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Climate Change And Fossil Fuels

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

American Government

Climate Change And Fossil Fuels

Senator Jeff Merkley
Congressional Record: 114th Congress
22 June 2016


Mr. MERKLEY. Madam President, global warming is the most grave concern facing human civilization on this planet. We are the first generation to see the impact, and that impact is occurring in so many ways right before us.

In my home State of Oregon, we are seeing the impact on our forests, which has resulted in a longer and drier fire season that burns more acreage and has more lightning strikes. We are seeing smaller snowpacks, and that is having an impact on our agriculture and trout streams. Everyone realizes that a smaller, warmer stream is not a pleasant place for trout to thrive. We are even seeing it in our Pacific Ocean oysters. The oysters are having trouble reproducing. They are having troubling reproducing because the ocean is more acidic. Because of the wave action, the oceans have absorbed a lot of the carbon dioxide, which has become carbonic acid, and the carbonic acid affects the formation of shells. These impacts are having a steady, detrimental impact, and it is occurring right before our eyes. It is affecting our fishing, farming, and forestry, and it is an assault on our resources. It is incumbent on all of us, this generation, to address these issues.

What we know is that the impacts we have seen in Oregon are being echoed in States across the country and nations across the globe. If you go to the Northeast, you might hear folks talking about how the moose are dying because the ticks aren't being killed by winters that are cold enough. You might hear about the migration of lobsters going north to find colder water, and so on and so forth. We are seeing it everywhere.

We know that in order to prevent the temperature of the planet from going up more than 2 degrees Centigrade, which is about 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, we have to leave the vast bulk of our proven fossil fuel preserves in the ground. In other words, we have seen a 1-degree increase in temperature Centigrade, which is about 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit--almost 2 degrees--and that has come from burning fossil fuels. If we keep burning them, it will have a devastating impact and will burn up the planet. We have to stop and quickly pivot off of fossil fuels.

We have identified vast reserves of gas, oil, and coal across the planet, which is worth a lot of money, so of course the owners want to pull it out of the ground and sell it to be burned. Somehow we have to find the political will to take this on and leave 80 percent of those proven fossil fuel reserves in the ground. That is the magnitude of the challenge, and we can do all kinds of things that will help. We can produce more renewable energy, we can produce more conservation, and we can proceed to find ways to pull carbon out of smokestacks and store it in the ground, or at least we can try. We need to approach it from every possible angle. I will keep coming to the floor, as I have before, to talk about keeping it in the ground. I especially wanted to emphasize that because when we simply talk about saving energy--like putting more insulation in a building, installing double-pane windows, or better mileage for cars--we aren't embracing the size of the challenge we are facing. It is an extraordinarily difficult challenge, and it is up to our generation to address it.

When I come to the floor, sometimes I will be speaking about the math behind the temperature increase, such as how the amount of carbon dioxide and methane in the air is changing the atmosphere of our planet. Other times I will be talking about the calamities we are seeing on the ground, things I have already mentioned, such as the pine beetles that are thriving because the winter is not cold enough to kill the pine beetles and ticks or the coral reefs that are bleaching across our planet. I will also highlight emerging technologies because we have to realize that as much as we talk about the problem, we also have to talk about efforts to address the problem. I will pick out various ideas and efforts that are appearing in our newspapers and scientific literature, and that is what I will do today.

The first innovation I will highlight today is about a strategy in Iceland to store carbon dioxide in the ground. This is one of the carbon capture strategies. This is not easy to do, and there are many different scientists working on different ways to attempt to capture carbon, but this is a new one, so I thought it merited discussion.

Scientists at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University invented a way to store carbon dioxide. It was invented here in America at Columbia University. They have found a way to store carbon dioxide by first dissolving the gas in water and then storing that water in rocks, where it reacts to form the mineral calcite. The calcite will then store the carbon dioxide as a solid deep underground.

This project at Columbia University being experimented with in Iceland is called CarbFix. They pumped about 250 tons of carbon dioxide, which was mixed with water, into rocks in 2012. When they came back in 2014, they found that 95 percent of the carbon dioxide had become calcite. While there are some very specific requirements to make this particular technology work, such as the right kind of rock, the right amount of water, and the carbon dioxide being generated close to the right kind of rocks, it is an example of innovative technology that could prove useful as another tool in the fight against climate change.

A second idea that is starting to expand is to recognize that we can put solar panels in a variety of places--not just on the ground and on our rooftops but also on bodies of water. This was reported in May 2016. This is referred to as floating solar.

Here we have a lake, and we can see these floating solar panels. Floating solar panels have several potential advantages over land-based panels. One advantage is more efficient cooling, and a second is that they might create less of an eyesore for the public. They might prevent surface water from evaporating, which can be a side effect that would be useful.

Japanese, Australian, and U.S. companies are currently pursuing this technology.

There is a planned array--50,904 panels floating on the Yamakura Dam reservoir in Japan. It would generate 16,000 megawatt hours annually, or to translate that to something more understandable, they could power 5,000 homes for a year, so it is significant. In the United States, there is a winery in California, and it goes by the name of Far Niente. They have combined both land and water arrays, and that combination produces 477 kilowatts of electricity at its peak. It is expected to pay for itself by 2020, or maybe sooner, so it has a high rate of return. These floating panels provide an opportunity for cheaper, out-of-the-way energy generation that has the potential to protect reservoirs from evaporation and water loss.

We must continue to invest and encourage innovative technologies--floating solar panels are one example--to make renewable energy adaptable to all environments, usable all over the world.

I thought I would highlight a third technology. One of the biggest uses of fossil fuel is vehicles. Vehicles burn gasoline and diesel. Oftentimes when the vehicle finally gets up to speed, it suddenly has to brake for a red light. Let's say you are traveling at 35 miles per hour on an urban road and you suddenly stop. You are wasting enormous amounts of energy. All of the momentum with that mass--that car or truck--traveling down the road is then converted primarily into heat through your brakes. That heat is lost, and it is not recaptured.

Along the way, as different companies started exploring electric cars, they said: We already have electric motors. We already have a battery sizable enough to accommodate quite a bit of electricity. Why don't we try to capture that energy from the braking process and put it back in the battery?

What they do is they utilize magnets, and as the magnets go through a field, that field creates resistance, it produces a current, and that current--those electrons are stored in the battery.

This is called regenerative braking, and we have seen this on a variety of electric cars. It just makes sense, since they already have an electric drive and they have the batteries to accommodate it.

We have seen a lot of interest in electric cars. Recently, Tesla put out an invitation for people to put down $1,000 and get in line to buy their Model 3. They had the Roadster, they had the Model S, and now the Model 3. The Model 3 will be cost competitive with the Chevy Volt. It is going to be much cheaper than their previous cars. Their waiting list has already grown beyond 400,000 people--an enormous, unprecedented response.

Tesla cars, like the Volt and other electric cars, use regenerative braking, but what I wanted to highlight today is an effort to apply this in new ways.

UPS, the United Parcel Service, has a fleet of delivery trucks and they have invested in hybrid electric vehicles and they have used regenerative braking. Last October, they announced the deployment of 18 new delivery vehicles that use regenerative braking to reach pretty much close to a zero-emissions status. They have to take into account the source of the initial electrons that are used to charge the trucks.

In their announcement, they estimated those 18 delivery trucks, by using clean technologies, would save 1.1 million gallons of diesel fuel over 20 years. When we start talking about anything that includes the word ``million,'' such as 1 million gallons, that is a lot of savings from just 18 delivery trucks.

Even more recently, we have an article in which Mack Trucks is developing the ability to use regenerative braking on garbage trucks. They have developed a new electric hybrid garbage truck. It incorporates a powertrain technology developed by Wrightspeed.

Wrightspeed powertrains use electric motors to drive the wheels of the trucks, and the motors are powered by batteries on board the trucks, which are then recharged from the regenerative braking when the garbage truck comes to a stop.

The point is, when you have a very heavy truck that accelerates and stops often, it wastes a vast amount of energy, and now they are working to design an effective drive train to recapture that energy. The founder of Wrightspeed, Ian Wright, says this new technology can power these vehicles for a substantial distance, and very heavy vehicles--66,000 pounds--it can power them up pretty steep hills. A 40-percent grade is a very steep hill.

The main point is, it is capturing that energy that would otherwise be lost every time they stop. If you have watched a garbage truck go down the street, it stops, the men and women on board jump off, pick up the garbage cans, dump them into the truck, and then they accelerate and four houses later they are stopping again. So this is a very appropriate application.

I wonder how much energy would be saved if every car in America had regenerative braking. Almost every car is used in an urban setting where there is lots and lots of braking. How much would be saved if our light pickups had regenerative braking? How much energy would be saved if every delivery van that is heavy and starts up and stops many times--how much would be saved? At some other point, I want to try to put together a calculation of that because it could be a substantial contributor.

Each of these technologies I have mentioned today--a new strategy on storing carbon dioxide underground, a new way of deploying solar panels through floating solar panels, an expansion of the use of regenerative braking--represent modest efforts in this effort to take on this large challenge of global warming. Added together, they can make a great difference and other technologies to come will make a great difference.

It is our challenge. It is our generation's responsibility to pivot quickly off of fossil fuels, and these strategies can help.

Thank you, Mr. President.

I yield the floor.

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