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After Copenhagen - the globe is not yet doomed

You can reduce current GHG emissions by 10 percent in 10 years:

K.C. Somaratna

The Copenhagen Summit on climate change came and it ended. It only left an agreement setting out to keep global warming below 20C without setting out any specific steps to meet it. Countries will be invited to sign up to it and register what they will do to achieve it.

US$ 30 billion will be made available over next three years to help the poorest countries cope.

The summit itself had been the bloodiest summit (a Venezuelan delegate cut herself open shedding blood in protest) ever held on a global issue and let us sincerely hope that no future summit would ever be planned to be any worse.

The lamentations of different countries and delegates were a plenty, accusations numerous and the same divisions appeared or even new divisions erupted indicating that the world leaders do not yet see the globe, in total, to be in danger at a level which would demand they shed their differences or their current plans for their subjects aside and unite to address the question of climate changes. Our own Minister of Environment, Champika Ranawaka was entrusted with the task of making the voice of the Governments in the South Asian region known at the summit and demand the world leaders to work out a positive plan with target dates and values for reduction in GHG emissions to avert the global warming.

Data on global GHG emissions do indicate that the total global GHG emission is about 34 billion tons CO2 e per annum out of which China, USA and EU emit 51 percent of the total. On a per capita basis the emissions would be highest for US and second for China.

On the other hand the industry-wide distribution would indicate that the automobile transportation contributes 6.3 billion tons CO2e per annum which is 23 percent of the total energy related CO2 emissions in the world (IPCC Report III).

Looking at this data it is evident to us that we could reduce about 10 percent of the total CO2e green house gases emitted in a year by adopting a technology for the tractive force of automobiles which would not result in the emission of GHG’s during the operational phase of the system. It is for this reason that we proposed a technology dependent on solar radiation in September 2008 for this purpose.

It is our belief that these climate change discussions should be dissociated from other divisions which are pronounced in global politics like developing, developed, consumerism, socialist, capitalist etc.

When we discuss the climate change issues our first preference for a solution should be for a solution which would not disturb the current levels of development prevalent in different countries of the world. We say this because the moment we talk about a solution which would disturb the current levels of development in a set of countries, the solution would not get the support of these developed countries and the solution will automatically evade overall acceptance.

If we are genuinely interested only in the global warming and nothing else, there should be no difficulty in looking for and agreeing on such solutions. Such a solution shall be for pro-development for all countries. Such a solution shall also favour our enjoyment of available luxuries. If we can come out with a solution for reduction of GHG emissions without having to compromise on the many comforts we enjoy today such a solution should be preferred over a solution which would prompt us to forego some of the luxuries we are enjoying to-day.

When we propose that solar energy shall be utilized for driving automobile transportation we are mindful of this need to ensure continuing enjoyment of luxury, while significantly reducing GHG emissions. We are also mindful of the following needs of a source of energy for automobile transportation.

a) Availability on the highways (b) Ability to purchase in quantities to match the available financial resources (c) Ability to quantify the amount received (d) Time for replenishment shall be in line with petrol filling time. (e) The dashboard shall indicate (i)distance that could be travelled with currently available resource amount or (ii) the amount available (f) Match with currently available vehicles.

According to the National Geographic of September, 2009, total power needs of the humans on earth is approximately 16 terawatts (16 trillion watt). In 2020 it is expected to grow to 20 terawatts and the sunshine on the solid part of the earth is 120,000 terawatts.

This is a clear indication of how much potential solar power has in meeting our requirements. As we indicated in our original interview with Ceylon Daily News on September 2, 2008 building of solar panel (Photo Voltaic) extractors on highways is technically viable, financially feasible, globally equitable. We, in an open letter to Barack Obama President of United States as published in Asian Tribune of April 28, 2009 requested the US President to shape his infrastructure development projects bearing this suggestion also in mind. In fact in his inaugural address itself, the US President promised to harness the sun, the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories.

As we mentioned in our original article, the photovoltaic extractor collection efficiencies are increasing and as we reach 25 percent efficiency these projects become very viable. Newer material to be used as collectors with high collection efficiency, lighter weights and easier installations are being developed all the time.

We, Sri Lankans, are in a way fortunate that we have very high quality silica in significant quantities and silica is a material which is used as raw material in the manufacture of photovoltaic solar panels, of course, newer panels with higher efficiencies use other raw material as well.

In order to evaluate the pros and cons of this proposal vis a vis other options we carried out a decision analysis exercise using Pugh Matrix and the outcome is given below. In this we have considered five different options outside the current fossil fuel oil driven automobiles and used 10 criteria which we thought would be relevant and appropriate. The options considered are given below.

Option A - Grow different types of plants which would produce crops containing hydrocarbons to be processed to yield combustible liquids. (Biofuels)

Option B - Use a battery to create power for the automobile and this battery needs to be charged at home after running for a specific number of kilometres.

Option C - Here again the automobile is powered by a battery which gets charged using solar panels fixed on the automobile itself.

Option D - Use hydrogen, generated from LNG or other sources as the fuel.

Option E - This is what we propose and the proposal has the following key components.

a. The Automobile is driven by a battery, but the automobile has more than one battery and these batteries do get discharged/utilized sequentially.

b. The highways do have solar panels laid above and along the highway and these panels are connected to battery sheds situated at a distance of about two km from each other wherein the batteries are charged using power from the solar panels. This does not mean that you have to change the battery every two kms; in fact today’s batteries can do upto about 200 kms/per battery without recharging.

c. The automobile would drive into these sheds and get their spent batteries replaced by recharged batteries the same way one would get a new gas cylinder by returning the empty cylinder.

The Pugh Matrix clearly indicates that the option E is definitely more advantageous than the other options. So it is in the interests of all nations that somebody or some country takes the initiative to implement the concept on a pilot plant scale. In fact, the champion country could get more accurate costing done, all the

Options Criteria Arable		O	A	B	C	D	E	F	G 

1. Land usage for generation	0	-5	-1	5	0	5		
2  Transportation of fuel	0	0	-2	+5	-2	3	 
3. Limitations on  reach 	0	0	-4	-3	0	0
4. Ease of conversion with 	0	-1	-2	-2	-1	-2
   current vehicles  		
5. Impact of weather on 	0	-2	0	-3	0	0	
   availability 		
6. Weight of the vehicle 	0	0	+2	+2	0	+2
7. Generation of GHG gases	0	-1	-1	+5	-3	+5 	
8. Availability of power on 	0	0	-4	-2	0	0
   highway  
9. Purchase ability in minute 	0	0	-4	0	0	-2
   quantities  
10. Replenishment time		0	0	+3	0	0	0
Total Rating			0	-9	-13	7	-6	11

O- Current fuel oil system  
A - Biofuel   
B - Battery driven Recharged at home
C - Battery driven by own-solar panel
D - Hydrogen fuel   
E - Solar this proposal 

unknown factors identified and computed etc.

In case somebody wants to add more options or more criteria, he/she could do so and help in the process of identifying the most appropriate technology to be adopted. Or on the other hand if somebody disputes the figures given they are welcome to do so and make this approach to identification of the optimum solution for good transportation worldwide a logical solution.

Although the most widely used alternative upto date is biofuels, the studies of net carbon emission saving due to use of biofuels by well-known environmentalists like David Tiluan of University of Minnesota and former Environmental Defense Attorney and Princeton Scholar Tim Searchinger has indicated that (a) all biofuels excepting that from sugar cane would lead to net increase in carbon emissions and (b) clearing grasslands and more densely grown areas for biofuel manufacture would have environmental payback periods in excess of 90 years [Time Magazine of April 7, 2008]

So what we suggest is that we request for US$ 1.5 billion out of the total US$ 30 billion allocated for the least developed countries (I know that we don’t belong to this category) for their efforts in responding to global warming and use this fund to do a pilot stretch of 150 km (say the Southern Expressway) and show that this could be done on a commercial scale. When the pilot stretch succeeds we would be paving the way for a reduction of about 10 percent of green house gases by 2020 and the petroleum industry giants could get involved in the infrastructure needed for this concept and earn revenues and profits similar to what they earn today.

This concept could also be used for the Railways as well; or rather much easily since the ownership of railways lies with the Government.

I welcome constructive criticism of this proposal so we could achieve our objective of reducing 10 percent of GHG by 2020 without compromising the luxuries we enjoy today and request not to throw the proposal to the dustbin simply because it has a few weaknesses in some areas. In fact there are advanced methodologies like TRIZ methodology to generate alternative design concepts when we face contradictions in respect of different criteria.

When we do this we could register Sri Lanka as the first country to come out with a specific workable solution to achieve a significant (say at least 10 percent) reduction in GHG emissions and this would be a definite way of showing the world that we could be a Knowledge Hub.

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