“CLEAN” COAL: CURE OR CURSE?
In light of yesterday’s news about the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) dropping its funding for the carbon-capture-and-sequestration (CCS) FutureGen project (See DOE DROPPING FUTUREGEN?), this BBC News story’s title seems a little out of date. But carbon-capture-and-sequestration (CCS) is at the top of the agenda for the European Union (EU).
Among the most important of the new measures in the European Commission (EC)’s recommendations for Phase 3 of the EU’s climate change and emissions reductions program is that captured and sequestered greenhouse gases (GHGs) created by fossil fuel-burning power plants should not count as emissions against the power company’s or country’s allocated caps.
The reason DOE dropped its backing for FutureGen was the cost. Because the EU ETS puts a price on emissions in the EU, the new EC-proposed measure will encourage CCS technology development by defraying its cost, the single factor most slowing the implementation of what some call “clean” coal.
This idea of “clean” coal was also behind the big push by EU leaders at the climate change conference in Bali last month to set up a technology-sharing mechanism whereby more advanced nations can help developing nations like India and China get up to speed on CCS.
The biggest problem with the concept of “clean” coal is that coal can never really be clean because of the way it is mined and because of the enormous quantity of emissions generated in transporting coal from mines to power plants. Mahi Sideridou, Greenpeace: “If you give financial and political priority to carbon capture and storage, you're not giving as much emphasis to the real solutions on the table like energy efficiency and renewable energy…”
It is likely that many EU leaders, hard-thinking realists, assume there is no way to prevent the burning of coal so it would be significantly better to remove even a portion of the GHGs from the process. Malcolm Wickes, UK energy minister: "It's not just another technology…This is absolutely vital…The world will be burning fossil fuels - oil, gas, coal - for 100 or more years…Unless we can find ways of capturing that carbon dioxide, all is lost."
There it is: The idealistic lady from Greenpeace? Or the British lion of harsh reality?
Or perhaps there is a middle path. CCS has not demonstrated the capacity to effectively capture or safely store emissions. Let the research continue. Meanwhile, get serious about building the wind and solar and wave energy infrastructure of the future. By the time CCS proves itself, there may be no need for it.
Norway's Sleipner project is the oldest and most successful CCS project - but it is hardly a solution to the problem of GHGs. (click to enlarge)
Could carbon capture replace cuts?
Dominic Laurie, January 23, 2008 (BBC News)
Norwegian state oil company Statoil.
Carbon capture and storage (CCS)is a concept more than something specific. Science and industry are testing a variety of ways to trap CO2 and other GHGs generated coal- and gas-burning plants and bury them in geologic or anthropogenic containment.
DOE backed out of FutureGen yesterday because the plant was too expensive. Norway cancelled this CCS project for the same reason earlier this year. (click to enlarge)
Norway has declared it will use technologies such as CCS to be carbon neutral by 2030.
- Norway, an oil-rich nation that prides itself on its nurturing relationship to its environment, has long been at work developing a way to trap and store GHGs.
- Norway’s Sleipner offshore oil and gas drilling project has long been testing a type of CCS technology by sequestering GHGs in undersea oil wells and slat formations.
- Norway is not a member of the EU but has assented to the EU climate change program.
- Current hopes of “clean” coal is driving a variety of experiments in CCS.
- Norway’s project at its Mongstad oil refinery was cancelled because of the cost. (See CANCEL THE CAPTURE, IT COSTS TOO MUCH
- Environmentalists and academic studies have raised questions about the long term safety and stability of the acidic gases’ storage.
- The UK government has been showing an increasing interest in CCS technology and recently set up a funding plan.
Norway is burying GHG emissions deep in old North Sea oil wells at Sleipner. But that is not proven safe, economic or practical yet. (click to enlarge)
- Helge Smaamo, Sleipner manager, Statoil: "The gas in the Sleipner west field has 9% carbon dioxide…We have to get that down to 2%, because gas burns much better at 2% than at 9%, so we separate a lot of it out by chemical processes…We then absorb the gas, put it under huge pressure and inject it under the seabed by drilling a well."
- Mahi Sideridou, EU policy director, Greenpeace: "We have concerns about leakage - either slow leakage or catastrophic abrupt releases of carbon dioxide…"