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Ropin' the wind

An Environmental Defense scientist said Thursday night that Wyoming's wind energy could help meet the country’s energy needs, while cutting carbon dioxide emissions.

It can be accomplished in part, chemist Jeffery Greenblatt told a Casper College audience, via a process called compressed air energy storage.

Greenblatt, who has a doctorate in physical chemistry from the University of California/Berkeley, presented his research as part of the Energy Futures lecture series at Casper College, co-sponsored by the University of Wyoming.

Greenblatt and Princeton University colleagues believe that the world face two different futures in 50 years. In the status-quo scenario, carbon dioxide levels could double, causing significant global warming, rising sea levels, more frequent and extreme weather events, increased threats to human health and serious ecological disruptions.

An alternative future would see emissions stay roughly flat for the next 50 years, then begin to decline, thus avoiding the worst consequences of global warming. The key to the alternative future, said Greenblatt, is to make a number of effective, sustainable steps that will result in avoiding pumping 200 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere over the next 50 years.

Greenblatt and his Princeton colleagues suggest dividing that mind-boggling goal into what they call seven “stabilization wedges” n each resulting in the reduction in the rate of carbon emissions of 1 billion tons of carbon per year, or 25 billion tons over 50 years.

Examples of what might be done fall into the following categories:

Transportation improvements, featuring increased efficiency, reduced use, biofuels, synfuels and carbon dioxide storage.

Electricity, featuring increased efficiencies, using natural gas for coal, renewable energy and nuclear energy.

Building construction, using biofuels, weatherization and conversion of coal into hydrogen.

Non-energy strategies, such as forest and soil carbon sequestration, mitigation and geo-engineering.

“We have current technologies that can do all this,” said Greenblatt. “It is a matter of political will.”

To illustrate a single “wedge,” Greenblatt said that the country could replace a number of its large coal-fueled power plants with facilities using wind power. Over 50 years, such a process would mean the country would build 700 gigawatts of coal plants plus 2,100 gigawatts in wind power.

Greenblatt noted that while wind power could produce impressive amounts of peak energy during strong gusts, the biggest problem was wind power’s intermittency. The problem could be addressed by a process called compressed air energy storage, where excess energy could be used to pump compressed air into underground storage facilities that could include abandoned mines. When the wind was not blowing, he said, the compressed air could be tapped and combined with the burning of natural gas to create high-efficiency electrical generators n approximating the efficiency levels of coal-fueled power plants.

The combination of wind energy with this technology, said Greenblatt, would provide a steady flow of electric energy that could be shipped via transmission lines to customers.

Wyoming, Nebraska, Colorado and the Oklahoma and Texas panhandles have great wind energy potential and the geological features that would make the technology efficient, said Greenblatt.

Next Thursday, the Energy Futures series holds a day-long conference at the University of Wyoming in Laramie, then an evening wrap-up at 7 p.m. at Casper College.



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