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Carbon dioxide "shortage"

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Brock
1390233.  Sat Sep 18, 2021 10:20 am Reply with quote

I apologize if this is a stupid question, but I haven't done Chemistry since O-level.

How can it possibly be, when we're being told on a daily basis that we're producing too much carbon dioxide, that we're now being told that we're running out of it?

Apparently it's due to a slowdown in some chemical factories that produce fertiliser, which produce carbon dioxide as a by-product; but no one's going to kid me that nothing else produces carbon dioxide as a by-product. I would have thought that if anything's in massive surplus at the moment, it's carbon dioxide.

I've tried googling but have found no satisfactory explanation.

 
crissdee
1390237.  Sat Sep 18, 2021 10:56 am Reply with quote

I'm no chemist either, but I would imagine the point at hand is the lack of cylinders of pressurised co2, rather than a general lack of the gas. I suspect there is no practical way of just hoovering up all the excess in the atmosphere and putting it in pressurised cylinders. It would be a similar situation to the Ancient Mariner and his drinking water.

 
suze
1390238.  Sat Sep 18, 2021 11:13 am Reply with quote

The same story did the rounds at the back end of last year. Pfizer use dry ice - which is carbon dioxide - by the US customary shitload in the manufacture and distribution of their Covid vaccine, and it was said that a rediuction in ethanol production was in danger of leading to a shortage of it. Someone else will need to explain why, but dry ice is a by-product of the industrial production of ethanol.

That shortage seems not to have come to pass. On the other hand, reduced production at breweries last year really did lead to a shortage of Marmite.

 
PDR
1390242.  Sat Sep 18, 2021 11:42 am Reply with quote

Are you sure it was ethanol? Ethanol production certainly does produce CO2, but I understood it was a very expensive way of manufacturing it. I thought the main source was as a by-product of ammonia production, and ammonia production always reduces over the summer because the principle demand (fertilizer production) is highly seasonal. The ammonia feedstock is methane (natural gas) and natural gas prices are at an all time high at the moment, further discouraging the production in the Western world. Add in the warm weather causing a spike in demand for fizzy drinks and frothy, flavourless lagers and you have a bit of a perfect storm.

Farmers have been able to import cheaper fertilizers from elsewhere, but as CO2 has to be transported as a liquified gas (with a room-temperature partial pressure of over 1,000psi) it has to be stored in relatively small, strong and very heavy bottles. That's why CO2 is generally manufactured quite close to where it's needed - I'm not even sure we can economically import it from Europe, let alone anywhere where it's actually cheaper.

On the original point - the fact that we are suffering from excess CO2 in the air doesn't mean we have a huge abundance of it that is easily bottled. CO2 forms around 0.04% of the air (by mass). If we really let it get out of hand and enough CO2 is released to cause a venus-like green-housed planet it's still likely to be under 0.1% of the air. Actually extracting it from the air would probably have to be done by fractional distillation (precision cryogenics on a huge scale) and I can't see that being viable any time soon.

PDR

 
Brock
1390244.  Sat Sep 18, 2021 12:38 pm Reply with quote

PDR wrote:

On the original point - the fact that we are suffering from excess CO2 in the air doesn't mean we have a huge abundance of it that is easily bottled. CO2 forms around 0.04% of the air (by mass). If we really let it get out of hand and enough CO2 is released to cause a venus-like green-housed planet it's still likely to be under 0.1% of the air. Actually extracting it from the air would probably have to be done by fractional distillation (precision cryogenics on a huge scale) and I can't see that being viable any time soon.


So what's all this business about "carbon capture and storage" then? I thought the idea was to capture CO2 gas before it enters the atmosphere.

 
PDR
1390251.  Sat Sep 18, 2021 2:26 pm Reply with quote

Indeed it is. But it's mostly not being captured in a usable form.

PDR

 
suze
1390256.  Sat Sep 18, 2021 4:12 pm Reply with quote

PDR wrote:
Are you sure it was ethanol?


That was how it was reported at the time.

I discover that the main industrial processes which produce carbon dioxide as a by-product are those for making ammonia, ethanol, and ethylene oxide. As already noted ammona production tends to be concentrated in winter, while ethanol production reduced last year for lack of demand - but ethylene oxide has a variety of medical uses, and so it's surprising if production of that too reduced.

 
Brock
1390265.  Sun Sep 19, 2021 4:36 am Reply with quote

PDR wrote:
Indeed it is. But it's mostly not being captured in a usable form.


Why would CO2 captured from, say, power generation be any less usable than CO2 captured from fertiliser production? This article from the LSE suggests that the reasons are primarily economic:

https://www.lse.ac.uk/granthaminstitute/explainers/what-is-carbon-capture-and-storage-and-what-role-can-it-play-in-tackling-climate-change/

Quote:
Overall, the capture process is expensive due to high deployment and energy costs. A plant with CCS uses more fuel than one without, to extract, pump and compress the CO2. The cost of CCS varies significantly between processes: where CO2 is already produced separately in concentrated streams, for example in fertiliser manufacturing, the cost is lower, but for processes that don’t do this, such as cement production and power generation, the cost is much higher. However, research and development efforts are trying to reduce the cost, and the price of avoiding a tonne of CO2 has already declined significantly. In the UK, the Government-commissioned Oxburgh Review argued that ‘CCS is essential for lowest cost decarbonisation’.


In other words, we could capture the CO2 from cement production or power generation and use it for commercial purposes if we wanted to; it just costs less to generate it from fertiliser manufacturing.

I'd have thought it would make sense to invest in capturing the CO2 from these other processes, not just as a means of tackling climate change, but as a way of avoiding shortages of supply like the current one. As suze said, it's happened before - it's not as though the current situation was unforeseen.

 
PDR
1390275.  Sun Sep 19, 2021 5:26 am Reply with quote

That's what I meant by "usable". To be used for its other purposes it needs to be in a pretty pure form and also liquified in a bottle. The current CCS processes would provided CO2 that needs extensive refinement and then liquefaction, which is extremely expensive and energy-intensive (so producing CO2 from these sources could actually release extra CO2 into the atmosphere). So it's not really a usable source while we have alternatives.

PDR

 
CB27
1390342.  Mon Sep 20, 2021 4:59 am Reply with quote

Brock wrote:
In other words, we could capture the CO2 from cement production or power generation and use it for commercial purposes if we wanted to; it just costs less to generate it from fertiliser manufacturing.

I'd have thought it would make sense to invest in capturing the CO2 from these other processes, not just as a means of tackling climate change, but as a way of avoiding shortages of supply like the current one. As suze said, it's happened before - it's not as though the current situation was unforeseen.

This is where capitalism, for all the benefits it seems to provide, comes up short.

You're talking about one industry spending more to avoid shortages in another industry and to tackle part of the climate change problem. This is very unlikely to happen unless:

Governments step in to subsidise the process, which essentially means John Q Taxpayer paying to shore up a business that's still going to charge him full price for their product and keep the profits.

Governments take partial or full control of certain industries to do similar to above, but retain some or all profits to pay for the subsidy.

A hybrid form of capitalism is introduced whereby wages, rents and certain costs are controlled to manipulate more favourable forms of production to be equal in costs - but unless you're a big country with a huge population and plenty of industry, you couldn't go it alone with this model.

 
Brock
1390347.  Mon Sep 20, 2021 6:10 am Reply with quote

CB27 wrote:

This is where capitalism, for all the benefits it seems to provide, comes up short.

You're talking about one industry spending more to avoid shortages in another industry and to tackle part of the climate change problem.


If they can make money out of it, why wouldn't they do so? I don't see this as a failure of capitalism per se.

I agree that government has a responsibility to take a lead on ensuring supplies, but was no business far-sighted enough to see that the shortages of previous years might repeat themselves and to create backup supplies of CO2 which they'd be able to sell at a premium?

 
CB27
1390357.  Mon Sep 20, 2021 8:36 am Reply with quote

I didn't say it's a failure of capitalism, it's a shortcoming.

You say "if they make money", but who's making money out of it?

Company A in Industry A can produce CO2 at a cost of £1 per unit, with the risk of occasionally hitting a shortage.

Company B in Industry B can produce CO2 at a cost of £2 per unit, with a lower risk of hitting an occasional shortage.

Guess which company is able to price themselves low enough to sell through most of the year while the other one is losing money?

And if it's a case of only using Company B as a back up when there is a shortage, you need to include the cost incurred all year round, so if it's 1 month out of 12, that means the cost per unit is now £24. If the shortage is due to a temporary price increase, is that £24 reasonable?

Of course you have the other option offered, which is one of the benefits of capitalism, and that is where a company with a decent cash reserve can buy contracts for gas or others in the futures market, so that when you have a situation like we have at the moment, they can mitigate the price rise for a while longer either in the hope it will go down or that an alternative solution is found.

 
PDR
1390368.  Mon Sep 20, 2021 9:47 am Reply with quote

It's not just the economic issue, it's one of practicability. Activity A can incorporate a CCS facility which sequesters 100kg of CO2 per day.

Activity B can take 100kg per day of sequestered CO2, purify it, liquify it and shove it into bottles.

Activity B consumes prodigious amounts of energy which releases up to 120kg of CO2 into the atmosphere.

Alternatively Activity D produces 100kg of high purity, bottled CO2 per day directly, with a CO2 release of only 10kg per day.

It's just a silly thing to do, and naff-all to do with whether it's in a capitalist, communist, socialist, anarcho-syndicalist or methodist system

It's like suggesting we don't need to make hydrogen to burn as fuel because we have oodles of it in the oceans...

PDR

[all the above numbers are made-up for illustrative purposes, but describe the general concept as it was explained at the last conference I attended]

PS - Company Z was unable to participate as none of them returned from the Anzio Bridgehead.

 
Brock
1390374.  Mon Sep 20, 2021 10:33 am Reply with quote

PDR wrote:
It's not just the economic issue, it's one of practicability. Activity A can incorporate a CCS facility which sequesters 100kg of CO2 per day.

Activity B can take 100kg per day of sequestered CO2, purify it, liquify it and shove it into bottles.

Activity B consumes prodigious amounts of energy which releases up to 120kg of CO2 into the atmosphere.

Alternatively Activity D produces 100kg of high purity, bottled CO2 per day directly, with a CO2 release of only 10kg per day.


What activity directly produces bottled CO2? I would have thought that, regardless of how the CO2 gas is produced, it has to go through a version of Activity B.

 
PDR
1390382.  Mon Sep 20, 2021 11:25 am Reply with quote

Any chemical process where the CO2 is developed in a reaction chamber that runs at over about 72Bar, or uses a cryogenic process to remove the CO2 from the reaction products, could relatively easily tap liquified CO2 through filter stages into bottles.

The CCS processes tend to operate at much lower pressures and non-cryogenic temperatures, so huge amounts of extra effort/energy needs to be put into cooling/compressing/liquifying the CO2 into a bottleable form.

PDR

 

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