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Technology

10 Regions Where the DOE Wants to Boost Power Transmission​

On electric corridors, carbon removal, and infectious diseases

10 Regions Where the DOE Wants to Boost Power Transmission​
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

Current conditions: Severe overnight storms in Central states killed at least three people • London is gearing up for a “mini heat wave” • Residents in California’s San Bernardino County are being told to stay away from Silverwood Lake due to a toxic algal bloom.

THE TOP FIVE

1. DOE proposes 10 electric transmission corridors

The Department of Energy yesterday announced the 10 “corridors” where new power transmission infrastructure could be expanded quickly in order to bolster the U.S. electrical grid. The potential National Interest Electric Transmission Corridors (or NIETCs) have been identified by the DOE as areas where “consumers are harmed, now or in the future, by a lack of transmission,” and new transmission projects could improve grid reliability and reduce costs for locals. Federal funds and special permitting options will be available to help build them out quickly.

DOE

The 10 corridors range from 12 miles to 780 miles in length. The public will have 45 days to have their say on the proposals, and then the DOE will narrow the list further. “In order to reach our clean energy and climate goals, we’ve got to build out transmission as fast as possible to get clean power from where it's produced to where it’s needed,” said John Podesta, senior advisor to the president for international climate policy. “The Biden-Harris administration is committed to using every tool at our disposal to accelerate progress on transmission permitting and financing and build a clean energy future.”

2. Climeworks opens new direct air capture plant

In case you missed it: Climeworks opened its newest commercial direct air capture plant yesterday. The Iceland-based facility, named Mammoth, is not yet operating at full capacity, with only 12 of its planned 72 capturing and filtering units installed. When the plant is fully operational — which Climeworks says should be sometime next year — it will pull up to 36,000 metric tons of CO2 out of the atmosphere annually. For scale, that’s about 1/28,000th of a gigaton. To get to net zero emissions, we’ll have to remove multiple gigatons of carbon from the atmosphere every year. “So in the context of where we need to go, Mammoth is almost nothing,” wrote Heatmap’s new climate tech reporter Katie Brigham. “But in the context of our current reality, it’s nine times the size of the next largest DAC facility: another Iceland-based Climeworks plant called Orca. And it’s a major stepping stone towards the company’s ultimate goal of capturing a million metric tons of CO2 yearly by 2030 and a billion by 2050.”

3. Xprize unveils finalists in carbon removal competition

And speaking of carbon removal, the Elon Musk-backed Xprize yesterday unveiled a shortlist of 20 finalists in its $100 million global competition to discover and develop breakthroughs in the field. The list is broken up into categories: air, rocks, land, and ocean. U.S.-based finalists include:

  • Heirloom (uses limestone to absorb CO2)
  • Lithos Carbon (spreads basalt rock on farmland to induce “enhanced rock weathering”)
  • Vaulted Deep (stores organic waste underground)
  • Climate Robotics (developing mobile technology that converts crop residues into biochar)
  • Captura (pulls carbon out of the ocean so the ocean can … store more carbon)
  • Ebb (speeds up ocean alkalinity process to remove CO2)

What’s next? The companies will need to remove 1,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide over one year in order to move ahead in the competition. They’ll also have to prove scalability.

4. Flooded Brazil braces for more rain

The death toll from flooding in Brazil climbed to 100, and the rain is expected to continue through the weekend. Before-and-after satellite images show the extent of the disaster. Here is a crude screenshot from Google Earth, showing Porto Alegre in the state of Rio Grande do Sul, prior to the floods, followed by an image of roughly the same region, captured by Copernicus, that speaks for itself:

Google Earth

European Union, Copernicus Sentinel-2 imagery

5. Study links human-caused climate change to rising risk of diseases

Human activity is rapidly changing the natural environment, and this is fueling the rise of dangerous diseases, according to a new study published in the journal Nature. The research pulls together findings from nearly 1,000 previous studies on environmental damage to paint a more complete picture of how humanity’s disruption to nature is enabling the spread of pathogens – for humans, yes, but also for animals and plants. It concludes that biodiversity loss, toxic chemicals, the introduction of invasive species, and of course, human-caused climate change, are all associated with “increases in disease-related end points or harm.” Biodiversity loss was found to be particularly dangerous, because it likely drives pathogens to evolve to target new and more abundant hosts.

One biologist who wasn’t involved in the research called it “one of the strongest pieces of evidence that I think has been published that shows how important it is health systems start getting ready to exist in a world with climate change, with biodiversity loss.”

THE KICKER

Florida is likely to make it illegal to release balloons into the air outdoors.

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Jessica  Hullinger profile image

Jessica Hullinger

Jessica Hullinger is a freelance writer and editor who likes to think deeply about climate science and sustainability. She previously served as Global Deputy Editor for The Week, and her writing has been featured in publications including Fast Company, Popular Science, and Fortune. Jessica is originally from Indiana but lives in London.

Bitcoin becoming the sun.
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

Categorizing Crusoe Energy is not easy. The startup is a Bitcoin miner and data center operator. It’s a “high-performance” and “carbon-negative” cloud platform provider. It’s a darling of the clean tech world that’s raised nearly $750 million in funding. The company has historically powered its operations with natural gas, but its overall business model actually reduces emissions. Confused yet?

Here are the basics. The company was founded in 2018 to address the problem of natural gas flaring. Natural gas is a byproduct of oil extraction, and if oil field operators have no economical use case for the gas or are unable to transfer it elsewhere, it’s often simply burned. If you, like me, have spent time sourcing stock images of air pollution, you’ve probably seen the pictures of giant flames coming out of tall smokestacks near oil pump jacks and other drilling infrastructure. That’s what flaring natural gas looks like, and it is indeed terrible for the environment. That’s largely because the process fails to fully combust methane, which is the primary component of natural gas and 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide over a 20 year period.

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Climate

AM Briefing: Displacement Fears

On the Biden administration’s carbon removal investments, the climate refugees of Brazil, and more

Wednesday sunrise.
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

Current conditions: More storms and possible tornadoes are forecast to hit Texas and the Plains, where millions of people are still without power • Cyclone Remal, the first tropical storm of the season, killed at least 23 people in India and Bangladesh • Brazilian authorities are investigating up to 800 suspected cases of waterborne illness following unprecedented flooding over the past month.

THE TOP FIVE

1. Biden administration invests in carbon removal

The Department of Energy on Tuesday gave $1.2 million to companies competing for a chance to sell carbon removal credits to the federal government. These 24 semifinalists, which were each awarded $50,000, include nine direct air capture projects, seven biomass projects, five enhanced rock weathering projects, and three marine-based projects. Up to 10 of them will be offered federal contracts amounting to $30 million. “The Department of Energy hopes that by selecting 24 companies that have been vetted by government scientists, it’s sending a signal to the private sector that there are at least some projects that are legitimate,” Heatmap’s Emily Pontecorvo writes, referencing struggles in the broader carbon credits marketplace.

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Technology

Carbon Removal’s Stamp of Approval

The Department of Energy is advancing 24 companies in its purchase prize contest. What these companies are getting is more important than $50,000.

Heirloom DAC.
Heatmap Illustration/Heirloom Carbon

The Department of Energy is advancing its first-of-a-kind program to stimulate demand for carbon removal by becoming a major buyer. On Tuesday, the agency awarded $50,000 to each of 24 semifinalist companies competing to suck carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere on behalf of the U.S. government. It will eventually spend $30 million to buy carbon removal credits from up to 10 winners.

The nascent carbon removal industry is desperate for customers. At a conference held in New York City last week called Carbon Unbound, startup CEOs brainstormed how to convince more companies to buy carbon removal as part of their sustainability strategies. On the sidelines, attendees lamented to me that there were hardly even any potential buyers at the conference — what a missed opportunity.

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