Monday, September 24, 2007

Letter to the editor: followup to landills and incineration

James A Gleeson was annoyed that I hadn't debunked his entire letter, so here goes.

James A. Gleeson complains that I didn't comment on the main element
of his letter about landfills and incineration. I commented on what I
considered the most important claim, that global warming was not at
all caused by human activity.

Mr Gleeson's says his main claim was a "revolutionary method of
cleaning" that can be applied to "power stations, industry and
incineration". From the details he mentioned I think he means a
material called "LSCF", and the recently published research by Prof
Ian Metcalfe and co. This material can be used to extract pure oxygen
from the air and can withstand high temperatures.

LSCF makes it easy to burn methane gas in pure oxygen, avoiding the
pollution that arise by burning it in nitrogen-rich air and producing
only carbon-dioxide and water. These can then be easily separated and
if we could find something to do with the carbon-dioxide, this would
make methane an incredibly clean fuel.

LSCF is not a magic bullet for industry or waste incineration. Its
benefits depend on the fact that methane is a very simple molecule,
containing only carbon and hydrogen. It would not have the same effect
when incinerating domestic or industrial waste as these produce a wide
variety of nasty pollutants even if burnt in pure oxygen.

As for recycling the carbon-dioxide, Prof Metcalfe himself points out
that it is much cheaper to just release it into the atmosphere and
that recycling would only be economical under a carbon credit system

On landfills, Mr Gleeson says that "the very same toxins and
chemicals, irrespective of world population, existed in a processed or
unprocessed state then, as now". This is simply not true.

We are burying toxins and chemicals in landfills now that do not occur
in nature. It is true that the materials from which these chemicals
are made have been around for billions of years but they were never
before combined in these ways.

To ignore how the materials have been processed and combined is to
ignore the difference between C-O2 and C-O (carbon-monoxide) or
between H2-0 (water) and H2-O2 (peroxide bleach). In both cases the
basic materials are the same but the difference is life or death.

Human-created landfills tend to be located close to large population
centres, so their toxins (natural and man-made) have a much greater
effect than those buried deep in the earth's crust.

Landfills and incineration are probably both necessary evils but far
better than either is to reduce the amount of waste we produce and
where that waste is unavoidable, to use materials which can be
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