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One metric ton of carbon dioxide gas (annotated) | by Carbon Visuals
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One metric ton of carbon dioxide gas (annotated)

Still from CCS: a 2 degree solution, a film by Carbon Visuals for WBCSD available here: www.youtube.com/watch?v=RejAjfRkVuc

 

Carbon dioxide gas at 15 °C and standard pressure has a density of 1.87 kg/m3. Which means the volume of one metric ton of carbon dioxide gas is 534.76 m3. The diameter of a one metric ton sphere is 10.071 metres (about 33 feet).

 

The film reveals how significant fossil fuel use is today, and will continue to be for decades to come and so makes a case for carbon capture and storage. All the quantities represented in the film are 'real'; the film shows the actual volume and rate of emissions, it is not merely indicative.

 

The world gets through a lot of fossil fuels:

 

• 7,896.4 million metric tons of coal in 2013 (21.6 million metric tons per day, 250 metric tons per second)

 

• 91,330,895 barrels of oil per day in 2013 (168 m3 per second)

 

• 3,347.63 billion m3 of natural gas in 2013 (9.2 km3 per day, 106,082 m3 per second)

 

This film tries to make those numbers physically meaningful – to make the quantities ‘real’; more than ‘just numbers’. All the graphics in the film are based on real quantities.

 

• The coal we use each day would form a pile 236 metres high and 673 metres across. We could fill a volume the size of the UN Secretariat Building with coal every 17 minutes.

 

• At the rate we use oil, we could fill an Olympic swimming pool every 15 seconds. We could fill a volume the size of the UN Secretariat Building with oil every 30 minutes.

 

• The rate at which we use natural gas is equivalent to gas travelling along a pipe with an internal diameter of 60 metres at hurricane speeds (135 km/h / 84 mph). We could fill a volume the size of the UN Secretariat Building with natural gas in under 3 seconds. We use a cubic kilometre of gas every 2 hours 37 minutes and a cubic mile of the stuff every 10 hours 54 minutes.

 

The world’s use of fossil fuels is increasing, not decreasing. Renewable energy will help, but it cannot keep up with the demand for energy. The International Renewable Energy Agency’s most optimistic road-map suggests that renewables will not displace fossil fuels for decades, which is a problem because we are adding carbon dioxide to the atmosphere at an increasing rate.

 

• In 2012 we added over 39 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. That’s 1,237 metric tons a second. It is like a ‘bubble’ of carbon dioxide gas 108 metres across entering the atmosphere every second of every day. We could fill a volume the size of the UN Secretariat Building with our carbon dioxide emissions in less than half a second. We could fill it 133 times a minute. The pile of one metric ton spheres in the film, which represents one day’s emissions, is 3.7 km high (2.3 miles) and 7.4 km across (4.6 miles).

 

To keep global warming below 2 °C we can afford to emit no more than 1 trillion metric tons of carbon into the atmosphere (3.66 trillion metric tons of carbon dioxide).

 

2 °C is a significant figure because if warming is more than this ‘positive feedback’ effects will make it increasingly hard to control the temperature. For instance, beyond 2 °C, there will be considerably less ice on Earth. Because it is white, ice reflects energy from the sun back out to space. If the ice goes, more energy from the sun will be absorbed by the Earth.

 

We have already added more than half the threshold quantity of 1 trillion metric tons of carbon (up to mid-2014, we have emitted about 582 billion metric tons). If carbon dioxide from fossil fuels continues to enter the atmosphere we will reach 2 °C threshold in a few years. The projected emissions illustrated in the film are based on RCP 4.5, which is one of the four ‘Representative Concentration Pathways’ used in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Fifth Assessment Report.

 

Carbon capture and storage means we can use the energy of fossil fuels without adding carbon to the atmosphere. Because fossil fuels will remain a significant part of the world’s energy economy for decades to come, carbon capture and storage is an essential part of any plan to keep global warming below 2 °C.

 

Details, calculations and sources for all the numbers in the film are available in a methodology document: www.carbonvisuals.com/media/item/735/559/Methodology-CCS_...

 

Animation by A-Productions

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Taken on September 11, 2014