The Unclear Future of Carbon Capture

Locus Air Pollution--Focus on what matters the most.With the recent policy standards called for by President Obama, focus on reducing greenhouse gas emissions has moved to the forefront of the sustainability initiative. Much of this concern circles the hazardous effects of carbon dioxide emissions on the atmosphere, and the longest standing contributors to its release: the smokestacks that are still problematic even in the most modern of coal plants.

Many scientists agree that the hope of deferring effects of climate change relies largely on our ability to capture, and lock away this carbon. This process, if implemented correctly, would greatly reduce the amount of carbon dioxide entering the atmosphere by removing much of it from the emissions released. It would then require formulating a secure method of permanent storage for this collected carbon.

Interestingly enough, we know how to carry out these carbon-capturing procedures, and we have for nearly a century, yet little movement has been made toward actually practicing these methods. The reason behind this lack of momentum, simply put, is cost.

The cost to implement carbon capture and storage is high enough that many companies would not consider it without a requirement made by the federal government. The process would require retrofitting old plants, alongside the energy required for the actual procedure- a large enough sum of energy that it downgrades the efficiency of the plant, making it an undesirable action business-wise sans any federal regulation.

If we find a way to improve the cost-effectiveness, storage concerns still plague the campaign for implementation. We know that injecting liquids underground has been linked to earthquakes, and there is still the possibility of the carbon dioxide tainting drinking water, or even escaping into the atmosphere- a reality that would negate the entire process. These concerns have called for pause on the entire movement.

Even while Obama is pushing to limit the emissions of U.S. power plants, there is little expectation of decreasing the amount of power we harness from coal in the near future. Our dependence on this source of energy, combined with the opposition against Obama’s policy aspirations, make that fact clear.

Though coal may be the largest producer of greenhouse gas emissions, other sources of energy are also subjected to scrutiny, including natural gas collected through fracking practices. According to geologist Stuart Haszeldine at the University of Edinburgh, “if you want to carry on using those fossil hydrocarbons that means cleaning up their emissions,” and capturing this carbon he states, “is the single best way of doing that.”

While the future of this process is still unclear, it is furthering the initiative toward sustainability. Climate change is becoming a stark reality, with implications we don’t even fully understand yet, and many are calling for progress in any way possible.

Corporate America is Leaning Toward Environmental Responsibility

Corporate America taking environmental responsibilitySince the beginning of the movement toward climate activism, many changes affecting big corporations have been triggered by legislation and science. Environmental scientists continually uncover new complications caused by climate change, and while President Obama continues to call for regulatory changes—namely to cut carbon emissions—Congress has put these efforts on hold by working to overturn many of his requests to implement tougher restrictions.

This standstill may lead one to believe that efforts toward reaching a more environmentally-friendly future are stalled, yet that is not the case. In fact, corporate America is beginning to get ahead of these debates by reducing their emissions with or without the passing of Obama’s regulatory measures.

According to a study conducted by Calvert Investment, Ceres, David Gardiner & Associates, and the World Wildlife Fund, 43 percent of Fortune 500 companies have independently set goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, become more energy efficient, or secure greener energy to fuel their business- and many of these businesses report saving large sums of money due to their efforts.

Former governor of New Jersey and former administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency Christine Todd Whitman stated, “These companies make it their mission to reduce their carbon footprint because it is making good business sense.”

However, what about the other 57 percent of the Fortune 500? For many, they are trapped by subsidies which are making fossil-fuel power sources cheaper, allowing them to focus on other needs within the corporation.

There is no denying that a decision by U.S. and state policymakers would push even more companies to more sustainable measures; however, the power of the public and shareholders should not go unnoticed. Many companies are creating benchmarks per the request of these shareholders who push the companies to lessen their environmental impact.

Even if environmental legislation remains unspecified, it is clear that big corporations are beginning to move toward environmental responsibility regardless.  Though tougher restrictions on emissions may push more corporations toward solutions faster, the trend has already begun, and continues to spread. Corporate America is blazing the trail, proving that being environmentally responsible and fiscally sound can happen simultaneously.

China and U.S. Sign Climate Change Deals

half earth covers with city and grassThis past Tuesday, the United States and China signed eight partnership pacts in an effort to cut greenhouse gas emissions. These pacts involve multiple companies and research bodies and bring the world’s two largest carbon emitters into closer agreement on climate policy.

One memoranda of understanding (MOUs) calls for the sharing of information on clean coal power generation technology between Huaneng Clean Energy Research Institute in China and the Summit Power Group based in Washington. Huaneng is expected to share information with Summit as they begin to initiate a similar project in Texas in the near future. In turn, Summit will share information and technology for recovering oil from captured carbon.

According to Laura Miller, who currently manages Texas Clean Energy Project, “We will be sharing expertise, years of development experience and non-proprietary technology on both projects, all while making giant steps forward for the world’s environment.”

While some pacts were signed by both nations, negotiators on each side recognize the need for more communication between the two in order to come to an agreement in areas of technological cooperation, as well as domestic and international policies, among others. In a recent interview, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry stated that the two sides remained committed to continuing the “close dialogue” of negotiations on climate change.

China and the U.S. coming to agreement would majorly impact climate change policy across the globe. Both nations also confirm the need for policy decisions implementing aid for developing countries in controlling their emissions in order to create a significant global impact.

These ongoing discussions and changes in climate policy place an emphasis on the need for accurate emissions data collection and reporting. The implementation of new policy and regulations could also lead to an increased demand for emissions data processing and analysis, to which cloud-based, big data management technologies are now available to supply.

Predicting the Big Data Boom: Hazardous Data Explosion

Predicting the big data boom

          Predicting the big data boom

In 1989, 25 years before the technologically advanced world we currently live in, Locus’ founding members were busy publishing an article about the challenges of managing massive amounts of data produced from testing and long-term monitoring at hazardous waste sites. The article, Hazardous Data Explosion, published in the December 1989 issue of Civil Engineering Magazine was among the first of its kind to discuss these issues within the environmental space, and placed Locus securely at the forefront of the big data craze.

Today, the term ‘big data’ has become a staple across various industries to describe the enormity and complexity of data sets that need to be captured, stored, analyzed, visualized and reported. Although the concept may have gained public popularity fairly recently, big data has been a formidable opponent for decades.

“It seems unavoidable that new or improved automated data processing techniques will be needed as the hazardous waste industry evolves. Automation can provide tools that help shorten the time it takes to obtain specific test results, extract the most significant finds, produce reports and display information graphically..,” Buckle and Duplan stated. They also claimed that “expert systems” could be a possible solution—technology that has been a long time coming but still has a promising future when dealing with big data. “Currently used in other technical fields, expert systems employ methods of artificial intelligence for interpreting and processing large bodies of information.”

25 years later, cloud technologies combined with other advancements in big data processing are rising to the challenge of successfully processing and analyzing big environmental and sustainability data.

Access the entire article here.

No. 10: The Top Ten Things Your Consultant Won’t Tell You About Your EH&S Software–We don’t QA/QC your data

How to select the best enterprise EH&S and Sustainability Software.

We don’t QA/QC your data and we do not validate your data because we trust the results from the lab. In any case, you did not fund us to perform these services.

What they don’t tell you… You did not pay your consultant enough to perform QA/QC or data validation because you thought it was not a requirement for your project. Wrong. Consultant-built databases or spreadsheets are littered with QA/QC problems. And your company just negotiated the best billing rates with the consultants ensuring you get the least qualified people to deal with your data.  Considering that multi-million dollar decisions are often based on such data, what you in effect have done is let your consultant off the hook for any liability as you did not “authorize” data QA/QC and validation.

Web-based automated systems can do much of this work automatically. For example, in the last nine years my company imported analytical data for more than 5,000 sites in its web-based system. Most of the databases and spreadsheets were developed by consultants for a single-site application. We found QA/QC and data validation issues on more than 90 percent of these databases.

No. 9: The Top Ten Things Your Consultant Won’t Tell You About Your EH&S Software–We don’t believe in Web-based data management

How to select the best enterprise EH&S and Sustainability Software.

We don’t believe in Web-based data management

What they don’t tell you…  Most consulting companies will fiercely oppose the adoption of a Web-based system (unless it is a web-enabled system hosted on their servers) because such a move reduces their control over the course of the project and their ability to hold your data hostage. Instead, they will advocate for the use of an in-house system that may be proprietary and for which, one way or another, you routinely pay a portion of the costs. They may remind you of all the special tools and reports they have developed, some of which may be missing from the web-based system in question. They will focus entirely on these details, and will lead you to believe you will pay a substantial cost to move your data to a different platform. They will entirely ignore the big picture, and the overall cost benefits that your company can gain from ownership of your own data, standardization, productivity, and greater data accessibility. These same “doubting Thomases” will then go home at night and use the web for banking, bill paying, tax preparation, shopping, house hunting, etc.

No. 8: The Top Ten Things Your Consultant Won’t Tell You About Your EH&S Software–Your data are completely secure

How to select the best enterprise EH&S and Sustainability Software.

Your data are completely secure

What they don’t tell you…  Back up? What back up? After a report is submitted, little effort may be paid tracking the files and/or data reports provided by the lab and other stakeholders that pertain to your site. Consultants change ownership frequently through mergers and acquisitions. Others go out of business. And your company rebids consulting master service agreement every 5 to 7 years.  Anyone who has been in the environmental consulting business for any length of time is apt to be familiar with the names of those companies, some of the major players, who have been relegated to the dustbins of history (including, but not limited to: Morrison-Knudsen, Woodward Clyde, Radian, Dames and Moore, OHM, AWD, Rust, Harding Lawson, Canonie Environmental, McLaren Hart, and IT Corporation). In the upheavals caused by these transactions, the whereabouts and security of your data is probably only a passing concern of the involved parties. Environmental Financial Consulting Group (EFCG), in their annual survey of environmental consultants, reported in 2006 this staggering statistics: 14 of 31 (45 percent) top environmental firms have gone bankrupt or disappeared; 25 of 31 (81 percent) have undergone a major ownership change (e.g., 50 percent or more). Also, on average, “U.S. corporations lose half of their customers in five years, half of their employees in four, and half of their investors in less than one.” (Frederick Reichheld, “The Loyalty Effect”). Given these statistics, do you as a company have any other choice but to take ownership of your own environmental data?

Obama Administration Unveils Plan to Cut Power Plant Emissions

Locus Air Pollution--Focus on what matters the most.The Obama Administration has announced what is arguably the most significant environmental regulation of the president’s term: a proposal to curb power plant emissions that will mandate a 30 percent cut in carbon emissions at fossil fuel-burning power plants by 2030.

The proposal was unveiled by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and is expected to set targets for state-by-state reduction of power plant-produced carbon emissions; the largest source of carbon pollution in the U.S. According to the proposal, states could have until 2017 to submit a plan to cut power plant pollution, or 2018 if they join together with other states to address the issue.

In 2010 the EPA announced it intended to regulate coal-fired power plants and oil refineries, but this effort was not followed through. However, due to factors such as improvement in the economy and the natural gas boom, the White House and advocates feel that the time is right.

According to a poll conducted by the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication in April, two-thirds of Americans support increased regulation on power plant emissions, even if the cost of electricity rises.

The success of the carbon emission-cutting rule will depend on pending details, such as exactly how strict the targets are and how the federal government holds states to them. Although U.S. emissions have been declining recently due to increased use of natural gas to generate electricity, the country is still second to China in terms of annual emissions.

Along with this proposal comes the importance of accurately and efficiently collecting, aggregating and reporting emission sources data. An essential piece to the puzzle of addressing climate change and abiding by new rules and regulations is properly measuring and managing information.

No. 7: The Top Ten Things Your Consultant Won’t Tell You About Your EH&S Software–Each quarterly report requires careful review and preparation time

How to select the best enterprise EH&S and Sustainability Software.

Each quarterly report requires careful review and preparation time

What they don’t tell you…  Consultants reap significant financial benefits from the manual process of putting together your quarterly reports. They will tell you that this labor-intensive work gives them a chance to study your data in more depth. More often than not, few things change very much from one sampling period to the next. In reality, your monitoring reports could be completely automated and produced with a single click from a robust database with built-in reporting capabilities. You will still need a PE or RG  stamp and review of the final report and every minute of time spent on it is worth it. But the time to generate report itself you should not be paying the PE or RG rate. The “80—20 rule” probably applies to most enterprise reporting needs. Eighty percent of your sites are dormant and in some kind of long-term monitoring program, while 20 percent are active. Therefore, a huge opportunity exists to lower the cost of your long-term monitoring program through the automation of routine reporting.

No. 6: The Top Ten Things Your Consultant Won’t Tell You About Your EH&S Software–There is no reason to change the long-term monitoring plan, and the regulators will likely not agree to any changes

How to select the best enterprise EH&S and Sustainability Software.

There is no reason to change the long-term monitoring plan, and the regulators will likely not agree to any changes

What they don’t tell you… Consultants have no incentive to lower your monitoring frequency or reduce the number of analyses run on your samples. They love monthly or quarterly monitoring sampling programs because these create a constant and predictable revenue stream, creating, in effect, an annuity for them.  More sampling, more data, more reports, more money.

But if you approach the regulator with a credible and data-backed plan to reduce your monitoring frequency or number of analysis performed on each sample, more than often you will get it and significantly reduce your future monitoring costs.

If your monitoring data is well organized you can deploy a long term monitoring optimization software that helps you cut the cost of monitoring and automate reporting. Long term monitoring of environmental emissions is one of the biggest costs of many environmental projects, often requiring that hundreds or more locations  be sampled at regular intervals, with each sample event costing hundreds or thousands of dollars. Over time emissions become more predictable or changes in site conditions may mean the number of sampled locations  or the frequency of sampling can be reduced. But you will be able to prove it only if you have well organized data to support it.