January 24, 2020

As Pollution Worsens in China, Solutions Succumb to Infighting

So severe are China’s environmental woes, especially the noxious air, that top government officials have been forced to openly acknowledge them. Fu Ying, the spokeswoman for the National People’s Congress, said she checked for smog every morning after opening her curtains and kept at home face masks for her daughter and herself. Li Keqiang, the new prime minister, said the air pollution had made him “quite upset” and vowed to “show even greater resolve and make more vigorous efforts” to clean it up.

What the leaders neglect to say is that infighting within the government bureaucracy is one of the biggest obstacles to enacting stronger environmental policies. Even as some officials push for tighter restrictions on pollutants, state-owned enterprises — especially China’s oil and power companies — have been putting profits ahead of health in working to outflank new rules, according to government data and interviews with people involved in policy negotiations.

For instance, even though trucks and buses crisscrossing China are far worse for the environment than any other vehicles, the oil companies have delayed for years an improvement in the diesel fuel those vehicles burn. As a result, the sulfur levels of diesel in China are at least 23 times that of the United States. As for power companies, the three biggest ones in the country are all repeat violators of government restrictions on emissions from coal-burning plants; offending power plants are found across the country, from Inner Mongolia to the southwest metropolis of Chongqing.

The state-owned enterprises are given critical roles in policy-making on environmental standards. The committees that determine fuel standards, for example, are housed in the buildings of an oil company. Whether the enterprises can be forced to follow, rather than impede, environmental restrictions will be a critical test of the commitment of Mr. Li andXi Jinping, the new party chief and president, to curbing the influence of vested interests in the economy.

Last month, after deadly air pollution hit record levels in northern China, officials led byWen Jiabao, then the prime minister, put forward strict new fuel standards that the oil companies had blocked for years. But there are doubts about whether the oil companies will comply, especially since oil officials resisted a similar government order for higher-grade fuel four years ago. State-owned power companies have been similarly resistant. The companies regularly ignore government orders to upgrade coal-burning electricity plants, according to ministry data. And as with the oil companies, the power companies exert an outsize influence over environmental policy debates.

In 2011, during a round of discussions over stricter emissions standards, the China Electricity Council, which represents the companies, pushed back hard against the proposals, saying that the costs of upgrading the plants would be too high.

“During the procedure of setting the standard, the companies or the industry councils have a lot of influence,” said Zhou Rong, a campaign manager on energy issues for Greenpeace East Asia. “My personal opinion is even if we have the most stringent standards for every sector, the companies will violate those.”

On Feb. 28, Deutsche Bank released an analysts’ note saying that China’s current economic policies would result in an enormous surge in coal consumption and automobile sales over the next decade. “China’s air pollution will become a lot worse from the already unbearable level,” the analysts said, calling for drastic policy changes and “a strong government will to overcome the opposition from interest groups.”

The report estimated that the number of passenger cars in China was on track to hit 400 million by 2030, up from 90 million now.

Mia Li and Amy Qin contributed research from Beijing, and Chris Buckley contributed reporting from Hong Kong.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/22/world/asia/as-chinas-environmental-woes-worsen-infighting-emerges-as-biggest-obstacle.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

DealBook: In China, the Appearance of Consensus Is Breaking Down

Xiao Qinshan, foreground, demonstrated for free speech from his wheelchair at the offices of the publisher of Southern Weekend in Guangzhou, China.Jonah M. Kessel for The New York TimesXiao Qinshan, foreground, demonstrated for free speech from his wheelchair at the offices of the publisher of Southern Weekend in Guangzhou, China.

GUANGZHOU, China — For two decades after the Tiananmen Square crackdown in 1989, China seemed on the surface like a country where free-market and even laissez-faire principles prevailed. It looked as if a consensus had been reached on putting economic policy and the headlong pursuit of affluence ahead of ideology and politics.

That appearance of consensus, which in fact had always masked some internal divisions in the Communist Party and in Chinese society at large, is now breaking down. The question is whether this will lead to greater political openness, an authoritarian clampdown to restore the veneer of stability, or social turmoil — all possibilities that could have hard-to-predict consequences for the country’s economic expansion, and for the world’s.

The unraveling has been visible in several ways, including the large environmental protests that have occurred in nearly a dozen Chinese cities over the last year and a half. Tens of thousands of residents of each of those cities, including Dalian and Tianjin, have turned out in successful efforts to block the construction of chemical factories, smelters and power plants, as fears of pollution outweigh the promise of job creation.

The breakdown was also apparent in September, when thousands of demonstrators carried large portraits of Mao past the Japanese embassy in Beijing as tension between China and Japan mounted over disputed islands near Taiwan.

The protesters’ choice of Mao posters conveyed an undercurrent of criticism of the country’s present leaders, who conspicuously omit Mao and his collectivist ideology from most speeches these days.

And even more recently, the breakdown of the consensus was evident during four days of protests over free speech this month outside the offices here of the most famous crusading newspaper in China, Southern Weekend, also known as Southern Weekly.

The journalists were calling for the removal of a provincial propaganda chief who had rewritten a New Year’s editorial, contorting an anguished review of social troubles into a paean to the accomplishments of the Communist Party.

“It is very clear that the kind of willingness that has been there, in the name of economic growth, to brush everything under the carpet is now gone,” said Odd Arne Westad, a professor of international history at the London School of Economics.

While the police peacefully persuaded demonstrators to go home on the fourth day, it was significant that the protest lasted as long as it did.

“People were standing on the podium saying, ‘press freedom, press freedom,’ and the police did not drag them down — it shows that the police in dealing with societal conflict now respect the right of free speech, and it is a new evolution that the people feel they have the right of free speech,” said Yuan Weishi, a retired historian at Sun Yat-Sen University in Guangzhou who is also one of the best-known liberal intellectuals in southern China.

Clutching several placards covered with slogans in Chinese characters, a short-haired young man in a brown jacket bravely hovered near the newspaper’s driveway through the fourth day of the protest, despite police efforts to persuade him to leave. As police officers formed a human wall that moved back and forth to prevent him from walking over to talk to a foreign journalist, he yelled over their shoulders, “The police have no right to prevent me from speaking to anyone.”

While the Chinese Constitution guarantees freedom of speech, that freedom has only infrequently been permitted on a broad scale since the founding of the Communist state in 1949, and seldom in the centuries before that. But the growing perception that the freedom exists or should exist, particularly among young people accustomed to fairly freewheeling discussions on the Internet, suggests a fundamental shift in Chinese society.

Equally important is that young people in China today increasingly seem to feel not only that they have a right to speak out, but also that they have a responsibility to air social problems.

Mr. Westad, who was living in China before, during and immediately after the Tiananmen Square killings, noted that among the young, this sense of personal responsibility in addressing social ills in a public way was last apparent in the 1980s, before nearly disappearing in the subsequent repression and amid the “get rich quick” mentality that later emerged.

What is far less clear is whether the emerging, faint hints of pluralism in China can produce a new social consensus and perhaps even a few tentative steps toward democracy. The question is whether the dialogue will someday produce something like the Arab Spring, which Vali R. Nasr, dean of the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University, describes as a series of headless revolutions — hard to decapitate, but also hard to guide, control or predict.

Sharp, conflicting divisions about China’s future were visible at the Southern Weekend protests, and could someday prove to have been an early warning of social schism.

On one side of the newspaper’s driveway were a dozen self-appointed advocates of some combination of stricter authoritarianism, anti-Western nationalism and economic isolationism. These demonstrators, representatives of a “new left” group called Utopia, castigated the newspaper’s journalists as unpatriotic. They also denounced a list of culprits that might have been lifted from a far-right blog in the West, claiming an international conspiracy of financiers, the media and the United States government.

Yet more numerous and more noisy on the other side of the driveway were the free-speech protesters, mostly young journalists and their local supporters, who also received heavy support in Chinese Internet postings. They showed personal courage in assailing a senior censor, a daring that is becoming increasingly common in China as more and more people start standing up to the authorities and often suffer few penalties for doing so — except if they call for a multiparty democracy or a review of the Tiananmen Square killings.

The advocates of greater political openness may have time on their side. Utopia demonstrators tend to be middle-aged, part of a generation whose early education was stunted by the Cultural Revolution when many schools and universities effectively closed.

The free-speech demonstrators were considerably younger and far better educated, beneficiaries of China’s huge expansion of higher education in recent years.

The educated youth of China also seem less inclined for now to support aggressively nationalistic policies toward China’s neighbors, professors and young people say. College students were numerous in a previous round of anti-Japanese protests in 2005, particularly in Guangzhou. But Japanese fashions and popular entertainment have become much more popular among young Chinese since then.

The rioters who overturned and destroyed about 100 Japanese-brand cars during demonstrations in major Chinese cities in September, before a more peaceful march in Beijing, tended to be predominantly older, blue-collar workers.

Mr. Yuan, the historian, said he perceived an evolution in the thinking of the country’s elite. “The mind-set is changing, all the way from the central government to local officials,” he said.

Article source: http://dealbook.nytimes.com/2013/01/22/appearance-of-consensus-is-breaking-down-in-china/?partner=rss&emc=rss

Drilling Down: South African Farmers See Threat From Fracking

Covering much of the roughly 800 miles between Johannesburg and Cape Town, this arid expanse — its name means “thirsty land” — sees less rain in some parts than the Mojave Desert.

Even so, Shell and several other large energy companies hope to drill thousands of natural gas wells in the region, using a new drilling technology that can require a million gallons of water or more for each well. Companies will also have to find a way to dispose of all the toxic wastewater or sludge that each well produces, since the closest landfill or industrial-waste facility that can handle the waste is hundreds of miles away.

“Around here, the rain comes on legs,” said Chris Hayward, 51, a brawny, dust-covered farmer in Beaufort West, quoting a Karoo saying about how rare and fleeting precipitation is in the area.

With his three skinny border collies crouching dutifully at his side, Mr. Hayward explained that he had to slaughter more than 600 of his 2,000 sheep last year because there was not enough water to go around.

“If our government lets these companies touch even a drop of our water,” he said, “we’re ruined.”

South Africa is among the growing number of countries that want to unlock previously inaccessible natural gas reserves trapped in shale deep underground. The drilling technology — hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” for short — holds the promise of generating new revenue through taxes on the gas, creating thousands of jobs for one of the country’s poorest regions, and fueling power plants to provide electricity to roughly 10 million South Africans who live without it.

But many of the sites here and on other continents that are being considered for drilling by oil and gas companies and by governments short of cash are in fragile areas where local officials have limited resources, political leverage or experience to ensure that the drilling is done safely.

A Surge in Interest

The interest from big energy companies in South Africa and elsewhere means that shale gas may redraw the global energy map, according to many energy experts.

Michael Klare, a professor of world security studies at Hampshire College, said that the new sources of natural gas from shale may lessen the geopolitical importance of countries that historically have been the biggest producers of natural gas, including Iran, Qatar and Russia. The new drilling, which draws strong support from the United States government, represents a boon for American companies like Halliburton, Chesapeake Energy and Exxon Mobil that have greater experience with shale gas, and therefore are likely to win many lucrative contracts abroad.

More than 30 countries, including China, India and Pakistan, are now considering fracking for natural gas or oil, and the surge in gas production has spurred interest in building pipelines and terminals that liquefy the fuel so it can be shipped to far-flung markets. In the United States, shale gas has increased supply, driving prices down and benefiting industrial plants that use the gas for manufacturing and consumers who depend on it for electricity, heating or cooking.

But the enthusiasm abroad, especially in less-developed regions, does carry risks, according to many energy experts.

“The big problem is that all the excitement around shale gas, most of it fostered by the U.S., has also led some countries, especially in the developing world, to take a drill-first, figure-out-regulations-later attitude,” said Professor Klare, who has written extensively about the way that energy policies affect global security. “There is simply too much being taken on faith when it comes to company reassurances about the safety and costs of this drilling.”

The Indonesian government, for example, is considering allowing drilling for shale gas in a part of Java where, in 2006, drilling led to the eruption of a mud volcano that killed at least 13 people, and displaced more than 30,000 residents from 12 villages, according to a team of international scientists. Indonesia is a major exporter of liquefied natural gas, but it struggles to meet domestic demand, and supporters of the shale drilling project say it will help solve that problem.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=0ed1e5b5cd6dc35135ae97b6440d17a0

Europe Gives Airlines Room on Carbon Limits

The European Union’s existing cap-and-trade system limits the carbon dioxide emissions of power plants and big factories in the bloc by issuing permits for each ton of carbon they can emit. Each company is allocated permits to emit a set amount of carbon dioxide. They can buy extra credits if they exceed that limit; if they emit less, they can sell credits.

Next year, all airlines flying to and from Europe will be brought into the program, which is currently being challenged in court by some American carriers.

Jos Delbeke, the European Union’s director general for climate action, said Monday that carriers would be allowed to emit 85 percent of their limit — or cap — free for the first year to ease the economic impact on the industry. The cap is set at 97 percent of the average aviation emissions from 2004 to 2006.

For the 2013-20 period, the cap will fall to 95 percent of that number, and the free allowances will decline to 82 percent.

Mr. Delbeke said airlines would be allowed to pass on to travelers the additional cost of those permits. He estimated the per ticket cost would be 2 to 12 euros ($2.70 to $16.20).

The European Union’s climate action commissioner, Connie Hedegaard, said the free allowances would save the aviation industry more than 20 billion euros over the next decade.

“With these potential revenues, airlines could invest in modernizing their fleets, improving fuel efficiency and using non-fossil aviation fuel,” she said.

The Air Transport Association of America, which represents airlines based in the United States, together with United Continental and American Airlines, have taken the European Union to court, arguing that imposing emission caps on non-European carriers breaches international law.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/27/business/global/europe-gives-airlines-some-room-on-carbon-limits.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

New Mileage Stickers Include Greenhouse Gas Data

The new labels, which replace a five-year-old design that provided only basic information about estimated fuel economy, represent the broadest overhaul in the sticker program’s 35-year history. There will be different labels for conventional vehicles, plug-in hybrids and all-electric vehicles, with cars running solely on battery power estimated to get 99 miles per gallon.

The Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Transportation, which are jointly responsible for the window sticker program, rejected a radically different design that would have prominently displayed a letter grade from A to D comparing a given vehicle’s fuel economy and air pollution to those of the entire fleet of new cars.

Automakers objected to that sticker as simplistic and potentially misleading. The government instead adopted a much busier label with more information and a sliding scale comparing vehicles across classes.

“These labels will provide consumers with up-front information about a vehicle’s fuel costs and savings so that they can make informed decisions when purchasing a new car,” said Ray LaHood, the transportation secretary.

The new stickers will for the first time include a greenhouse gas rating, comparing a vehicle’s emissions of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases with those of all other vehicles, as well as a smog rating based on emissions of other air pollutants like nitrogen oxide and particulates.

Cars capable of running on electricity will get the highest greenhouse gas and smog ratings, but the fine print indicates that the measure does not take into account emissions from power plants generating the electricity used to charge them up. Stickers for plug-in hybrids and electric cars will also include their charging time and estimated range while running in electric-only mode.

Gloria Bergquist, vice president for public affairs at the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, said the government was right to leave power plant emissions out of its ratings for electric vehicles.

“Upstream emissions raise a complex mix of factors that auto manufacturers have no way of predicting or controlling, including the electric energy mix of a particular geographic region, and how much — or in what manner — vehicles are driven,” she said in a statement.

The labels will include an estimated annual fuel cost based on 15,000 miles traveled at a fuel price of $3.70 per gallon as well as an estimate of how much more or less the vehicle will cost to operate over five years than an average new vehicle. In addition to the familiar city, highway and combined fuel economy estimates expressed in miles per gallon, the sticker will include an estimate of how much fuel the vehicle will need to travel 100 miles.

The E.P.A. said the new gallons-per-mile metric, combined with the estimated fuel costs, would provide consumers a more accurate measure of efficiency and expense than the traditional miles-per-gallon figure, which rarely reflects real-world driving conditions.

The gasoline price is based on Department of Energy surveys and calculations and will typically be updated annually, the E.P.A said.

The label will also include a QR Code that can be scanned by a smartphone to obtain cost estimates based on a consumer’s driving habits and the price of gasoline and electricity where he or she lives, as well as comparisons with other vehicles. Such calculators will also be accessible online.

The National Automobile Dealers Association welcomed the new design and said it was relieved that the federal government had rejected the letter grade label.

“For decades, car and truck buyers have relied on miles per gallon — or m.p.g. — to compare the fuel economy of different vehicles,” the association said in a statement. “N.A.D.A. applauds the Obama administration’s decision to drop the ill-advised ‘letter grade’ in favor of one that prominently displays a vehicle’s m.p.g. By doing so, car shoppers can make informed comparisons on dealers’ lots, allowing them to take advantage of new technologies, which will ultimately put more fuel-efficient vehicles on the road.”

Some environmental advocates pushed hard for the letter grade system, saying it provided car buyers the clearest way to compare vehicles across classes.

Luke Tonachel of the Natural Resources Defense Council said that the letter grade would have been preferable, but said he was glad that the new label provided pollution impacts and operating costs.

Dan Becker, director of the Safe Climate Campaign, who has been involved in fuel economy issues for three decades, was far harsher in his judgment of the administration’s decision and the auto industry’s lobbying campaign against the letter-grade system.

“The Obama administration has dashed consumers’ hopes for clear information to make educated choices about which cars are really clean,” he said. “With its $80 billion bailout in hand, the auto industry has beaten the administration into abandoning the letter grade label.”

He added that he hoped the administration would move forward with strong new mileage and emissions standards for the 2017-to-2025 model years, with a mandate for a new car fleet average as high as 60 miles per gallon.

Those new rules are due this fall.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: May 25, 2011

An earlier version of this article misstated the letter grade label for vehicles in a proposal that was rejected by federal agencies.  It is A to D, not A to F.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=fbd981dfe9abfd5882b57c34ff76b5fe

New M.P.G. Stickers Include Greenhouse Gas Data

The new labels, which replace a five-year-old design that provided only basic information about estimated fuel economy, represent the broadest overhaul in the sticker program’s 35-year history. There will be different labels for conventional vehicles, plug-in hybrids and all-electric vehicles, with cars running solely on battery power estimated to get 99 miles per gallon.

The Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Transportation, which are jointly responsible for the window sticker program, rejected a radically different design that would have prominently displayed a letter grade from A to D comparing a given vehicle’s fuel economy and air pollution against the entire fleet of new cars.

Automakers objected to that sticker as simplistic and potentially misleading. The government instead adopted a much busier label with more information and a sliding scale comparing vehicles across classes.

“These labels will provide consumers with up front information about a vehicle’s fuel costs and savings so that they can make informed decisions when purchasing a new car,” said Ray LaHood, the transportation secretary.

The new stickers will for the first time include a greenhouse gas rating, comparing a vehicle’s emissions of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases with those of all other vehicles, as well as a smog rating based on emissions of other air pollutants such as nitrogen oxide and particulates.

Cars capable of running on electricity will get the highest greenhouse gas and smog ratings, but the fine print indicates that the measure does not take into account emissions from power plants generating the electricity used to charge up the vehicle. Stickers for plug-in hybrids and electric cars will also include their charging time and estimated range running in electric-only mode.

Gloria Bergquist, vice president for public affairs at the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, said the government was right to leave power plant emissions out of its ratings for electric vehicles.

“Upstream emissions raise a complex mix of factors that auto manufacturers have no way of predicting or controlling, including the electric energy mix of a particular geographic region, and how much — or in what manner — vehicles are driven,” she said in a statement.

The labels will include an estimated annual fuel cost based on 15,000 miles traveled at a fuel price of $3.70 per gallon as well as an estimate of how much more or less the vehicle will cost to operate over five years than an average new vehicle. In addition to the familiar city, highway and combined fuel economy estimates expressed in miles per gallon, the sticker will include an estimate of how much fuel the vehicle will need to travel 100 miles.

The E.P.A. said the new gallons-per-mile metric, combined with the estimated fuel costs, will provide consumers a more accurate measure of efficiency and expense than the traditional miles-per-gallon figure, which rarely reflects real-world driving conditions.

The gasoline price is based on Department of Energy surveys and calculations and will typically be updated annually, the E.P.A said.

The label will also include a QR Code that can be scanned by a smartphone to obtain cost estimates based on a consumer’s driving habits and the price of gasoline and electricity where he or she lives, as well as comparisons with other vehicles. Such calculators will also be accessible online.

The National Automobile Dealers Association welcomed the new design and said it was relieved that the federal government had rejected the letter grade label.

“For decades, car and truck buyers have relied on miles per gallon — or m.p.g. — to compare the fuel economy of different vehicles,” the association said in a statement. “NADA applauds the Obama administration’s decision to drop the ill-advised ‘letter grade’ in favor of one that prominently displays a vehicle’s m.p.g. By doing so, car shoppers can make informed comparisons on dealers’ lots, allowing them to take advantage of new technologies, which will ultimately put more fuel efficient vehicles on the road.”

Some environmental advocates pushed hard for the letter grade system, saying it provided car buyers the clearest way to compare vehicles across classes.

Luke Tonachel of the Natural Resources Defense Council said that the letter grade would have been preferable but said he was glad that the new label provides pollution impacts and operating costs.

Dan Becker, director of the Safe Climate Campaign, who has been involved in fuel economy issues for three decades, was far harsher in his judgment of the administration’s decision and the auto industry’s lobbying campaign against the letter-grade system.

“The Obama administration has dashed consumers’ hopes for clear information to make educated choices about which cars are really clean,” he said. “With its $80 billion bailout in hand, the auto industry has beaten the administration into abandoning the letter grade label.”

He said the label adopted by the agencies denied consumers clear information that would help them make informed choices. He added that he hoped the administration would move forward with strong new mileage and emissions standards for the 2017-to-2025 model years, with a mandate for a new car fleet average as high as 60 miles per gallon.

Those new rules are due this fall.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: May 25, 2011

An earlier version of this article misstated the letter grade label for vehicles in a proposal that was rejected by federal agencies.  It is A to D, not A to F.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=fbd981dfe9abfd5882b57c34ff76b5fe

Physicist Group’s Study Raises Doubts on Capturing Carbon Dioxide From Air

The concept is entirely different from capturing and sequestering carbon dioxide from power plants and other big polluters before it enters the air. Rather, the aim would be to remove the gas from the planet’s ambient air, where it exists in low concentrations everywhere.

In 2007 the British billionaire Richard Branson and Al Gore, the former vice president, created a $25 million prize for the first creator of such a technology, and millions of dollars in venture capital have since flowed to start-up companies tackling the problem.

But a new study casts serious doubts on whether such efforts will ever yield an economically viable tool for fighting global warming. The study, released on Monday by the American Physical Society, the world’s largest group of physicists, finds that while removing carbon dioxide from ambient air is technically feasible, the cost is likely to remain prohibitively high.

The report concluded it would cost at least $600 a ton to capture carbon dioxide from the air, compared with an estimated cost of about $80 a ton to capture the gas from a typical coal power plant.

The most significant hurdle is the extremely low concentrations of carbon dioxide in air, compared with the stream from a coal-fired power plant or other large emitter, said Robert H. Socolow, a Princeton physicist and a co-chairman of the report.

The flue gas from a coal plant is roughly 10 percent carbon dioxide, while carbon in the ambient air is around four-hundredths of a percentage point.

“We have to deal with our centralized power sources first,” Mr. Socolow said. “This is not an assignment for the next few decades.”

The conclusion was greeted with dismay by several leading scientists who have championed air capture as a climate change solution, however.

Wallace S. Broecker, a professor of physics at Columbia University and a pioneering climate change researcher, said it was premature to write off the technology, which was still in its infancy. “It’s something that’s so promising, it’s a crime not to explore it,” he said.

“The cost depends on how widely it’s implemented,” Dr. Broecker added. “The first computers cost a fortune, and now they cost almost nothing.”

Developing a workable system to capture and sequester carbon emissions directly from power plants is far more pressing, said Michael Desmond, a chemist and senior internal consultant at BP who served as co-chairman of the report. “You’ve got to get your entire electric infrastructure decarbonized,” Mr. Desmond said. “It’s only there where air capture starts to make sense.”

The development of carbon capture technology for power plants and other large emissions sources has made significant strides in recent years, and the federal stimulus package included billions of dollars for research and demonstration projects.

But wide-scale deployment in the United States will almost certainly require the passage of federal climate legislation setting a price for carbon dioxide emissions; such legislation failed to clear the Senate last year and is unlikely to be revived anytime soon.

Spending on carbon capture from ambient air, by contrast, has been far more modest, totaling just tens of millions of dollars. Kilimanjaro Energy, a California start-up and one of the leading developers of ambient air carbon-capture technology, for instance, has spent just over $11 million on research and development, said Nathaniel David, the firm’s president.

The idea of capturing carbon in ambient air has found some bipartisan support in the Senate, where a bill to reward researchers who develop carbon-removal technology was reintroduced last month with a Republican sponsor.

Klaus S. Lackner, a physicist and director of the Lenfest Center for Sustainable Energy at Columbia University’s Earth Institute who created the company’s technology, criticized the American Physical Society study as too narrowly focused, saying it had analyzed only outdated technology.

Dr. Lackner said his design, which uses a plastic that absorbs carbon dioxide when dry and releases it to the air when wet, would eventually be capable of capturing the gas for far less than $600 a ton.

“I can assure you that if I believed it would cost $600 a ton, I would have given up long ago,” he said.

Mr. David of Kilimanjaro Energy also said the report had failed to take into account the use of captured carbon dioxide as a feedstock for biofuels, like those made from algae.

“What we’re into is making fuels,” he said. “If you can grab CO2 from the atmosphere and can do it economically, you can find yourself in the midst of the fuel business.”

Mr. Desmond, a co-chairman of the report, said his group had struggled to get sufficient data from private companies engaged in research into direct air capture. In the absence of data, claims that the process could be done cheaply were almost impossible to verify, he said.

“In the big scheme of things, those numbers don’t seem credible,” he said. “That’s my concern.”

Other analysts had mixed views. In an e-mail message, Sasha Mackler, director for energy innovation at the Bipartisan Policy Center, a Washington institute, agreed that direct air capture of carbon dioxide was probably decades away from making economic sense. But the market for alternative fuels could make the process far more profitable than forecast in the report, Mr. Mackler said.

“We are at far too early a stage to predict how this field will emerge in the years ahead,” he said. “Now is not the time to be taking options off the table.”

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=c573cf10b1c7c1897256cab75058f05b

Japan’s Electricity Shortage to Last Months

Shorthand should not be confused with short term. Utility experts and economists say it will take many months, possibly into next year, to get anywhere close to restoring full power.

The places most affected are not only in the earthquake-ravaged area but also in the economically crucial region closer to Tokyo, which is having to ration power because of the big chunk of the nation’s electrical generating capacity that was knocked out by the quake or washed away by the tsunami.

Besides the dangerously disabled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, three other nuclear plants, six coal-fired plants and 11 oil-fired power plants were initially shut down, according to PFC Energy, an international consulting firm.

By some measures, as much as 20 percent of the total generating capacity of the region’s dominant utility, the Tokyo Electric Power Company — or an estimated 11 percent of Japan’s total power — is out of service.

Until all the lost or suspended generating capacity is replaced, economists say, factories will operate at reduced levels, untold numbers of cars and other products will go unbuilt and legions of shoppers will cut back their buying — all taking a big toll on Japan’s economy.

The greater Tokyo region represents one-third of the nation’s economic output.

Masaaki Kanno, chief economist at JPMorgan Securities Japan, estimates that the country’s gross domestic product will shrink in the second quarter by about 3 percent on an annualized basis, with about half of that decline resulting from the power shortage.

A recovery will gradually begin to take hold in the third quarter, he said, as the need to rebuild the northeast portion of Japan’s main island, Honshu, acts as a major economic stimulus. But the power shortage will be a drag on economic growth for some time to come.

“We hadn’t initially expected the quake to impact the national economy to this degree,” Mr. Kanno said. But the lingering power shortages will be widespread, he said. Besides the direct effects on businesses, consumers “won’t go out as much and they’ll have to get home earlier,” he said, meaning they will not spend as much.

Tokyo Electric has been using rolling blackouts of up to three hours in designated zones to balance demand and supply. The cuts have at times been poorly communicated, further disrupting businesses already reeling from logistical problems and damage to factories in the north.

And Tokyo, more than most places in Japan, is highly dependent on electric trains and subways for commuting, so when there are blackouts, lots of people cannot get to work or easily organize their days.

“In the short term, it will be very difficult to make up the loss of power from the Daiichi plant,” Masakazu Toyoda, chairman of the Institute of Energy Economics, a research organization affiliated with the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, said. “At the summer peak, the shortfall will be in the 10 percent to 20 percent range.”

Tokyo Electric now has an operating capacity of 37 gigawatts and expects to be back up to about 54 gigawatts by summer, according to PFC Energy. (Each gigawatt is sufficient to power about 250,000 Japanese households.)

But Tokyo Electric’s peak summer demand is usually 60 gigawatts, according to PFC, meaning at least a 10 percent shortfall. Some economists say privately that the shortfall could turn out to be more than twice that large.

Tokyo Electric is trying to make up the lost generating capacity by restarting shuttered plants, repairing the damaged ones, tapping hydropower reserves and temporarily operating gas turbines. But summer blackouts are inevitable, with plans for many areas to go without electricity for an hour or two at the hottest part of the day.

Ken Belson contributed reporting.

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