Ontario gas plant carbon: the Rogers Centre metric

How many times do Ontario gas plants emit enough carbon dioxide (CO2) to fill up the Rogers Centre with the roof closed? You can figure out how much they have emitted so far today: just divide the amount of CO2 in the Gas category in Table 2 on the left-hand sidebar by 2,877, which is how many tons of CO2 would fit into the Rogers Centre at 25 °C and one atmosphere pressure. (For an explanation of how I got that figure, see the Info Box below). As of nine a.m. today (December 10), they had emitted enough CO2 to fill Rogers Centre just over 2.6 times.

Here’s how many times Ontario’s gas plants filled up Rogers Centre per day in November 2013:

DAY IN NOVEMBER 2013CO2, TONS# OF ROGERS CENTRES FILLED
1126264
2137955
3169406
4179846
5175056
6160186
7157955
8161736
9122394
10134605
11161106
12196007
13168856
14161716
15144995
16131295
17132105
18148895
19193177
20209087
21228268
22193987
23158015
24203817
25199067
26249749
27230798
283086011
293198011
30208167
Total547274190

As you can see, Ontario gas plants filled the Rogers Centre 190 times in November. On November 29, the Ontario gas plants filled Rogers Centre with CO2 11 times. The lowest days were the 1st and 9th, when they only filled it 4 times. The average for the month was 6 times.

At 25 °C, Rogers Centre with its roof closed holds 2,877 metric tons of CO2. Here is how I got that number:

1. The mass of one mole of CO2 is 44.01 grams. (Most versions of the Periodic Table, including this one, give the mass of each element. Look up carbon and oxygen—the constituent atoms in a molecule of CO2—and note their mass. Don’t confuse the atomic mass of an element with its atomic number! Add the mass of one atom of carbon, ~12.01 atomic mass units or AMU, to that of two atoms of oxygen, ~32 AMU. The result: a molecule of CO2 has a mass of 44.01 AMU. A mole of CO2 is therefore 44.01 grams.)
2. One mole of any gas, at 25 °C and one atmosphere pressure, occupies 24.47 litres of volume. (One mole of any gas at standard temperature and pressure occupies 22.414 litres. To calculate molar volume at another temperature, let’s call it T2, with the same pressure, convert temperature to Kelvins and then multiply the ratio of the STP volume to temperature by T2; this is Charles’s Law. In this case, your T2 is 25 °C, which is 298 Kelvins: 25 + 273 = 298. Your ratio of STP volume to temperature is 22.414/273 = 0.0821. Multiply 0.0821 x 298 = 24.466 litres.)
3. One metric tonne, or one million grams, of CO2 contains 22,727 moles: divide one million by 44.
4. Multiply those 22,727 moles in a tonne of  CO2 by the molar volume of a gas at 25 °C, which from point 3 is 24.47 litres.
5. Therefore one metric tonne of CO2 at the above-mentioned temperature and pressure occupies 556,136 litres.
6. One cubic meter is 1,000 litres, so a metric tonne of CO2 occupies 556.14 cubic meters (divide the 556,136 litres of CO2 that make up a metric tonne by 1,000).
7. Now you need to know the volume of Rogers Centre. According to Rogers, Rogers Centre’s volume is 1,600,000 m3. So divide that by 556.14 to get 2,877.

How many times can we as a society keep doing this? Dumping so much CO2 into the air won’t make our atmosphere thicker or more dense, as Al Gore claimed in his documentary An Inconvenient Truth. But it will make it more “opaque” to long-wave (infrared) radiation. Which is to say, it will trap more heat.

It will also increase the number of CO2 molecules making contact with surface water. This will increase the amount of CO2 being absorbed into the world’s oceans—most of the world is covered with salt water. When CO2 absorbs into water, it turns it slightly more acidic. This has been increasing since the Industrial Revolution, and scientists now estimate that half of the man-made CO2 has been absorbed in the world’s oceans. The pH of the oceans has historically been 8.2, which is slightly on the base side (neutral is 7); today it averages about 8.1. That might sound small, but it has altered the water chemistry especially of shallow areas, where a lot of ocean life is. More CO2 in the water means less of the calcium carbonate minerals which are the building blocks for the shells and skeletons of many marine animals.

Scientists also think the oceans absorb today about one-third of the man-made CO2 dumped into the air. So have another look at the table above. Divide the tons of CO2 emitted by Ontario gas plants by three. That is how much our electricity is affecting the world’s oceans.

Next time you pass the Rogers Centre, think of it as a receptable for CO2 for Ontario gas plants. In November, the provincial gas fleet dumped enough carbon to fill Rogers Centre once every four hours. A third of that will acidify the oceans, and harm marine animals. How much should we rely on these plants for our electricity, especially when we have nuclear plants that dump no CO2 at all?