of plant food/carbon pollution is actually from an extinct volcano. And evidently the effort to get even more out led to some kind of natural contamination, possibly benzine.

NBC also reported that “carbon dioxide supplies were already tight because pandemic shutdowns forced many key suppliers offline, a disruption they still have not recovered from,” and quoted “a technical brewing projects director at the Brewers Association” that summers are always difficult because of producer maintenance schedules, but “There’s been spot shortages across the country since the beginning of the pandemic”.

As we all know, the difficulties are often in the details. Including in getting the benzine out of your CO2 field. But the fact remains that if there’s a crisis because of a lack of CO2 when we’re supposedly in a crisis because of too much of it, the people who say they can pay money to pull it out of the air and dump it somewhere are exaggerating the effectiveness of their technology.

P.S. From the “not good on the economics” file we should also mention a Parker Gallant piece about a local rural Ontario cement firm determined to be pseudo-virtuous by substituting biomass for fossil fuels, as if wood gave off better CO2, with a plan that will require local residents to generate considerably more trash or buy someone else’s. While it’s engineering nonsense to think “wood from construction and demolitions, non-recyclable paper and plastic, textiles, tire fibre, fluff, as well as non-recyclable household waste” are more compact and cleaner sources of heat than petroleum, it’s also economic nonsense to think there’s all this high-grade fuel-quality garbage currently going to waste. Mind you, as he pointed out in another article, people who think something that makes money with a massive subsidy is competitive with something that makes money without one are not exactly discerning consumers of the “dismal science”.

P.P.S. We were going to make an unkind remark about a guy with a BA in “Government”, albeit from Harvard, chirping about “3 smart ways the US can grow more food while emitting less carbon/ A climate-friendly national food strategy would start with accelerating alternative proteins, reducing food waste and investing in agricultural innovation”, not least because we can just guess where those alternative proteins come from (buzz clack). But we looked at the piece before denouncing it and read that “One obvious place to start would be to ditch those famine-inducing, forest-destroying biofuels mandates” and while much that followed was nonsense, including the U.S. government being poised to foster enormous efficiency gains in agriculture, he was certainly right on that point.

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