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Earth Science

Capturing Carbon With Garbage Heaps 186

Posted by Soulskill
from the something-america-can-do-well dept.
davide marney writes "In a Washington Post opinion piece, Hugh Price argues that using a decidedly low-tech solution to sequestering excess carbon — making piles of agricultural waste — is better than many 'green' solutions already in practice. Sometimes the easy answer is the right answer. After all, it's how coal forms, and we know that works pretty well."
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Capturing Carbon With Garbage Heaps

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  • Yeah (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday September 19, 2010 @08:23AM (#33626470)
    but how can you have huge federal bureaucracies and sell carbon credits and implement strange new taxes if everybody uses the simple and elegant solution? Clearly this proposal has a fatal flaw.
  • Paper is easier. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by maeka (518272) on Sunday September 19, 2010 @08:32AM (#33626498) Journal

    It seems to me it would just be easier to stop recycling paper, and create tax incentives for the consumption of more paper. ;)

  • by Pharmboy (216950) on Sunday September 19, 2010 @08:46AM (#33626556) Journal

    One of the examples was to bury agricultural waste instead of plowing it into the ground. The obvious problem is that the "waste" is what becomes the soil in a few years, putting back minerals, nitrogen and other elements that the plant needs to grow. Without putting this "waste" back into the ground, the only way to get the same full, lush plants that are soaking up all this carbon is to use man made fertilizers, which are a big enough problem with ground water that we don't need to adopt a new agriculture method that requires even MORE of them.

    If we could separate out all the carbon from our garbage and bury it in the way he talks about, great, there will be coal in a few millennia. But generally speaking, this sounds incredibly unworkable and naive.

  • Plowing under? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by gabebear (251933) on Sunday September 19, 2010 @08:46AM (#33626558) Homepage Journal
    How much gas and money would be used by NOT plowing under leftover stuff in the field? Plowing under organic-mater enriches the soil and the collection and transportation of all this stuff would take a lot of energy.
  • Wrong science (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday September 19, 2010 @09:14AM (#33626674)

    Price says, "Without access to oxygen, bacteria cannot break down plant material."

    Price, who obviously knows nothing about biology, is forgetting about the vast majority of all species on the planet: anaerobic microbes. They are quite good at turning organic material into carbon dioxide and methane. This happens in all animal guts, including yours, as well as anaerobic digesters, soils, underwater sediments, bogs, etc. His garbage heap "solution" sounds, to me, like an anaerobic digester. It would transform the waste into carbon dioxide and methane. Methane, by the way, has a green house gas equivalent of about ten times that of carbon dioxide. However, you can capture the methane and burn it to generate electricity. But, there's nothing novel about this; we've been doing it with our agricultural waste for decades. Especially in Europe where, for example, Germany has 4,500 cooperative facilities solely for the purpose of anaerobic breakdown of agricultural waste and capturing the methane produced, to be used as green energy.

  • by TapeCutter (624760) * on Sunday September 19, 2010 @09:26AM (#33626752) Journal
    Biochar is a great idea and it can also produce energy from sewrage. Trees are god but we coud cover the whole planet with trees and it would only make a minor dent in our emmissions. Unless we're willing to turn over most of the world's arable land to producing and burrying fast growing species such as bamboo, there simply is not enough land for the solution in TFA.

    The simple soultion is to fix the root cause of the problem, ie: stop burning coal.
  • Re:Yeah (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Joce640k (829181) on Sunday September 19, 2010 @09:32AM (#33626770) Homepage

    Um, no. If we reduce the number of people then each of them will wallow in all the surplus energy, guzzling it and releasing huge amounts of CO2.

    The "root problem" is that the economy has been based on fossil fuels for so long that everybody's mindset is broken. eg. Coal power is far more dangerous/dirty than nuclear power but nobody seems to be rushing to switch over.

    It also doesn't help that most of the people who make policies bought their way to power using the profits from oil. Getting them to promote alternatives is like trying to push shit up a hill.

  • Re:Yeah (Score:2, Insightful)

    by commodore64_love (1445365) on Sunday September 19, 2010 @09:41AM (#33626822) Journal

    >>>If we reduce the number of people then each of them will wallow in all the surplus energy, guzzling it and releasing huge amounts of CO2.

    I doubt that. If the US and EU population was reduced by 1/10th (to 80 million), we wouldn't have to worry about global warming at all. at least in our half of the world. Sure some of us might get greedy & burn 1.5-2 times as many coal-generated KWH, but overall it would still be a huge drop in CO2 emissions.

    I agree with the grandparent poster - the root cause is the same cause when a bird has 6 chicks instead of 2 - a soiling of our nest by overpopulation. Reduce the population and the nest will be a lot cleaner. The pollution will all but disappear.

  • by denzacar (181829) on Sunday September 19, 2010 @10:12AM (#33627014) Journal

    Besides the fact that the entire idea boils down to "plant a shitload of trees and then bury them" it is a rather uninformed... well... brain-fart. Literally.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Compost_pile#Industrial_systems [wikipedia.org]

    Mechanical sorting of mixed waste streams combined with anaerobic digestion or in-vessel composting, is called mechanical biological treatment, increasingly used in developed countries due to regulations controlling the amount of organic matter allowed in landfills.
    Treating biodegradable waste before it enters a landfill reduces global warming from fugitive methane; untreated waste breaks down anaerobically in a landfill, producing landfill gas that contains methane, a potent greenhouse gas.

    And the "treatment" basically boils down to inducing either pre-emptive anaerobic or aerobic process - which produces either methane or CO2.
    Also, being all enthusiastic about the "After all, this is how all that coal and oil formed in the first place", author of the Washington Post story has obviously forgotten that natural gas (i.e. methane) is found in abundance wherever there is oil.

    In the end, this could never come even close to being productive. Nor cheap.
    HUGE amounts of (agriculturally usable) space to plant the trees/plants would be needed. We're talking about enough trees/plants to suck up all the CO2 produced by every power-plant.
    Plants would need to be something that grows year-round, sucks up a lot of CO2, doesn't need fertilizer or nutrient rich soil and preferably grows vertically to take up less space. Hemp would probably be ideal, combined with pines or some other evergreen for the colder months.
    Acres and acres would have to be planted for every single power-plant.
    Plus, we are back to "carbon-credits" here as it would be physically impossible to plant all that shrubbery around the powerplants.

    Then, more space would be needed to build the treatment plants that would suck out the carbon.
    Also, energy and money to run it as it would probably not be breaking even monetarily. Would it be breaking even carbon-vise is a whole new ballgame.

    Then, the now nearly inert waste would need to be transported to the landfills buried/piled there - i.e. more energy, more CO2 released, more money.

    More you go into it, the more does the whole "as big as the plant itself, costing $700 mil." [scientificamerican.com] deal sound attractive.
    Although, personally, I find the idea of burying the gas underground to be even dumber than the "piling garbage idea".

  • Re:Methane (Score:4, Insightful)

    by maxwell demon (590494) on Sunday September 19, 2010 @10:13AM (#33627024) Journal

    But if we capture that methane, we can burn it to produce energy.

  • Re:Yeah (Score:3, Insightful)

    by GreatBunzinni (642500) on Sunday September 19, 2010 @10:33AM (#33627180)

    If you did in fact "walk your talk" then you would simply had committed suicide. Meanwhile you are still carbon-negative by wasting precious resources by eating and by purchasing goods and services. If you touch any technology that you hadn't hand-made yourself from minerals you've extracted from the earth yourself, vegetable fibres or even animal parts then you have been contributing directly for this state of affairs since you were born. And here you are, posting comments on an online forum, wasting precious electricity, using a resource-wasting worldwide system which is the internet through a resource-wasting global source of pollution which is the personal computer.

    So, don't try to mask your pathetic misanthropy and psychopathy under this thin veneer of righteous ecology. Just because you hate the world and suffer from some mental illness it doesn't mean your actions are committed to preserve the environmnent*

    * your statement is even more pathetic considering that this "go green" movement is based on the premise that if the environment isn't protected then our descendants will not be able to live a comfortable and sustained life. That means that your decision for not reproducing (is it really your choice?) is based on the premise that not reproducing will make the world a better place for your offspring to live in. WTF?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday September 19, 2010 @10:34AM (#33627186)

    I'm surprised that most people have missed this in the first thread. The #1 primary fatal flaw, is that the 'waste' being plowed under isn't waste at all. Farmers plow it under instead of removing it because it's the cheapest and best fertilizer that you don't need money to buy. The remaining plant matter that gets plowed under is exactly the material that the next crop of the same plant needs to grow.

    It blows me away that they figured this out in the middle ages and we've forgotten it. This is one of the primary rules of agriculture that we learned about in the Agricultural Revolution [wikipedia.org].

    P.S. It's what plants crave.
    P.P.S. Captcha: charcoal. Is it just me or are an inordinate number of the captchas on slashdot relevant to the subject of the article? Maybe I missed that post.

  • Re:Actually (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday September 19, 2010 @10:53AM (#33627348)

    Don't ignore water content: whether urine is "mostly water and salts", it counts as mass, and is included both in water or fluids we drink and as a significant part of most food.

    In addition to this correct remark, decomposition of e. g. hydrocarbons not only leads to the production of CO2, but also of significant amounts of water: C6H12O6 + 6xO2 -> 6xCO2 + 6xH2O. Some animals do hardly need any water in their diet, because this water generated by "burning" is enough to feed their needs.

    Therefore, the urine we piss and the sweat we transpire do contain some percentage of the solids we have ingested.

  • Re:Yeah (Score:3, Insightful)

    by russotto (537200) on Sunday September 19, 2010 @11:23AM (#33627566) Journal

    How about I just continue with the plan I came up with over 25 years ago, when even as a child I saw where we were heading, and not reproduce.

    But the earth will be inherited by the children of those who do NOT follow that plan.

  • Re:Wrong science (Score:3, Insightful)

    by khallow (566160) on Sunday September 19, 2010 @01:00PM (#33628292)
    It depends on the plant material. But cellulose (the primary component of wood and stems) is mostly carbon. It doesn't have enough oxygen and hydrogen to convert the entire biomass to carbon dioxide or methane. And if the layer of refuse is rather thick, then most of it will be hot enough to inhibit microbe growth. You could also coke the plant material first (which conveniently is somewhat exothermic), getting fairly pure carbon.
  • by hairyfeet (841228) <bassbeast1968@@@gmail...com> on Sunday September 19, 2010 @01:38PM (#33628568) Journal

    I believe so, because even if one were to replace every plant with nuclear you'll still have the carbon from other sources such as manufacture and cars, which one can capture using carbon filtering systems which capture sources of carbon like smog and can then compress it and ready it for disposal.

    Also this would answer what to do with all the carbon we have created up to this point, and instead of just digging a hole or filling Al Gore's pockets we could actually do something useful for the whole of mankind with it, like the Terraform of Mars and spacecraft fuel.

    I believe the supergun would allow us to turn what is now looked upon as a waste product that is slowly poisoning the planet into a source of space exploration and ultimately the creation of a second planet we humans could call home. what could be a loftier use of waste products than that?

  • Re:Yeah (Score:2, Insightful)

    by buzzn (811479) on Sunday September 19, 2010 @02:22PM (#33628876)
    This is nothing new. People have been stupid en masse for thousands of years, it's just now we have managed to invent tools to harm ourselves much more effectively. We nearly did ourselves in a few decades ago with nuclear weapons, and to prove our stupidity we still keep them around as a kind of very expensive monument to dumb. As to a worldwide plague, it's only a matter of time -- dense concentrations of people, crop monocultures, breeding better diseases by liberal use of antibacterials.... When it does happen, it will affect everyone without regard to their diplomas, and you can blame those who didn't bother doing something about it, which is 99.9% of the population.

    Intelligence is not something you can breed out of humanity. If only high IQ people could make high IQ people, then we wouldn't have any high IQ people. So maybe the current crop of brainy people aren't really so smart as they think they are, and we ought to evolve a different kind of intelligence.
  • Re:Yeah (Score:3, Insightful)

    by dbIII (701233) on Sunday September 19, 2010 @09:14PM (#33631470)
    I'll match your hypothetical child of a genius couple with Ludwig van Beethoven or thousands of other examples that were not the children of a genius couple. The stupid "we'll be outbred by morons idea" is just another "master race" fad, since they are being put in a box effectively marked subhuman it goes far beyond an updated version of fear of the working class.
    Despite tabloid examples designed to shock many of the "morons" care enough about giving their children a chance to do better than them and will give them an environment that will encourage them to do more than the guy that got an MBA for attendance and has a future of running his fathers company into the ground.
    IMHO you are blaming a failure of education systems and the large number of victims of snake oil scams on genetics and some form of subhuman that breeds true. If you want a couple of extreme examples of why that doesn't make any sense at all consider the generations that have grown up in China and the former USSR after deliberate attempts to kill off anyone with a good education. Your parents don't need to have a high IQ for you to have one.

What ever you want is going to cost a little more than it is worth. -- The Second Law Of Thermodynamics

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