Special Studies – Proposal for an International Global Warming Breakthrough Initiative
- Posted by JGlenn
- On 10 October 2017
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Proposal for an International Global Warming Breakthrough Initiative
US-supported research on global warming has suggested, ever more strongly, that we need to seek very deep reductions in CO2 production worldwide. Existing international efforts, though very expensive, are likely to produce only marginal reductions in CO2 emissions. There are still some lingering uncertainties in the science but we know that it would be easy enough to maintain or increase CO2 emission, in the unlikely event we found that desirable. We still have decades before the problem starts to impose really large-scale costs on society but present trends in technology and in CO2 accumulation suggest that we will probably be in deep trouble in a few decades, if we do not take more aggressive action now to address the problem. There is also a pressing
need to raise US prestige in the court of world opinion here certainly enough to warrant the modest conditional investment proposed here.
We propose that the US take the lead in a new international effort to address these problems far more effectively, more directly and at lower cost than anything discussed as yet in international climate talks. More precisely, the US should challenge the rest of the world to prove that it really cares about global warming as such, by accepting a US offer to contribute $500 million/year
to a new international initiative on technologies to eliminate CO2 emissions, conditional upon other nations matching or exceeding this contribution.
The new initiative would focus funds where they can have the greatest impact: supporting breakthrough technologies, beyond the more established energy technologies well-founded throughout the world, which offer serious hope of moving us as quickly as possible to an all-renewable energy system on a market-competitive, nonsubsidized, nonregulated basis. It would be tightly managed to focus on high-risk high-potential technologies, which industry cannot easily support, and to avoid the tendencies towards large-scale conservative corporate welfare or ivory tower welfare which have reduced the effectiveness of most
government funding efforts around the world in such areas.
The key technologies to be supported should definitely include (but not be restricted to):
(1) Efforts to develop 45% efficiency or more in breakthrough external combustion technology which allows easy transition to renewable or alcohol fuels, and improves the economics of other breakthrough technologies by allowing conversion of waste heat streams to electricity.
(2) Carbon sequestration technologies, which allow direct extraction of CO2 either from waste streams or from fundamental process changes, starting from hydrocarbon fuels. Technology which provides a real-world market for the CO2 would also be supported.
(3) Breakthrough research in PEM and alkaline fuel cell systems, focusing on whole systems powered by
methanol fuel. Because PEM systems are already heavily funded in various places, this initiative would only fund breakthrough concepts for extending lifetime and whole-systems efficiency (or reducing cost), particularly by use on intelligent systems concepts.
(4) Critical enabling technologies to make space solar power (SSP) a more realistic economic option. For earth-launched SSP, these include: (1) improved, more intelligent power beaming technology; (2) teleautonomous construction technology, to avoid the need to pay for a large human workforce in space; (3) breakthrough cost-reduction earth-to-space transportation concepts such as the Russian Ajax concept. Other SSP concepts should also be fully explored.
(5) New nonequilibrium MHD technology which allows extraction of energy from hydrocarbon fuel at lower temeperatures and higher efficiency, and is synergistic with carbon sequestration technology.
For the time being, hydrogen technology appears to be a long shot, and should not be the main foundation for our hopes. However, research which directly addresses the core long-term obstacles to the mass use of hydrogen should also be supported; for example research into the use of toluene as a hydrogen carrier should be included.
Details of Implementation
The one-page proposal above does not spell out exactly how the new initiative should be implemented, in institutional terms. There are several reasons for this.
First, it is essential to give priority to the concrete, substantive goals and concerns of the preceding page. There are different ways to try to achieve these goals, and we should maintain some flexibility about those details. Perhaps when/if the White House makes a formal proposal, it should be more specific; but we are not the White House.
Second, there may be some value in keeping room for negotiation in an international proposal. If the US tries to spell out every last detail in advance, others may feel compelled to complain. Or maybe not. Again, we are not the State Department. Nevertheless — we do have some ideas here. More precisely, the one-page proposal has been discussed by three people: (1) Dr. Paul Werbos of NSF, who funds many of these technologies, who has a graduate degree in International Institutions from LSE, and who was formerly lead analyst for long-term energy futures at the Energy Information Administration of DOE; (2) Al Sobey, former Division Director of GM for energy and advanced products, who has organized the fuels policy consortium of the major auto and oil companies, which in turn has also studied some of these technologies; (3) Jerry Glenn of the American Council for the United Nations University, who is running a global science and technology policy evaluation drawing on the views of science policy makers worldwide.
One way to implement this proposal would be by a treaty which:
(1) initially transfers the member nation contributions to a new unit of OECD, directed to follow the policies as outlined on the previous page, to be guided by a special board appointed by member nations in proportion to their contributions;
(2) provides for immediate, parallel efforts to develop the charter of a new Intelsat-like international corporation, which, when complete, would inherit all the assets of the first phase effort, but be open to additional investments or contributions both from public and private sources. Jerry Glenn has found that many funding groups (private and public) around the world have expressed interest in putting money into these areas, if only a suitable new international organization could be created. The IEA, under OECD, has shown outstanding depth and insight into the substantive issues of energy economics; this insight, if coupled with the best US and private knowledge of advanced technology, could provide the knowledge base needed to get real value from such an ambitious venture.
A major failing of the existing global CO2 efforts has been the effort to achieve maximum CO2 reduction within 10 or 15 years, making use of well-proven existing technology. That is a grossly incorrect translation of what the science calls on us to do. The new institution should be strongly chartered and managed to focus on two different quantitative concepts:
(1) to minimize the time between now and the time when net carbon dioxide emissions go to zero;
(2) to minimize the time between now and the time when we are able to meet all of our energy needs by some combination of renewable fuels, alcohol fuels and recycling, without a significant economic sacrifice by so doing. No matter how hard we try, these two things will take decades. (Also note that point two says “we are able;” it does not say that we need to STOP using fossil fuel — only that we should be able to survive economically if we suddenly have to stop.)
If we do not really develop breakthrough technologies, we will never be able to achieve these goals.
Also, if we dilute the effort too much with political correctness, it will have little chance of success.
The list of technologies above certainly omits some technologies of great potential value — which are best left to the private sector or to existing government agencies which are pursuing them very actively. But a few additions may make sense, after the fact, when the new board meets — so long as such additions do not take up half the funds!
The technologies listed here were selected on the basis of implicit criteria which reflect the goals above:
(1) they have the potential to transform the bulk of mainstream energy consumption;
(2) they also summarize breakthrough areas, or �unmet opportunities,� where $10-$50 million/year per topic would be a large infusion, very likely the right level of new funding needed to advance to a new level;
(3) they are all �high risk� by the usual criteria of private or large-scale government funding, but on a fundamental technical/scientific basis they have better than a 50-50 chance of working out (and supplying energy on a cost-competitive basis to the marketplace) if properly pursued. For example, the new MHD options will require some very fundamental scientific work, to model the behavior of plasma under new conditions, which in turn requires large experiments to develop a rich database of
empirical data and the implementation of new types of computational algorithms; yet all of this is clearly feasible.
For a copy of the slides presentation or for more information please contact Jerry Glenn at <email@example.com>