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Trillions of Tons - Part 4 of 3

Trillions of Tons - Part 3 of 3

A Trillion Tons - Part 2 of 3

A Trillion Tons - Part 1 of 3

Sea-condary Risks

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Trillions of Tons - Part 4 of 3


Yeah... Math was never a strong point for me.  Yes, you read that correctly, this is Part 4 of an originally-3-part series.  But I am being Agile.  Adapting. I'm allowing a new requirement to change the design.

This is a short post about a carbon-capture-at-the-source technique that was just covered a few days ago in Popular Mechanics magazine.


The idea is to actually use carbon to capture carbon at the source - at coal plants.

Of course, eventually we need to get "off" of fossil fuel, but for now, we need to do all we can to limit CO2 production at the source as we work on renewable, non-fossil energy sources.  For those carbon plants, the process to scrub and sequester carbon has been expensive.  This solution promises to be significantly less expensive and easy to implement.

Tiny carbon spheres with holes in them - holes so small that they are only slightly larger than the carbon dioxide atoms they’re meant to collect.

There's even a name for the material, reminiscent of a certain Mary Poppins song... "ultramicroporous" (see below - all along, it turns out they were singing about carbon sequestration!).

In this paper, the technique is explained in technical detail.  Bottom line: a powder made from ultramicroporous nanosphere.  From the abstract of the paper:

"An ultrahigh ultramicropore content of 95.5% was achieved for the optimally-designed carbon nanospheres, which demonstrated excellent CO2 capture performances with extremely high capacities of 1.58 mmol g−1 at typical flue gas conditions and 4.30 mmol g−1 at 25 °C and ambient pressure. Beyond that, the CO2 adsorption mechanism in ultramicropore was also investigated through molecular dynamics simulation to guide the pore size optimization. This work provides a novel and facile guideline to engineer carbon materials with abundant and tunable ultramicroporosity towards superior CO2 capture performance".

A product of work jointly done between Canada's University of Waterloo, by Professor Zhongwei ChenCanadian Research Chair Professor
in Advanced Materials for Clean Energy, and several colleagues in China, the work was recently promoted on that University's web page.

You add this to the list of carbon capture techniques although this one is meant to be a bit more preventive.

Next time, I'll try to do a better job of arithmetic!


Posted by Richard Maltzman on: January 10, 2019 07:50 PM | Permalink | Comments (6)

Trillions of Tons - Part 3 of 3

In Part 1 of this blog post, I introduced the idea of carbon capture (removing CO2 from the atmosphere), the drivers for the effort, but also the project, program, and portfolio management aspects of the idea.  In Part 2, since it featured the direct air capture technique, I went into some of the technical details of that particular strategy.

In that post, I asked readers to think about secondary effects of the technique, the fact that even in a project which is geared at long-term thinking, ecology, and sustainability, the second-order effects (secondary risks) must be taken into account – with at least as much vim, vigor, and vitality as in a “regular” project (whatever that means).

In this post, I’d like to take that idea a little further and also, as promised, survey the various strategies for carbon capture, beyond the direct air capture technique featured in the photos and in the first two posts.

Much of this material comes to you courtesy of an outstanding article by Richard Conniff in Scientific American.  Hey, it’s still effectively time for New Year’s resolutions, how about adding one for yourself – subscribe to this magazine, an American ‘treasure’ – the oldest continuously-published magazine in the United States.  Disclaimer: I have no connection to Scientific American, other than a subscriber, I just think that project managers can’t know enough about the world around them and this magazine provides that knowledge in an intelligent but accessible fashion.  Facts are good!


So: on to the strategies.  They are:

  • Bioenergy
  • Weathering
  • Forestry
  • Biochar
  • Direct Air Capture
  • Ocean Fertilization
  • Soil Sequestration

In summary:

 Bioenergy involves taking advantage of the fact that plants ‘breathe in’ CO2.  Plants are burned or fermented to turn them into fuel  The CO2 is extracted and stored underground.

Weathering starts by creating stone dust from rock.  The dust is then spread onto fields, and as it draws CO2 from the air, it fertilizes the soil.  Or it can be added to seawater converting the CO2 into carbonates that fall to the sea floor.

Forestry – really reforestation and afforestation involves planting trees (in large numbers) to replace clear-cut forests or to expand currently-growing forests.  This is about helping nature help us!


Biochar involves (hold your nose!) the oxygen-less heating of crops (technically called pyrolysis, see below), manure, or organic waste, which creates biochar, a residue quite like charcoal which is, of course, rich in carbon.  This can be used as fertilizer.

Direct Air Capture has been discussed in Parts 1 and 2.

Ocean Fertilization uses iron filings distributed into seawater, aiding in the growth of plankton, which breathe in CO2 and convert that into sugars (and more plankton).  Dead plankton (with CO2 embedded) sink to the sea floor.

Soil Sequestration takes advantage of grasses or other plants that breathe in CO2 and convert it to root material which helps bind the carbon into the soil.  Soil can hold a limited amount of carbon.

As you have probably deduced, each of these techniques have advantages and disadvantages.  Also, as a project manager, you are already familiar with decision making techniques such as weighted tables.  The chart below (courtesy of the referenced Scientific American article) does a good job of comparing each of the technologies (rows) and showing the secondary risks in the columns, taking advantage of color (maroon is negative, green is positive, amber is limited) to show whether we’re dealing with a threat or an opportunity.

Have a look at the article, in particular the section called “How the Carbon Capture Strategies Stack Up” to learn not only more about this subject, but how, as a PM, you can use a tool like the one shown here to compare options in any sort of project.

Posted by Richard Maltzman on: January 04, 2019 02:42 PM | Permalink | Comments (7)

A Trillion Tons - Part 2 of 3

In Part 1, I introduced the carbon capture technique being employed in Iceland.  In this part I’ll dive a bit more into how this technology works.  In Part 3, I’ll zoom back out to illustrate the variety of technologies (spurring many projects) that all aim at removing carbon from the atmosphere.

I was going to write a long, detailed post but found this wonderfully expressed video with outstanding imagery of the project and an explanation of how it works here:

AnthropoScene III : Hellishei∂i; or, the Post-Modern Prometheus from Adam Sébire on Vimeo.

This diagram also provides more for those with the technical inclination.


The project management question here (other than the scope, schedule, budget of the project) is this – for your consideration: are there any secondary risks to this process?  One article in Science magazine says:

Bigger field tests are needed, says geologist Peter Kelemen of Columbia University, to confirm that such a high fraction of the injected carbon was mineralized. (Columbia is a CarbFix partner, but Kelemen is not on the project.) Scaled-up demonstrations could also make sure that the speed of the reaction won’t turn into a drawback, Stanford’s Benson says. If carbonation generates minerals that quickly plug the pores in the basalt, she worries, they could trap CO2 near the injection site instead of letting it spread through the rock.

There is research in this area – some examples here and here.

Ironically, even in the area of sustainability projects, long-term thinking, and secondary risk considerations are critical.

Posted by Richard Maltzman on: January 01, 2019 11:40 PM | Permalink | Comments (7)

A Trillion Tons - Part 1 of 3

Looking like half-buried silver golf balls, but the size of one-car garages, and dotting the landscape just outside Reykjavik, Iceland, these otherworldly-shaped structures (pictured above) are actually the first tiny step in what may be a “last resort” to reduce CO2 levels in the Earth’s atmosphere.  In fact, much of the information in this post comes from an excellent article in the current edition of Scientific American, with the title The Last Resort.

Why “the last resort”?  Well, reducing emissions is of course important, but it won’t be enough.  The International Panel on Climate Change warned us in October 2018 that we have about 12 years to act if we want to avoid going past the 1.5 degree Celsius increase milestone – considered by most scientists as a ‘tipping point’, beyond which significant, perhaps catastrophic impacts to all life on Earth may begin to become irreversible.

Whatever your views on climate change and its causes – even if you think the whole thing is made up, you will find the projects in these posts fascinating if for no reason other than the sheer scope, schedule, and budget of it all.  Also, the projects’ technologies are pretty cool.  And really, I’ll start with only one technology which will yield a program, but there are seven or more major technologies (to be covered in Part 3), so I would declare that this is no less than a portfolio of projects, programs, and operations.

Jan Minx of Germany’s Mercator Research Institute on Climate Change says (quoting from the Scientific American article) that we will have to start building 700 carbon capture and storage installations A YEAR starting in 2030.  Why?  To limit global warming to 1.5 C, one trillion tons must be removed from the planet’s atmosphere by the end of this century.  Carbon capture methods could remove a quarter of that amount (250 million tons), and replanting clear-cut forests another 180 million tons – so it’s still not enough, but it’s a start.

With those numbers you get an idea of program scope.  How about cost?  With each ton costing up to $300, the numbers are astounding: about a third of a quadrillion dollars.  Quadrillion?  A great word for Words with Friends, but one you don’t hear every day.  These are indeed big budget numbers, which will come with outstanding opportunities for (well-prepared) project and program professionals.

One company, Climeworks, makes the system I described at the top of this blog post.  In Part 2 I will go into more technical detail on the system.  For now, the short description is this:

The system draws ambient air through a chemical filter, yielding CO2 and pumping it nearly a half-mile underground.  There, the gas reacts with basalt rock (plagioclase and pyroxene minerals for you geology fans) and forms a solid mineral, carbonate.

Below is a photo of a core sample of basalt which shows veins of carbonate based on this reaction.

The system is powered by the excess heat from a neighboring geothermal power plant (this is Iceland after all).  That’s an important Enterprise Environmental Factor to note, as unfortunately, the carbon capture and sequestration process is energy hungry – with a 1 trillion ton removal requiring approximately 400 megawatts of power.  We need watch the net effect of these systems; it’s a self-defeating situation if the carbon removal simply creates a similar amount of CO2.

In Part 2, I will provide more detail on the Climeworks system, and in Part 3, I’ll talk about the other technologies, Forestry, Bioenergy, Biochar, Weathering, Ocean Fertilization, and Soil Sequestration.

Posted by Richard Maltzman on: December 28, 2018 11:15 PM | Permalink | Comments (11)

Sea-condary Risks

Photo from Del Mar Times

This is a story about risk response, secondary risk, and stakeholder management. These are topics covered in the PMBOK® Guide, 6th Edition.  As project managers we know (from that very same PMBOK® Guide) that there are positive risks (opportunities) and negative risks (threats).

This is very much about a threat – the very real threat of sea-level rise.  This is a big deal for our planet mainly because of the percentage of large cities and populations in general that live near coastlines.  But one of the places where this is a noticeable big deal because of the value of the properties is Del Mar, California.  Here, a duplex (a half of a house) goes for an average of $1.7 million.

One of the possible responses to the threat is something called “managed retreat”.  The people of Del Mar, however, thought there was a significant secondary risk if that risk response was put in place. 

Why the secondary risk?  The moment the concept of leaving homes is even brought up, the prices of homes will drop, because that is seen as an admission that this land is simply not as valuable – in fact, may not even be land by the end of the century.  Current predictions are for a 1-2 foot rise by 2050 and a 5+ foot rise by the end of the century, which would inundate the Del Mar area with sea water, , according to a recent climate report by the U.S. government.

Yes, the government overseen by Donald Trump.  That US government.  Of course, the Trump administration has chosen to tout that the report is exaggerated.   But that’s not the issue here. Whatever your thoughts on that or on climate change in general, the project planning that comes up involves thinking about risk response and secondary risks.

As for that multi-million dollar duplex I mentioned earlier?  If indeed the forecasts are true, you’d end up with a $1.7Million dollar deep-sea-plex, not a duplex.

There is an excellent NPR (US National Public Radio) story on this - listen to the NPR (National Public Radio) story here:

Here is a link to the page with the NPR story:


Let’s look a little more into the risk response…

How did the people of Del Mar react?

Retreat, was at least at first proposed… and look at the reaction:

The blow-back, though, was almost immediate. Realtors' groups spoke out against the plan. Homeowners were hysterical.

"What we learned from our community is that even the mere discussion of managed retreat, in the minds of some, completely devalues their property," says Amanda Lee, Del Mar's senior city planner.

The concern was that if the city formalized a plan that included retreat, it would be harder for property-owners to get loans or sell their land.

Hearing those concerns, "we started crossing out managed retreat and replacing it with other words like 'not feasible here in Del Mar'," says Terry Gaasterland, who chaired the city's Sea Level Rise Committee.


The city council even went as far as to pass a resolution banning future city councils from planning for retreat.

The town was reacting to the California Coastal Sea Level Rise Policy Guidance of November 2018, see this link:

California Coastal Commission Sea Level Rise Policy Guidance

Final Adopted Science Update | November 7, 2018


See City of Del Mar’s report:

The Adaptation Plan includes the following components and adaptation measures to reduce

risks associated with future sea-level rise.

Public Facilities, Infrastructure and Beaches:

high priority sea-level rise adaptation measures for the City to begin planning for now include:

○    Relocating the City of Del Mar Fire Station

○    Relocating the City of Del Mar Public Works Yard

○    Flood-proofing the sewer lift station along San Dieguito Drive

○    Beach sand retention, replenishment, and management

San Dieguito Lagoon wetland adaptation:

○    Conversion of vegetated wetland to mudflat and open water habitats with sea-level rise could be partially accommodated and offset by allowing and facilitating the conversion of higher elevation area to tidal wetland habitat, such as the tern nesting island, adjacent upland habitats, and upstream riparian habitats.

○    Placement of sediment to raise the elevation of the wetlands (e.g., “spraying” material dredged from the River channel as a thin layer of sediment across the vegetated marshplain) has the potential to reduce or slow wetland habitat conversion.

○    Wetland expansion/restoration can create new wetlands with higher elevation areas that are more resilient to sea-level rise; wetland restoration is compatible with partial retreat and construction of “living” levees to reduce flood risks along the River.

San Dieguito River flooding adaptation:

○    San  Dieguito  River  channel  dredging  and Lake  Hodges  reservoir  management have potential to reduce river flood risks in the near-  to mid-term.

○    A  hybrid  approach  with  restoration of  developed  area adjacent to  the River to

expand  the  San  Dieguito  Lagoon  wetland  floodplain  and  construction  of  new levees between the wetlands and development can provide longer-term flood risk reduction;  “living”  levees  can  be designed  to  incorporate  restored  wetland transition and upland habitats that improve wetland resiliency to sea-level rise.

○    If  Lake  Hodges  reservoir  management is  not  possible,  the  timeframe  for  other measures may be sooner.

Bluff/beach erosion adaptation:

○    Beach nourishment and sand retention strategies as well as installation of access paths down the bluffs (e.g., stairways) in conjunction with authorized pedestrian crossings at railroad under- or over-passes may provide some near-term reduction in bluff erosion; investigating whether landscape irrigation in City neighborhoods east of the bluffs is contributing increased groundwater flow and associated erosion and the potential to reduce irrigation affects may also be beneficial.

○    Relocating the LOSSAN railroad will allow for continued landward bluff erosion, and thereby maintain a beach below the bluff and provide access along the bluff top.

○    Removal  of  bluff  top  sewer  lines,  drainage  ditches,  and  fiber  optic  cables will eventually be required as the bluff continues to recede inland.

Beach coastal (ocean) flooding and beach erosion adaptation:

○    Beach and dune nourishment and sand retention strategies may provide near-term protection, but their effectiveness is likely to decrease over time with higher amounts and rates of sea-level rise.

○  Redevelopment policies and regulations can be developed for the LCP Amendment to make feasible the option of elevating structures.

○   Sand retention measures such as groins or artificial reef may help maintain the beach, but would likely introduce need for additional mitigation.

○    Raising/improving the existing sea wall and revetments (i.e., “holding the line”) would reduce flood risks with sea-level rise, but without accompanying beach nourishment may lead to beach loss over time.  Beach loss adjacent to sea walls and revetments could lead to conflicts with Coastal Act prohibitions against protection in perpetuity.

○    Raising City infrastructure including buildings, utilities, and roads will likely be required to accommodate the increase in flood risk with sea-level rise.


The California Coastal Commission, for its part, isn't requiring cities to plan for managed retreat. Madeline Cavalieri, the coastal planner for the commission, says there's no one-size-fits-all solution for dealing with sea-level rise; different cities need to consider a combination of different strategies.


As you can see, this is all very relevant to project management.  Being familiar with the stakeholders, their reaction to risk response, and the new risks introduced by risk response – these are all fundamental to doing a great job as a project leader.

Posted by Richard Maltzman on: December 08, 2018 02:35 PM | Permalink | Comments (9)

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- Groucho Marx



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