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Bullish on the Geo-Nurturing Marketplace

Lots of folks are talking about market-like regulations such as cap and trade programs to reduce carbon dioxide, but they miss the point. Why be market-like when you can use the real thing? When it comes to responding to social fears, the invisible hand of the entrepreneurial marketplace defeats the iron fist of regulation every time. The result may not be as many new jobs as some claim, but surely the marketplace responds to fear with replacement jobs and no one will mind if you call them green jobs.

Here are a few exciting market responses to the fears of global warming and harm to the Chesapeake Bay.

First, let’s make hurricanes! OK, not full blown hurricanes, but how about some nice stiff thundershowers. Mike Fallwell wants to leap from the shoulders of Steven Salter’s brilliant work on clouds and use Geo-Nurturing to make rain and sequester carbon, all while making lots more biomass. Here is what Fallwell suggests: use ships to spray water approximately 60 feet into the air using vessels with large pumps to add heat and moisture to air above the boundary layer in the path of a storm. This, he claims, will initiate a convective cycle that will form a growing vortex trailing the ship, and voila a rainstorm.

According to Fallwell, if 10 percent of the rain becomes biomass and 10 percent of the biomass becomes soil and 10 percent of the soil becomes carbonate, a ton of water will permanently remove two pounds of carbon. Additionally, 200 pounds of biomass will be removed, providing short-term carbon storage. Using 1,000 ships, Fallwell’s plan could remove 100 percent of global man-made carbon emissions every year. At $40 a ton, the going rate in Europe for carbon sequestering, Fallwell is going to be very rich and we will be able to keep on using cheap carbon-based energy.

Pipe dream? Maybe, but the science is sound. How he works out the engineering and the geography of this approach is another matter. The point is create a demand, and someone is going to pop up to fill it.

Fallwell is not alone. Peter B. Kelemen and Jürg Matter are working on another way to permanently sequester carbon. They want to use another form of Geo-Nurturing, turning carbon dioxide into rock by speeding up the natural geological weathering process.

In Oman, they are experimenting with injection of sea water into fractured peridotite, a magnesium-bearing rock. In essence, CO2 reacts with the magnesium, and Kelemen believes he can sequester massive amounts of carbon at only $20 per ton of CO2, half the current price on the European exchange. The Omani oil companies are paying for this work, and why not. At $20 a ton, they can produce carbon free gasoline at prices below the recent high prices of this summer.

Nor is Oman the only place where we might see this sequestration opportunity arise. Dr. Lackner, from Columbia University, is looking at a similar approach that we can use in the United States. Virginia will not be out of the running on this technology either. The necessary rock formations are available in the southwestern portion of the Commonwealth. By matching our coal resources with our carbon sequestration mineral deposits, Lackner’s proposals might allow Virginia to become a big carbon-free coal-based powerhouse for the nation and allow us to produce iron and steel as well.

Let us keep in mind, however, global warming is not the only environmental problem we face. Although governments’ efforts to restore the Chesapeake Bay have not succeeded, the invisible hand of the market is beginning to leave its fingerprints on what may be an important part of the solution. Virginia Tech’s Foster Agblevor, associate professor of biological systems engineering, has developed a method to turn chicken wastes into biochar. Biochar is charcoal. It is carbon and when put onto croplands, it significantly improves the soil.

How much? Probably quite a lot. Other means to put carbon into the soil, along with eliminating plowing, reduce nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment runoff by over 90 percent. Because agriculture causes over 40 percent of the pollution problem in the Chesapeake Bay, Professor Agblevor’s technology could be a big part of the solution.

The Thomas Jefferson Institute’s Center for Environmental Stewardship has embarked on an effort to promote a market for nutrient removal from the Chesapeake Bay watershed. A quick look at Professor Agblevor’s approach suggests that together with other improvements in crop management, the chicken waste to biochar approach could produce sellable nutrient reduction credits at a price easily one-tenth the cost of nutrient reduction by using wastewater treatment. A nutrient market for these credits may not only speed clean-up of the Bay, but might reduce the overall cost significantly.
Ah, Geo-Nurturing markets. Why not be bullish on them?

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