I just returned from thechemical engineers’ conference(annual meeting) in Nashville TN, where I gave a condensed version of my speech on California’s climate change law – AB 32. I finally encountered quite a number of chemical engineers who are devout believers that Carbon Is Gonna Kill Us All. Their questions after my speech were quite “vigorous.” There were, though, quite a number of people who were very complimentary after my speech. One key point is that the attendees at this meeting were primarily academics and government, who generally have the view that CO2 is a deadly greenhouse gas and must be reduced. As always I very much enjoyed making the speech and the interaction with the audience. A vigorous exchange of viewpoints is quite healthy. As it turns out, I had heard all the objections before, but it appears that they had not heard my points.
After my speech, I related to a few people the fact that attempting to regulate the globe’s average temperature by adjusting the CO2 content of the atmosphere violates the fundamentals of process control, and that started quite a discussion. Many of those in attendance are in government positions, and had never heard the process control argument before. It is likely (at least this is my hope) that the seeds of doubt were planted.
For more on this process control issue, see:
I also am delighted that I received additional invitations to speak on these matters.
I did not record my speech, but have displayed below the prepared text. When I discover how to insert the charts and graphs, I will do so.
AB 32 is an enabling act, providing a few specific targets but delegating the creation
of the detailed regulations to the California Air Resources Board (ARB) (5) . ARB is directed to
coordinate with and consult with appropriate agencies and stakeholders, including the Public
Utilities Commission. (6) The specific regulations are to “minimize costs and maximize benefits
for California's economy, improve and modernize California's energy infrastructure and maintain
electric system reliability, maximize additional environmental and economic co-benefits for
California, and complement the state's efforts to improve air quality.” (7)
Two dates are critical in AB 32: 1990 and 2020. The total quantity of GHGs emitted in
1990 was to be determined by ARB, and the state’s emissions are required to be reduced to
the 1990 level by 2020. (8) Another date and requirement is critical, although not part of AB 32,
which is 80 percent reduction below 1990 levels by 2050. The “80 by 50” requirement is imposed
by the Governor’s Executive Order S-21-09 of September 15, 2009. ARB determined that the
1990 emissions were 427 million metric tonnes of CO2 equivalent (MMTCO2e). The expected
emissions of GHGs in 2020, absent the requirements of AB 32 (the business as usual case),
are approximately 600 MMTCO2e. The GHGs reduction required by 2020 is 173 MMTCO2e,
which represents a 28.8 percent reduction from the business as usual case. This reduction by
2020 may be achievable, although at a high economic cost. However, the reduction by 2050
represents a 93 percent reduction over the business as usual case, which is much more
problematic (see Figure 3).
Even if California achieves its goals of GHG reductions, there will be very little impact on
the world’s energy consumption and GHGs. California consumes approximately 2 percent of
the world’s total energy (see Figure 4). With a 28 percent reduction by 2020, there will be
no noticeable change, and any change will be overwhelmed by increases in growing
economies around the world.
The plan to reduce GHGs to 427 million tonnes per year by 2020 was described by
ARB in the Scoping Plan document in late 2008, which divided the California economy
into a number of sectors. Each sector has its own requirements for reducing GHGs.
The Scoping Plan identified 73 separate reduction items. Opportunities for chemical
engineers exist in almost every sector identified in the Scoping Plan. These
opportunities are described in the following section.
The Scoping Plan has three basic reduction mechanisms: specific targets or emissions
limits, cap and trade, and a fee for emissions. Each economic sector has one or more of the
three mechanisms. Some of the 73 items with the largest reductions listed in the Scoping
Plan are shown in Table 1 below, along with the anticipated reductions in GHGs. Table 1 also
has Scoping Plan items with low emissions reductions that will affect chemical engineers.
Scoping Plan Item
Cap and Trade
Renewable Portfolio Standard
Low Carbon Fuel Standard
Energy Efficiency (Electricity)
Combined Heat and Power
Regional Transportation Plan
Refinery Flare Gas Recovery Systems
Energy Efficiency and Co-Benefit Audits
The timeline for ARB to write the regulations is 2009 through 2011, with full
implementation beginning in 2012. A few regulations have earlier implementation dates.
The cap and trade regulation will be finalized in 2011 with implementation starting in 2012.
Reporting of GHGs emissions are required for some facilities, starting with 2009.
GHG emission reports will be verified by independent, state-approved, entities beginning
in April 2010 for the 2009 reporting year. Chemical engineers will make good candidates
for the verification jobs. Mandated reporters include all cement plants, refineries with
emissions of at least 25,000 MMTCO2e per year (50 MMBtu/h), power plants of at least 1 MW
plus 2500 MMTCO2e per year (5 MMBtu/h), and any other facility with the same emissions
criteria as refineries. Those entities that are exempt from reporting include hospitals, electric
power plants with renewable energy sources, primary and secondary schools, portable equipment,
and backup emergency generators. For a comparison of some common fuels and their emission
of CO2 compared to MMBtu, see Figure 5.