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Dr. Ralph Eccles

Dr. Ralph Eccles

Global warming is causing climate change and is a real threat to humans with a high likelihood of catastrophic consequences, if major changes are not undertaken to reverse the release of greenhouse gases, especially CO2 and methane. Use of fossil fuels must be decreased.

Currently solar, wind, tidal and hydroelectric are the best sources of electrical energy not using fossil fuels. A conversion to these sources of electricity won’t be accomplished in the next few years. It will take decades, so other ways of reducing the production and release of greenhouse gases must be sought.

The problem of creating the infrastructure for solar, wind and tidal generation is complex and cannot be solved in the next few years. Large hydroelectric projects can have many environmental consequences. Placing solar panels on existing building that are already connected to the electrical grid is an easy solution but the incentive to move quickly is limited. Wind has several environmental and visual impacts; most of all, it needs a large amount of concrete for support and current concrete production generates a large amounts of methane. The same problem exists for large solar farms.

Both wind and solar have two major limitations that will take many years to solve. One is that generation is limited to daylight hours for solar and wind is not constant. This requires the development of battery systems such as double reservoirs and these suffer a serious NIMBY effect (Not In My BackYard). Also, these non-fossil fuel electric sources can seldom be located near an existing electrical grid, so a great deal of grid development is necessary and will involve large construction projects.

Realistically, there must be electrical generation using fossil fuels for the next 15-30 years. Therefore, for the immediate future, cleaner, less polluting fossil fuels must be used. Biofuels are being developed, but they are hardly carbon neutral and produce a lot of CO2. Throughout the world there are many coal fired electric plants. Converting these plants to natural gas cuts the CO2 production 20-fold. In China, India, Africa and even Japan and much of South America, this would have a huge impact.

We must also look at other sources of greenhouse gases and ways to mitigate the release in the atmosphere. Converting diesel engines to run on natural gas decreases its CO2 production 7-fold and eliminates most of the other pollutants of diesel engines. Converting the engines of most ships would reduce their carbon footprint by nearly 10-fold. Automobiles can also run on natural gas (many already do) with a much smaller CO2 production and not having the range problem of electric cars.

We as a people must address the problems of greenhouse gases for the survival of the next generations. Eventually, this will mean the elimination of all fossil fuels. However, during the transition phase, we need to use alternative systems and fuels that will decrease dramatically the production of CO2. An added benefit would be the reduction of particulate matter and other toxic pollutants from the burning of coal and diesel.

Natural gas is currently transported in large pipelines throughout the United States and Canada without any significant leakage of methane and without damage to the environment adjacent to the pipelines.

In the US in 2017 natural gas production of electricity reached 31%, as coal dropped below 30%. As more coal fired plants are converted to natural gas, this trend will continue with a substantial improvement of the environmental effects of electricity generation. Hydroelectric generation has been fairly static for 20 years, now representing 7.5% of all electric generation. Nuclear is increasing very slowly from 19.7% twenty years ago to 20% today. Even though this is an excellent source of energy with no CO2 production, the tolerance for nuclear by the American population is low. Non-fossil fuel sources are the ultimate renewable resource, but developing the infrastructure limits its utility in the immediate future. In 2000 this was 7.2% of electricity production; today 7.5%. This growth should increase in the next decade, but based on current rates of conversion, it will only reach 15% by 2050. Therefore, it will be necessary for natural gas to be the major source of electricity for the next 20-30 years.

The Jordon Cove project will ship LNG to Japan and allow them to convert their highly polluting soft coal electric plants to natural gas. This will greatly reduce the CO2 production as well as other toxic pollutants and decrease global warming.