Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Can I be Greenhouse Gas Neutral?

We are hearing a lot about being carbon neutral at the moment, but I believe that the term should Greenhouse Gas Neutral. We focus much too much on carbon and avoid the gases that are much more damaging - ones like methane.

I am going to look at all GHGs to see what it would take for me to be GHG neutral.

What are my sources of GHGs?

The car - we use about 2500 litres in a year, so that is 500 litres I use. This is about 5500 kg of CO2

The house - I use hydro power for my home. Large scale Hydro does produce some CO2, for this house the total would be about 900 kg, or 180kg for me.

Airplane flights - I have taken two in the last year for total of 20 000 km. The flights were effectively full and the places were new, so the fuel used for myself was about 300 liters or 3300kg

Other transit - I use the bus from time to time and the BC Ferries. About 200kg of CO2

Food - I have no idea how to calculate this. One Japanese study put the cost of a kilo of beef at 36 kg of CO2 equivalent - I will use this number for all meat. In a year I ate about 75 kg a year of meat which has a CO2 value of 2700kg.

Food transport - I can not be certain of this number, but my best calculation is that the average CO2 emission related to fresh produce is about 400 grams per kg. With packaging included, I use about 400kg of food stuffs per year. This has a CO2 value of 16okg.

Production of other foods - I am not sure how to measure this, the best I can see is that there is only a minimal impact through farm machinery, I will presume this is neglible.

Other consumer goods - I use about 400kg of consumer goods a year. The transport CO2 is about 160kg. The cost of production, very, very hard to judge, though I am using some rough numbers from the EPA in the US. I am going to call it 1.5 kg of CO2 per kg of consumer goods for a total of 600kg.

So where am I at?

  • Air travel 3300
  • Car travel 5500
  • Other transit 200
  • Meat 2700
  • Other food 160
  • Electricity 180
  • Consumer goods 760

TOTAL 12.8 tonnes of CO2 equivalent

In looking around the 'net, my calculation adds in sources that are ignored. Meat consumption alone would seem to be a major source of GHGs - close to 21% of my total.

It would not take a lot for me to reduce my GHGs to about 6 tonnes a year. No long haul flights, drive less and eat a lot less meat. If I do not fly in the next year, I will fall below 10 tonnes a year. If I were to eat only 100 grams of meat a day, this would save another 1.4 tonnes. Finally, if I were to drive less this should save another 2 tonnes.

I am somewhat horrified at home much air travel creates CO2. I did fly about 20 000 km and at .015 litres per km, the numbers are there. That was only two trips.

It is the meat that really gets me. The GHGs from the meat in a quarter pounder is about 4kg of CO2 equivalent.

If I lived elsewhere I would have have much higher GHGs from home heating and electricity - another 3.5 tonnes.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Innovative solutions from BC's forest industry

While so many people are focusing on all manner of ways to regulate reductions in CO2 emissions, BC's forest industry is doing some rather amazing things that will have significant impacts.

Our of Port McNeil there is a company call Sea Soil. They take wood waste and mix it with fish waste to produce a composted soil/fertilizer. Not a huge reduction in CO2, but a very innovative use of waste. It is this area of waste where the forest industry does the best.

There are conferences for people in the industry to discuss what can be done to reduce waste, how to use waste and how to make more money. In the industry it is called residual material. First of, producing less waste means that there is more product to sell. More product, more money. Second, waste is only waste if there is no way to make a buck from it. Sea Soil is one example of how to do this.

There is a lot of bark material and sawdust produced in any mill. This material needs to find a home. One way to deal with the waste is to produce power with it. There are two basic approaches to this. First is co-generation - burning the material and producing electricity. There is also the option to make petroleum products out of the waste material. There is a company called Advanced BioRefinery Inc (ABRI) based in Ontario that is working on an economical model for producing bio-oil. The prototype can process about 50 tonnes of forest biomass into about 30 tonnes of bio-fuel - a value of about $15 000.

What is really interesting about their pyrolysis unit is that it is portable. You can take out into the woods and process waste material on site. The process they use produces fuel oil, charcoal and synthetic gas. The charcoal and gas are used in the unit to dry the material before the conversion process. All that is left behind is ash.

It is through innovation that we are going to see any real shift in gasses being emitted. Through people finding ways to make money from what they have to dispose of at the moment is where the real solutions lie.