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  • The Path to Cleaner Coal

    Reducing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere has been the talk of town for awhile now, but uncertainties remain on how to best do it without completely devastating an already crippling economy. One of the biggest challenges is how to burn coal, which provides 50% of America’s electricity, without emitting CO2.. At present time, the most viable option is carbon capture and sequestration (CCS).

    The goal of CCS is to capture carbon emitted from coal burning generation facilities, compress it, transport it, and store it in sealed geologic formations, but when this process becomes commercially available is unknown. The US House Committee on Science & Technology had a recent hearing addressing the topic.

    CCS sounds like a great solution for cutting out much of the questionable emissions from coal plants. So much so, that the US government is betting highly on its success. Much of the House hearing was spent grilling the Department of Energy representative about why the Department cut funding last year for the FutureGen advanced coal program. The GAO reported at the hearing that FutureGen was not cut because of budget overruns. Congressman Costello voiced his “outrage” at the program being cut, and blamed it on politics rather than cost.

    Regardless of the DOE’s rationale for cutting the program, or Congress’ ultimate decision on FutureGen, CCS may not prove to be magic fix for carbon emissions. The Economist reports that “CCS might not be financially worthwhile for years to come.” The uncertainty and expense of future carbon regulation “has doubtless put off utilities. Omar Abbosh, of Accenture, a consultancy, says that carbon trading as practiced in the EU and contemplated in America does not give enough certainty about future carbon prices to justify an investment in a CCS plant. [Philippe] Paelinck of Alstom agrees: no board would risk spending €1 billion ($1.3 billion) on one, he says, without generous subsidies.”

    In the same issue, the Economist writes:

    The private sector, however, is reluctant to fork out not just because of the upfront cost of power plants, but also because, tonne for tonne, CCS looks like an expensive way of cutting carbon. The cost of it may fall, but probably not by much, given the familiarity of the technologies it uses.”

    Even so, energy development companies are already responding to the promise of a future market place for CCS technologies. General Electric, for example, has introduced the Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle (IGCC), which uses coal gasification to make the capturing CO2 easier should plants with IGCC decide to do so in the future. Similarly, the Babcock and Wilcox Company has developed the oxy-coal combustion technology that “uses pure oxygen for the combustion of coal in electricity generating plants. In this system, nitrogen that comes in with the air for the combustion process is eliminated. As a result, the exhaust gas is a relatively pure stream of CO2 that is ready for capture and sequestration or alternate uses such as enhanced oil recovery.”

    Whether we should implement carbon reduction schemes in the United States is a different fight, but if the government is to set caps on CO2, it will be the market and the private sector that create the most efficient solutions.

    Posted in Energy [slideshow_deploy]

    6 Responses to The Path to Cleaner Coal

    1. Ozzy6900, CT says:

      So what happens when the CO2 leaks out of the "sealed geologic formations"? You know that it will and then they (the Golbal Warming whackos) will have another "crisis" on our hands to deal with!

      Has anyone thought about how all the green plants will survive if we start cutting down all the CO2? Seeing as how green plants take in CO2 in the dark to process their food and expel O2 (WHAT WE BREATH), won't we be killing ourselves in the long run?

    2. Fuzzy K, NY says:

      Yeah, Love Canal for CO2! If the stuff is so harmful to the environment, think of what will happen if large reservoirs of it are released catastrophically! However, a little science to temper that fear: At the pressure inherent at the depth of these deposits, CO2 is a liquid (actually, a supercritical fluid). No temperature can turn it back into a gas. So unless something causes it to migrate – like an earthquake or volcano – then it should stay there forever, and eventually turn into carbonate rock. The problem I have is that we know so relatively little about CCS, yet we are (or were) falling over ourselves to implement it. We've studied nuclear waste disposal a lot more, yet Yucca Mountain has yet to receive any waste!

      Oh yeah – the CO2 is not "pure". It contains Mercury and Hydrochloric Acid (by-products of coal combustion). Who will be liable for this massive underground injection of "Hazardous Waste" when it poisons the water supply for a whole region?

    3. Mike Keller, Kansas says:

      There actually is a better way to cleanly use coal that avoids sequestration. A completely unexpected solution. see http://www.hybridpwr.com

    4. TonyfromOz at http:/ says:

      When the real scope of this CCS is looked at, the real problem becomes evident.

      To produce the 48.4% of the total power consumed in the U.S. an amount of coal must be burned by all those plants so water can be boiled to steam to drive the turbine to then drive the huge generators.

      That amount of coal burned is 1.05 BILLION tons to produce that power. (Source http://www.eia.doe.gov/cneaf/electricity/epm/tabl… at the bottom left.)

      Coal is basically Carbon, so as the coal is burned, the Carbon atoms now join with 2 Oxygen atom to form the CO2.

      So each ton of burned coal now produces 2.86 Tons of CO2.

      The total CO2 produced each year to provide that power is 3 Billion (actual) tons.

      That CO2 somehow needs to be extracted from the exhaust at each plant, somehow liquified, and then pumped through thousands of miles of as yet unconstructed large pipelines to as yet undiscovered fields of stable geological rock formation sites where large plants will then have to pump it into the ground, where they hope to store it in a stable way ….. forever.

      Remember this is 3 Billion tons, and that is each and every year.

      The average large coal fired power plant with a nameplate generating capacity of 2000 MW burns on average 6.5 million tons of coal each year.

      Nowhere on Planet Earth so far is there in operation any such scheme that does this in its totality, on even the most minute scale.

      Carbon Capture and Sequestration is at the moment a dream, and if it ever comes to pass, will be at least 25 to 30 years in the future.

      Any replacement for coal fired power plants, (the current flavours of the month being wind and solar) is also decades away, is incredibly inefficient, running at around 16 to 33% efficiency at absolute best, will cost an absolute fortune to construct, produces minimal power, and will take decades to construct to supply power to the grid.

      We have to have coal fired power, because, without it, there is no power.

      CCS is being proposed by people who have no real idea of the scope of the task required, the time it will take to implement and the astoundingly incredibly huge cost.

      Sorry to take so much space.

      Tony.

    5. Pingback: PA Pundits - International

    6. Enerwise, SC says:

      Tony from oz,

      I don’t think there’s any limit on space for true facts only fantasy,

      I have read many post about CCS on other sites and the general conclusion is it cannot be made to work.

      I think the reason it’s not being rammed up our throat’s is because even the hard core greens can see [ if one study the physical aspects of the problem ],

      it will take to much energy to operate if it can even be done on a commercial scale,

      plus the ruling elites can’t see any way to make any real money from it, I sometimes wonder just how much these activist are concerned about our environment.

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