The concentration of CO2 in the troposphere has increased by 17 % in the last two and half centuries since the Industrial Revolution. 2007-2008 levels of troposphere CO2 is around 389 ppm as per Earth System Research Laboratory reports.
CO2’s role in the global carbon cycle
A very complex natural cycle maintains the CO2 balance in the earth’s atmosphere. All living things breathe out CO2. Trees and vegetation takes in CO2 during photosynthesis to produce Carbon compounds that are stored in trees and plants. These Carbon compounds are the basic energy source for all life on the planet. This give and take policy of nature has maintained the global CO2 cycle. Plants, vegetation, soil and oceans work as the sinks that store the Carbon to maintain the Carbon cycle.
CO2 and other green house gases allow the short wave length solar radiation to pass through but prevent the passage of the long wavelength radiation from the earth’s surface back to space. Even though the Global Warming Potential of CO2 is less than some of the other green house gases, the higher concentration makes it the major contributor to global warming and climate change.
Increased man made CO2 emissions from Fossil Fuel burning for transportation and energy has resulted in the upset of this global carbon cycle. Reduced absorption due to deforestation also has added to the woes. The net result is the increased concentration of CO2 in the troposphere.
Fossil fuel power plants are the biggest producers of CO2
A large coal fired power plant produces almost 1 kg of CO2 for every kilowatt-hour (kWh) of energy it produces. A natural gas fired combined cycle power plant produces 0.35 kg of CO2 for every kWh of energy produced.
Studies in the concentration of Carbon isotopes and CO2 in the atmosphere and oceans have indicated that the increased level of CO2 in the troposphere is definitely the contribution of burning of fossil fuels.
Nature has taken millions of years to capture and store the carbon as fossil fuel, but man has let it out in a few centuries. Man has opened the Pandora’s Box and let out the evil but still there remains Hope.
The second part of this series explains how we can reduce power plant CO2 emissions.