Archive for February 14th, 2009

Oh, if only the beautiful FCX Clarity came with a plug

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Click above for a gallery of the FCX Clarity

The LA Times’ Dan Neil loves electric cars. He also loves just how beautiful the Honda FCX Clarity is. What he doesn’t like is that the Clarity uses a hydrogen fuel cell. Plug In America’s Paul Scott, writing as an individual, not on behalf of PIA, I hasten to add, says that Neil’s recent article, “pounds the final nail in the coffin of fuel cell vehicles.” I doubt this is true, but Neil certainly doesn’t mince words. He calls the Clarity, “the most expensive, advanced and impractical car ever built” and adds:

Hydrogen fuel-cell technology won’t work in cars. It’s a tragic cul-de-sac in the search for sustainable mobility, being used to game the California Air Resources Board’s rules requiring carmakers to build zero-emission vehicles. Any way you look at it, hydrogen is a lousy way to move cars.

Not exactly subtle, is it? It is totally true that the automakers have gotten hydrogen vehicles on the road way before the infrastructure builders figured out a way to effectively get hydrogen to market. As Scott writes in a recent email, “While Dan’s words should smother this foolish idea [hydrogen cars], its heart will keep beating until Schwarzenegger and Obama finally pull the plug and deny them any more of our money.”

Neil ends his article this way: “Behold, the grand and lovely futility of the FCX Clarity. It’s hard to scold something so wonderful, so I won’t. Just bring me one that I can plug in.” For more of Neil’s always-interesting pontifications, listen to this.

[Source: LA Times]

Oh, if only the beautiful FCX Clarity came with a plug originally appeared on AutoblogGreen on Sat, 14 Feb 2009 13:21:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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What if energy was free?

What if energy was free?
Readers be forewarned, this is going to be a bit of a different (ie: useless) post from the usual…
I was reading an Andrew Revkin column today, where he poses the question about what unintended consequences might result if the energy tech revolution succeeds in making “solar panels as cheap as paint,” or to paraphrase:  “What [...]

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Carbon storage might not be so permanent

Okay, as far as the concept of carbon capture and storage goes,  the idea — technologically — is intriguing. What many readers of this blog don’t like is how the industry talks about this technology like it’s here today so, hell, let’s drill for even more oil and burn more coal. We’re a decade away from seeing even just a small number of large-scale CCS projects in operation, so talk today of coal plants or oil-sand operations being “CCS-ready” is nothing more than greenwashing. I would imagine most people don’t mind the Canadian government supporting R&D into CCS, but what they perhaps don’t like is that the investment is being made to the exclusion of everything else. Why, it’s reasonable to ask, take a silver-bullet approach to a technology that’s a decade away? Would it not be better to balance it with near-term measures and investment in technologies that are here today?

But let’s assume, a decade out, that all the promise of CCS pans out. Let’s assume it takes hold, that a vast network of pipelines is built, that we’re certain sequestration sites won’t leak, and that the percentage of CO2 we can capture from coal plants and industrial sites continues to improve. Let’s assume that two decades out we start to see a number of acquifers and old oil fields filled to capacity with CO2 and, finally, capped shut.

Think those storage sites will be forever permanent? Think again.

I was talking recently with someone heading up a government algae-based carbon recycling program. The goal of this program is to come up with an economic way to divert CO2-rich flue gases from industrial sites and coal plants to nearby enclosed algae farms. The algae would “eat” the CO2, grow quickly, and then be harvested to make a combination of products, from biodiesel and ethanol to protein feed for livestock. I’m probably not telling you anything new — there are dozens of companies out there trying to do the same thing.

But then this person, who shall remain nameless, says something that caught my attention. He called all those storage sites “gold mines of the future.” At first I didn’t get what he was saying, then I realized the significance of that comment. He was basically saying that, down the road, algae farms could be created right on top of CO2 storage sites. The farms could be designed to pump this CO2 back to the surface, giving them a predictable stream of relatively pure algae food. An earlier scenario would be to build these algae farms at CO2 pipeline hubs. Either way, it would be much more economical than building an algae farm/processing plant next to each and every coal plant or aluminum smelter.

There’s a part of me that loves this idea, and there’s a part that asks: Shouldn’t we leave this stuff alone? Sure, the biodiesel and ethanol and other chemical products made from this algae will presumably displace the use of oil down the road. But given that, long term, we’re going to need an 80 per cent reduction in CO2 emissions globally, developing infrastructure for this would seem to undermine this target.

It made me realize that short- and medium-term ideas, despite there merit, need to be considered as part of a larger long-term picture. CO2 stored, assuming we can ever make it work to the scale that’s necessary, is probably best if capped shut and left alone.


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Jatropha Curcas

Jatropha Curcas
I have written a few posts in the past about Jatropha curcas, a tropical shrub with the potential to make an important contribution to our fuel supplies. (See here and here for previous essays concerning jatropha). While I believe that the present status of jatropha has been exaggerated, I believe the potential is enormous. I want to devote the next couple of essays to why I believe this.

In this essay, I want to provide a synopsis of jatropha by supplying an excerpt from the chapter on renewable diesel that I wrote for Biofuels, Solar and Wind as Renewable Energy Systems: Benefits and Risks. I will fill in some details in the next essay.


7.1.1 Jatropha

Jatropha curcas is a non-edible shrub native to tropical America, but now found throughout tropical and subtropical regions of Africa and Asia (Augustus et al. 2002). Jatropha is well-suited for growing in arid conditions, has low moisture requirements (Sirisomboon et al. 2007), and may be used to reclaim marginal, desert, or degraded land (Wood 2005). The oil content of the seeds ranges from 30% to 50%, and the unmodified oil has been shown to perform adequately as a 50/50 blend with petroleum diesel (Pramanik 2003). However, as is the case with other bio-oils, the viscosity of the unmodified oil is much higher than for petroleum diesel. The heating value and cetane number for jatropha oil are also lower than for petroleum diesel. This means it is preferable to process the raw oil into biodiesel or green diesel.

Jatropha appears to have several advantages as a renewable diesel feedstock. Because it is both non-edible and can be grown on marginal lands, it is potentially a sustainable biofuel that will not compete with food crops. This is not the case with biofuels derived from soybeans, rapeseed, or palm.

Jatropha seed yields can vary over a very large range – from 0.5 tons per hectare under arid conditions to 12 tons per hectare under optimum conditions (Francis et al. 2005). However, if marginal land is to be used, then yields in the lower range will probably by typical. Makkar et al. determined that the kernel represents 61.3% of the seed weight, and that the lipid concentration represented 53.0% of the kernel weight (Makkar et al. 1997). Therefore, one might conservatively estimate that the average oil yield per hectare of jatropha on marginal, non-irrigated land may be 0.5 tons times 61.3% times 53.0%, or 0.162 tons of oil per hectare. Jatropha oil contains about 90% of the energy density of petroleum diesel, so the energy equivalent yield is reduced by an additional 10% to 0.146 tons per hectare. While this is substantially less than the oil production of soybeans, rapeseed, or palm oil, the potential for production on marginal land may give jatropha a distinct advantage over the higher-producing oil crops.

A commercial venture was announced in June 2007 between BP and D1 Oils to develop jatropha biodiesel (BP 2007). The companies announced that they will invest $160 million with the stated intent of becoming the largest jatropha biodiesel producer in the world. The venture intends to produce volumes of up to 2 million tons of biodiesel per year.

Jatropha has one significant downside. Jatropha seeds and leaves are toxic to humans and livestock. This led the Australian government to ban the plant in 2006. It was declared an invasive species, and ‘too risky for Western Australian agriculture and the environment here’ (DAFWA 2006).

While jatropha has intriguing potential, a number of research challenges remain. Because of the toxicity issues, the potential for detoxification should be studied (Heller 1996). Furthermore, a systematic study of the factors influencing oil yields should be undertaken, because higher yields are probably needed before jatropha can contribute significantly to world distillate supplies (see Calculation 1). Finally, it may be worthwhile to study the potential for jatropha varieties that thrive in more temperate climates, as jatropha is presently limited to tropical climates.

7.1.2 Calculations

Calculation 1: Consider the potential for displacing 10% of the world’s distillate demand of 1.1 billion tons per year with jatropha oil. To replace 10% of the world’s distillate demand will require 110 million tons of distillate to be replaced. Jatropha, with about 10% less energy than petroleum distillates, will require 122 million tons on a gross replacement basis (i.e., not considering energy inputs). On marginal, non-irrigated land the yields will likely be at the bottom of the range of observed yields. At a yield of 0.146 tons per hectare (the lower range of yields), this would require 836 million hectares, which is greater than the 700 million hectares currently occupied by permanent crops.

An estimated 2 billion hectares of land is considered to be degraded and perhaps suitable for jatropha cultivation (Oldeman et al. 1991). There are also an estimated 1.66 billion hectares in Africa that are deemed suitable for jatropha production (Parsons 2005). This could provide a valuable cash crop for African farmers. But, until an estimate is made of the energy inputs required to process and distribute the jatropha-derived fuel on a widespread basis – especially on marginal land – the real potential for adding to the world’s net distillate supply is unknown.

7.2 References

Augustus, G.S., Jayabalan, M., & Seiler, G.J. (2002). Evaluation and bioinduction of energy components of Jatropha curcas. Biomass and Bioenergy., 23, 161-164.

BP. (2007). BP and D1 Oils Form Joint Venture to Develop Jatropha Biodiesel Feedstock. Retrieved July 14, 2007 from the BP corporate web site:

DAFWA, Department of Agriculture and Food, Western Australia. (2006). Jatropha Banned in WA. Retrieved August 3, 2007 from

Francis, G., Edinger, R. & Becker, K. (2005). A concept for simultaneous wasteland reclamation, fuel production, and socio-economic development in degraded areas in India: Need, potential and perspectives of Jatropha plantations Natural Resources Forum 29 (1), 12–24.

Heller, J. (1996). Physic nut Jatropha Curcas L. Promoting the conservation and use of underutilized and neglected crops. Institute of Plant Genetics and Crop Plant Research (Gartersleben) and International Plant Genetic Resources Institute: Rome Vol. 1.

Makkar H., Becker K., Sporer F., & Wink M. (1997). Studies on the nutritive potential and toxic constituents of different provenances of Jatropha curcas. Journal of Agricultural Food Chemistry 45, 3152–3157.

Oldeman, L. R.,. Hakkeling R. T. A., & Sombroek, W. G. (1991). World Map of the Status of Human-induced Soil Degradation: An explanatory note. Wageningen, International Soil Reference and Information Centre, Nairobi, United Nations Environment Programme.

Parsons, K. (2005). Jatropha in Africa: Fighting the Desert & Creating Wealth. EcoWorld. Retrieved July 14, 2007, from

Pramanik, K. (2003). Properties and use of Jatropha curcas oil and diesel fuel blends in compression ignition engine. Renewable Energy Journal, 28, (2), 239–248.

Sirisomboon, P., Kitchaiya, P., Pholpho, T., & Mahuttanyavanitch, W. (2007). Physical and mechanical properties of Jatropha curcas L. fruits, nuts and kernels, Biosystems Engineering, 97, (2), 201-207.

Wood, P. (2005). Out of Africa: Could Jatropha vegetable oil be Europe’s biodiesel feedstock?, Refocus, 6 (4), 40-44.

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Germany, U.S., Australia inject stimulus spending into cleantech
The leading economies of Europe and North America join Australia in the parade of stimulus spending. But is it enough? And where’s the UK?

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Detailed Summary of Energy Investments in Stimulus
The American Recovery and Investment Act agreed upon by the Senate and House Conference Committee contains over $61.9 billion in energy-related public spending as well as tax credits and bond provisions expected to cost $20 billion over ten years.

The House of Representatives approved the conference report of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act today, by a vote of 246-186. Not a single Republican joined Democrats in approving this version of the bill, which was the product of long negotiations between leadership in both the House and Senate, as well as a block of centrist Senate Democrats and Republicans who have taken control of much of the debate on the stimulus.

The public investment numbers in the stimulus have bounced around during the countless negotiations, so if you’ve been following this crazy game at home (all twelve of you), here’s my detailed summary, provided without further comment, of the energy-related investments and tax provisions in the conference version of the stimulus.

Assuming the block of centrist Senators remains supportive, this will be the version passed into law by the Senate soon, as early as later this evening. Keep in mind that all spending will be spread out over roughly two years.

Public Spending, Investment and Loan Guarantees – Total: $61.9 billion
Source: Conference Report “Joint Explanatory Statement – Division A” at House Rules Committee

Research, Development and Demonstration – Subtotal: $8.2 billion

  • $2.5 billion for applied research and development activities relating to renewable energy and energy efficiency. It looks like this is to be directed to programs administered by the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE), including $800 million directed to biomass project, $400 million for geothermal projects, and $50 million to improve the efficiency of information and communications technology.
  • $2.0 billion for energy R&D programs at the Department of Energy Office of Science, including the National Laboratories.
    • Includes $400 million for the Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy (ARPA-e) as authorized by the America COMPETES Act. This is the first time moneys have been appropriated to fund ARPA-e.
  • $3.4 billion for the Fossil Energy Research and Development Program, including $1 billion for fossil energy R&D programs, $800 million for the Clean Coal Power Initiative, $1.52 billion for carbon capture and generation efficiency improvement project grants, and $70 million for geologic carbon sequestration R&D.
  • $300 million for renewable energy and energy efficiency research, development, testing and evaluation for the Department of Defense (including $75 million each for the Army, Navy, Air Force and Defense-wide programs).

Clean Energy Deployment – Subtotal: $6 billion

  • $6 billion in loan guarantees for the Innovation Technology Loan Guarantee Program established by the Energy Policy Act of 2005. These loan guarantees are expected to support more than $60 billion in loans for renewable energy technologies and modern transmission technologies.

Energy Efficiency Deployment – Subtotal: $16.9 (plus additional funds for DOD upgrades)

  • $4.5 billion for General Services Administration program to build and upgrade federal buildings to be “high performance green buildings.”
  • $3.2 billion for Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant program.
  • $5 billion for Weatherization Assistance Program. Another provision expands the eligibility of low-income households for weatherization assistance and increases the maximum funding assistance level per household.
  • $3.1 billion for the State Energy Program
  • $300 million for the Energy Efficiency Appliance Rebate program and the Energy Star Program to encourage consumer purchases of energy efficient appliances.
  • $510 million to rehabilitate and improve the efficiency of housing unites maintained by Native American housing programs.
  • $250 million to increase the energy efficiency of low-income housing supported by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
  • A portion of a $4.24 billion fund for repair and upgrades at Department of Defense facilities is directed to be used to invest in energy efficiency projects. According to this summary at Grist, the funds for efficiency totals $420 million, but I don’t see that in the Conference Summary Report.

Electrifying Transportation, Alternative Fuels and Efficient Vehicles – Subtotal: $3 billion

  • $2 billion for the Advanced Battery Manufacturing grant program to support the manufacture of advanced vehicles for hybrids, plug-in hybrids and electric vehicles.
  • $400 million for transportation electrification activities.
  • $300 million for the Alternative Fueled Vehicles Pilot Grant Program (I believe this is to facilitate the use of alternative fueled vehicles by government and perhaps private fleets).
  • $300 million is provided for the acquisition of vehicles for the federal fleet. Vehicles must be at least 10 percent more fuel efficient than the vehicles replaced and funds may be used to purchase plug-in hybrid vehicles if they are commercially available before September 30, 2010.

Modernizing the Electrical Grid – Subtotal: $11 billion (and perhaps additional smart grid funding, see below)

  • $4.5 billion for the DOE Office of Electricity Delivery and Reliability for activities related to modernizing the electrical grid. Includes $100 million directed to workforce training efforts. Funds may be used for transmission improvements authorized by any subsequent act of Congress.
  • A provision (Title XIII) of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 is amended to provide unspecified amount of financial support to smart grid demonstration projects. This summary (pdf) indicates that the available funding totals $11 billion for smart-grid related activities, but I was unable to find a figure in the conference report. CAP seems to corroborate this figure in their stimulus summary here.
  • The borrowing authority of the Bonneville Power Administration and the Western Area Power Authority are each increased by $3.25 billion, which may also help with modernization or expansion of the electricity transmission system operated by BPA in the Pacific Northwest region.
  • See also $6 billion loan guarantee program under “Clean Energy Deployment” above, for which transmission technologies are eligible.

Public Transit and Rail – Subtotal: $16.2 billion

  • $8 billion for construction of high speed passenger rail and intercity passenger rail service.
  • $1.3 billion for Amtrak (the National Railroad Passenger Corporation) rail investments.
  • $6.9 billion for public transit construction, maintenence and upgrades.

New Energy Economy
Workforce Development – Subtotal: $0.6 billion (plus additional Job Corps money, see below)

  • $500 million to fund workforce development activities to prepare workers for careers in renewable energy and energy efficiency as described in the Green Jobs Act of 2007.
  • An unspecified portion of the $250 million in funding for the Office of Job Corps programs serving at-risk youth will also be directed to provide additional training in careers in the energy efficiency, renewable energy and environmental protection industries.
  • See also the $100 million in workforce training for the electricity transmission industry in “Modernizing the Grid Above”

Tax Incentives, Credits and Bonds – Expected total cost of provisions is $20 billion over ten years
Source: Conference Report “Joint Explanatory Statement – Division B” at House Rules Committee

Clean Energy Deployment – Expected cost of provisions totals $14.9 billion over ten years.

  • Three year extension of Renewable Energy Production Tax Credit (through December 31, 2012). Expected cost is $13.143 billion over 10 years.
  • For facilities placed in service in 2009 or 2010, renewable energy facilities qualified for the Production Tax Credit may claim the 30 percent Investment Tax Credit instead. This allows wind power generators to temporarily claim the up-front ITC instead of the PTC (which pays out over ten years) in order to help them secure financing for projects during the credit freeze. Expected cost is $285 million over 10 years.
  • Allows full Investment Tax Credit for facilities financed with federally subsidized financing (previously the ITC was limited in this case) and allows full 30% credit for small wind generators (previously capped at $500 per kilowatt). Expected cost is $872 million over 10 years.
  • Temporarily allows renewable energy projects to claim a grant in lieu of the Production Tax Credit or Investment Tax Credit at a value of 30% of the project cost (mimicing the ITC). Qualifying projects that begin construction in 2009 or 2010 are eligible. This essentially makes the PTC and ITC fully refundable for qualifying renewable energy facilities, which typically rely on financial institutions to claim the value of the tax credit. With financial institutions not profitable at this time, they do not have sufficient tax liability to continue offering this service to renewable energy facilities. This provision ensures that the full value of the incentives can be secured by renewable energy projects even during the financial crisis.
  • Authorizes $1.6 billion for Clean Renewable Energy Bonds (CREBs Bonds) to help finance the construction of new renewable energy facilities owned/operated by non-profit entities, including public power providers, state/municipal/tribal governments, and electric cooperatives. These non-profit entities cannot claim the Production Tax Credit or Investment Tax Credits. Expected to cost $578 million over 10 years.

Energy Efficiency Deployment – Expected cost of provisions totals $2.8 billion over ten years

  • Authorizes $2.4 billion for Qualified Energy Conservation Bonds to finance state/municipal/tribal government programs to reduce energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. The bonds may also be used for programs in which utilities provide ratepayers with energy-efficient property and recoub the expense over time in rates. Expected to cost $803 million over 10 years.
  • Tax credits for energy efficient home improvements are extended through 2010 and increased from 10% to 30% of qualified expenses paid for efficiency upgrades. Expected cost is $2.034 billion over 10 years.

Electrifying Transportation, Alternative Fuels and Efficient Vehicles – Expected cost of provisions totals $2.1 billion over ten years

  • Business and individual tax credits for alternative fuel pumps and refueling infrastructure is temporarily increased from 30% to 50% of qualifying costs for 2009 and 2010, with the exception of hydrogen fueling pumps, which remain capped at 30%. Expected cost is $54 million over 10 years.
  • Increases tax credit for purchase of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, allowing larger credits for vehicles with larger batteries. The base amount of the credit is $2,500. If the qualified vehicle draws propulsion from a battery with at least 5 kilowatt hours of capacity, the credit is increased by $417, plus another $417 for each kilowatt hour of battery capacity in excess of 5 kilowatt hours up to 16 kilowatt hours. Expected cost is $2.002 billion over ten years.

Public Transit and RailExpected cost of provisions totals $0.2 billion over ten years

  • Parity is provided between the employer tax credit for fringe benefits for transit and parking offered to employees. Previously the credit for transit benefits was lower than for parking benefits. The bill sets maximum credit for fringe parking and transit benefits at $230 per month. Expected cost is $192 million over ten years.

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New Arctic wind farm endures harsh climate
Proven Energy’s 8-turbine system in Antarctica is the first in the world to power a polar base.

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Zero Energy Building: The convergence of solar power and energy efficiency, Milwaukee, March 13

From WE Energies and the Wisconsin Green Building Alliance:

Coming to Milwaukee!
Friday, March 13, 2009, 8 a.m. – 5 p.m.

Lessons For Architects, Builders, Designers, Engineers, Developers, and Owners

Steven J. Strong, President, Solar Design Associates
Lew W. Pratsch, U.S. Department of Energy

We Energies
Public Service Building – Auditorium
231 W. Michigan St.
Milwaukee, WI 53203

Sponsored by We Energies and the Wisconsin Green Building Alliance



Friday, March 13, 2009
8:00am – 8:30am Registration and Continental Breakfast
8:30am – 8:45am Welcome and Introductions
8:45am – 9:15am PV Cell and Module Technology
9:15am – 10:15am Overview of PV Systems Options & Applications: Intro to basic systems and components with application examples

10:15am – 10:30am Morning Break
10:45am – 12:00pm Moving Toward Zero Energy Homes
12:00pm – 1:00pm Lunch Break
1:00pm – 2:00pm BIPV: Options, Materials and Methods
2:00pm – 2:45pm BIPV: A World View
2:45pm – 3:00pm Afternoon Break
3:00pm – 4:00pm BIPV – Detailed Case Studies
4:00pm – 4:30pm Codes, Economics and Incentives
4:30pm – 5:00pm Wrap Up with Questions and Discussion

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iPhone Browsers Reviewed

iPhone Browsers Reviewed
iPhone Browsers Reviewed
Visit the original post at: TMCnet-News Turns Shopping Into a Game
Motocross Bikes Racing Photo
Image via: Getty Images

For some people, shopping is so much more than exchanging money for goods. Oh no, it’s about the thrill of the chase, and the high that you get from getting a really great deal. Like finding a pair of brand new Edun jeans at a resale store for just $14.99. The guys at bring you an organic shopping experience packed with steals and deals, all online….
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Meet The Food You Eat: Measuring Carbon Footprints With a Kitchen Scale
Three students at the Copenhagen Institute of Interaction Design have experimented in physical representations of the environmental impacts of food. Their project, Meet the Food You Eat measures the CO2 emissions resulting from food transport and the amount of offsets required to replace that in one year through what looks like a kitchen scale. …
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Meet The Food You Eat: Measuring Carbon Footprints With a Kitchen Scale
Three students at the Copenhagen Institute of Interaction Design have experimented in physical representations of the environmental impacts of food. Their project, Meet the Food You Eat measures the CO2 emissions resulting from food transport and the amount of offsets required to replace that in one year through what looks like a kitchen scale. …
Visit the original post at: TreeHugger

DOE Regional Partner Initiates Coal Seam CO2 Injection and Methane Recovery Study in Virginia
A US Department of Energy (DOE) team of regional partners has begun injecting carbon dioxide into coal seams in the Central Appalachian Basin to determine the feasibility of CO2 storage in unmineable coal seams and the potential for enhanced coalbed…

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IPCC Scientist Says Climate Change Likely to Accelerate More Quickly and Be More Damaging Than Predicted
Without decisive action, climate change this century is likely to accelerate at a much faster pace and cause more environmental damage than predicted, according to Professor Chris Field of Stanford University, and a leading member of the UN Intergovernmental Panel…

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