A Cornell-Environmental Defense Fund research team equipped a Google Street View car with a high-precision methane sensor and found methane emissions from ammonia fertilizer plants to be 100 times higher than the fertilizer industry’s self-reported estimate. Photo: Cornell University
Emissions of methane from the industrial sector have been vastly underestimated, researchers from Cornell and Environmental Defense Fund have found.
Using a Google Street View car equipped with a high-precision methane sensor, the researchers discovered that methane emissions from ammonia fertilizer plants were 100 times higher than the fertilizer industry’s self-reported estimate. They also were substantially higher than the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimate for all industrial processes in the United States.
“We took one small industry that most people have never heard of and found that its methane emissions were three times higher than the EPA assumed was emitted by all industrial production in the United States,” said John Albertson, co-author and professor of civil and environmental engineering. “It shows us that there’s a huge gap between a priori estimates and real-world measurements.”
The researchers’ findings are reported in “Estimation of Methane Emissions From the U.S. Ammonia Fertilizer Industry Using a Mobile Sensing Approach,” published May 28 in Elementa. The work was funded in part by a grant from the Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future’s joint research program with EDF.
The use of natural gas has grown in recent years, bolstered by improved efficiency in shale gas extraction and the perception that natural gas is a less dirty fossil fuel.
“But natural gas is largely methane, which molecule-per-molecule has a stronger global warming potential than carbon dioxide,” Albertson said. “The presence of substantial emissions or leaks anywhere along the supply chain could make natural gas a more significant contributor to climate change than previously thought.”
To date, methane emissions have been assessed at a variety of sites—from the well pads where natural gas is extracted to the power plants and municipal pipelines downstream. MORE
“We are still seeing efficiency standards for many buildings either weak or nonexistent.”
IEA executive director Fatih Birol speaks with attendees at the Clean Energy Ministerial in Vancouver on May 29, 2019 before he gave opening remarks to the gathering of 25 countries. Photo by Jennifer Gauthier
Canadians could save as much as $24 billion annually by 2050 by scaling back the use of fossil fuels to heat and cool their buildings and deploying a range of low-carbon and energy efficient technologies, according to a new joint study by a federal regulator and an international agency.
These tens of billions of dollars a year in savings would come on top of cutting energy demand by as much as 35 per cent and could be achieved through the use of existing technology, say the National Energy Board (NEB) and the International Energy Agency (IEA) in their new research.
But in order to deliver on “the energy savings potential and related emissions reduction,” Canada will need “additional policy signals” like carbon pricing and tightened energy performance requirements for buildings, they say.
That’s in part because abundant and cheaply priced natural gas in Canada poses a “particular challenge” to cutting carbon pollution and reducing energy demand in homes and offices.
“Policy support is needed to encourage shifts to efficient heat pumps in regions where natural gas and electricity prices mean there may be little economic incentive to change equipment,” the report states.
The joint report was published the same day the IEA’s executive director delivered a sobering message in Vancouver about the state of the world’s clean energy transition, in remarks to a gathering of ministers from 25 countries. MORE
The future of development in Alberta’s oilsands lies in underground, steam-assisted operations that represent some of the country’s fastest growing greenhouse gas emissions. These projects have never been subject to federal environmental reviews and that’s not expected to change with Ottawa’s new-and-improved assessment rules
Unlike the pronounced nature of open-pit mines, with the accompanying heavy haulers and seemingly endless horizons of tailings ponds, in-situ — meaning in ground or in place — operations have a much less visible footprint.
Cenovus has gone so far as to dub these operations — which require the injection of steam underground to heat viscous oil, allowing it to be pumped to surface — “a different oil sands.”
While they certainly do represent the future of the oilsands — in-situ projects have already outpaced mining production and are set to increase by one million barrels per day by 2030 — they also come with their own set of problems.
To have the country’s main environmental assessment law leave the highest-carbon projects off the list is just unacceptable
In-situ oilsands operations are incredibly greenhouse gas-intensive — requiring copious quantities of natural gas, often obtained from fracking, to produce the steam that’s injected underground. MORE
Building and operating new wind energy can cost less than continuing to operate fully-depreciated conventional generation facilities
Wind energy has solidified its position as the most cost-effective source of new electricity generation, coming in now at less than one-third the price seen in 2009. The full “levelized cost” (LCOE)* for a megawatt-hour of onshore, utility-scale wind energy in the United States is now between US$29 and $56 on an unsubsidized basis, according to an authoritative analysis just released by U.S. investment firm Lazard.
Wind energy costs have dropped 69 per cent since 2009, and seven per cent just in the last year. In comparison, the key conventional energy sources of coal plants, natural gas combined cycle plants, and natural gas peaker plants have seen much more modest declines in the same period, while the LCOE of nuclear has actually increased.
Remarkably, the low-end of the wind energy cost range also falls within the range of operating costs alone for existing nuclear and coal generation. In other words, it can be less expensive to build and operate new wind generation than to continue to operate fully-depreciated conventional generation facilities. MORE