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Is coal with carbon capture and storage a core climate solution?

By Joe Romm

"Is coal with carbon capture and storage a core climate solution?"


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The goal of carbon capture and storage (CCS), also called carbon sequestration, is to take carbon dioxide that would have been emitted into the atmosphere from new or existing power plants (usually coal) and instead store it someplace, hopefully forever. It is an attractive idea across the political spectrum because it might allow us to continue using a major fossil fuel, but in a way that does not destroy the climate.

Unfortunately, CCS has four fundamental problems that have reduced enthusiasm for it recently and limited its likely role:

  1. Cost: Coal plants with CCS are very expensive today. The total extra cost for this process, including geological storage in sealed underground sites, is currently quite high, $30 to $80 a ton of carbon dioxide, according to the Department of Energy’s Office of Fossil Energy, “Carbon Sequestration R&D Overview.” And that is on top of the cost of new coal plants, which have become very expensive. In the future, it seems rather unlikely that CCS would be a low-cost solution. The modeling work done for the California Public Utility Commission (CPUC) on how to comply with the AB32 law (California’s Global Warming Solutions Act), online here, puts the cost of coal gasification with carbon capture and storage at a staggering 16.9 cents per kWh. Energy efficiency along with lots of low-carbon generation sources beat that easily now or will very soon.
  2. Timing: The world does not even have a single large-scale (300+ MW) coal plant with CCS anywhere in the world. The first moderate-sized (30 MW) pilot plant with CCS just started up this month in Germany. Earlier this year, President Bush dropped the mismanaged ‘NeverGen’ clean coal project. In the past year, most governments and most U.S. utilities have scaled back, delayed, or cancel their planned CCS projects (see below). As Howard Herzog of MIT’s Laboratory for Energy and the Environment said in Feburary “How can we expect to build hundreds of these plants when we’re having so much trouble building the first one?
  3. Scale: We need to put in place a dozen or so clean energy “stabilization wedges” by mid-century to avoid catastrophic climate outcomes — see “Is 450 ppm (or less) politically possible? Part 1.” For CCS to be even one of those would require a flow of CO2 into the ground equal to the current flow of oil out of the ground. That would require, by itself, re-creating the equivalent of the planet’s entire oil delivery infrastructure, no mean feat.
  4. Permanence and transparency: If Putin’s Russia said it was sequestering 100 million tons of CO2 in the ground permanently, and wanted other countries to pay it billions of dollars to do so, would anyone trust them? No. The potential for fraud and bribery are simply too enormous. But would anyone trust China? Would anyone trust a U.S. utility, for that matter? We need to set up some sort of international regime for certifying, monitoring, verifying, and inspecting geologic repositories of carbon — like the U.N. weapons inspections systems. The problem is, this country hasn’t been able to certify a single storage facility for a high-level radioactive waste after two decades of trying and nobody knows how to monitor and verify underground CO2 storage. It could take a decade just to set up this system.

The bottom line is that we should continue to pursue CCS research, development, and demonstration in a serious effort to turn this long-term strategy into a medium-term one. But efficiency, wind, solar PV, and baseload solar are where we should be placing the big deployment dollars right now (see “Is 450 ppm possible? Part 5: Old coal’s out, can’t wait for new nukes, so what do we do NOW?“)

For those who want to become more knowledgeable on CCS, the rest of this post will cite and excerpt a dozen or so of the recent articles and studies on the subject below.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology published a very thorough, interdisciplinary report on “The Future of Coal” in March 2007. This study was quite skeptical about the near-term possibility of CCS, mocked the notion of “capture ready” coal plants, and harshly criticized U.S. government CCS policy — a key reason that many, including journalists, became more pessimistic about CCS. Findings include:

  • A significant charge on carbon emissions is needed in the relatively near term to increase the economic attractiveness of new technologies that avoid carbon emissions and specifically to lead to large-scale CCS in the coming decades. We need large-scale demonstration projects of the technical, economic and environmental performance of an integrated CCS system.
  • Congress should remove any expectation that construction of new coal plants without CO2 capture will be “grandfathered” and granted emission allowances in the event of future regulation. This is a perverse incentive to build coal plants without CO2 capture today.
  • Coal plants will not be cheap to retrofi t for CO2 capture. Our analysis confi rms that the cost to retrofi t an air-driven SCPC plant for signifi cant CO2 capture, say 90%, will be greater than the cost to retrofit an Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle plant. However, as stressed in Chapter 3, the modifications needed to retrofit an IGCC plant for appreciable CCS are extensive and not a matter of simply adding a single simple and inexpensive process step to an existing IGCC plant.
  • The concept of a “capture ready” IGCC or pulverized coal plant is as yet unproven and unlikely to be fruitful.

In May 2007, the Center for American Progress released an excellent report on “Global Warming and the Future of Coal,” by Ken Berlin and Robert Sussman. It looked at a variety of policy measures that might allow new coal to contribute to our energy mix without destroying the climate and recommended the crucial policy:

Requiring all new coal power plants to meet an “emission performance” standard that limits CO2 emissions to levels achievable with CCS systems.

That is the best way to maintain coal’s viability in a carbon-constrained world.

The U.K. Guardian reported in February 2008, “Firms will act on CO2 only if its cost triples,” says oil giant Royal Dutch/Shell:

A carbon price close to $100 per tonne of CO2 – more than three times higher than it is today – is needed before industry will invest in the thousands of carbon-capture-and-storage (CCS) schemes needed for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, Shell warned yesterday.

In April, a major article in Environmental science and technology, “Regulating the Geological Sequestration [GS] of CO2,” argued

As greenhouse gas emissions rise and the impacts of climate change grow, the need for safe and effective CO2 capture and sequestration becomes ever more urgent….

For countries such as the U.S. and Germany, which today produce more than half of their electricity from coal, or China and India, where a large majority of the electricity is generated from coal, it is difficult to see how cost-effective and politically viable emission reductions can be achieved during the next several decades without at least some continued use of coal….

Governments worldwide should provide incentives for initial large-scale GS projects to help build the knowledge base for a mature, internationally harmonized GS regulatory framework. Health, safety, and environmental risks of these early projects can be managed through modifications of existing regulations in the EU, Australia, Canada, and the U.S. An institutional mechanism, such as the proposed Federal Carbon Sequestration Commission in the U.S., should gather data from these early projects and combine them with factors such as GS industrial organization and climate regime requirements to create an efficient and adaptive regulatory framework suited to large-scale deployment. Mechanisms to structure long-term liability and fund long-term postclosure care must be developed, most likely at the national level, to equitably balance the risks and benefits of this important climate change mitigation technology.

We need to do this right. During the initial field experiences, a single major accident, resulting from inadequate regulatory oversight, anywhere in the world, could seriously endanger the future viability of GS. That, in turn, could make it next to impossible to achieve the needed dramatic global reductions in CO2 emissions over the next several decades. We also need to do it quickly. Emissions are going up, the climate is changing, and impacts are growing. The need for safe and effective CO2 capture with deep GS is urgent.

In April, Reuters reported:

Governments and the private sector are balking at the expense of kick-starting a technology to bury planet-warming gases underground, casting doubts on “clean coal” plans seen vital to help fight climate change.

In May, Matt Wald wrote in the NYT, “Mounting Costs Slow the Push for Clean Coal,”

… it has become clear in recent months that the nation’s effort to develop the technique is lagging badly.

In January, the government canceled its support for what was supposed to be a showcase project, a plant at a carefully chosen site in Illinois where there was coal, access to the power grid, and soil underfoot that backers said could hold the carbon dioxide for eons.

Perhaps worse, in the last few months, utility projects in Florida, West Virginia, Ohio, Minnesota and Washington State that would have made it easier to capture carbon dioxide have all been canceled or thrown into regulatory limbo.

Coal is abundant and cheap, assuring that it will continue to be used. But the failure to start building, testing, tweaking and perfecting carbon capture and storage means that developing the technology may come too late to make coal compatible with limiting global warming.

“It’s a total mess,” said Daniel M. Kammen, director of the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley.

… it remains an open question whether techniques for capturing and storing carbon dioxide will be available by the time they are critically needed.

The Electric Power Research Institute, a utility consortium, estimated that it would take as long as 15 years to go from starting a pilot plant to proving the technology will work. The institute has set a goal of having large-scale tests completed by 2020.

“A year ago, that was an aggressive target,” said Steven R. Specker, the president of the institute. “A year has gone by, and now it’s a very aggressive target.”

The Australian reported in May, “Chimneys sweep BP clean coal plan away“:

WHAT was touted as Australia’s biggest contribution to developing clean coal technology for use around the world in reducing greenhouse gas emissions has been scrapped even before it got to first base.

BP confirmed yesterday the $2 billion “hydrogen energy” coal-to-gas plant at Kwinana, south of Perth, would not proceed….

But after more than two years of investigations and several million dollars of research, BP has now admitted that the geological formations off Perth contain gas “chimneys” that mean it is next to impossible to establish a seal in the strata that could contain the CO2.

In May, Greenpeace issued a report, False Hope: Why carbon capture and storage won’t save the climate that argued “the technology is largely unproven and will not be ready in time to save the climate.”

And Matt Wald again in June, “Running in Circles Over Carbon“:

… a recent decision by the Virginia State Corporation Commission, which regulates utilities, to turn down an application by the Appalachian Power Company to build a plant that would have captured 90 percent of its carbon and deposited it nearly two miles underground, at a well that it dug in 2003. The applicant’s parent was American Electric Power, one of the nation’s largest coal users, and perhaps the most technically able. But the company is a regulated utility and spends money only when it can be reimbursed.

The Virginia commission said that it was “neither reasonable nor prudent” for the company to build the plant, and the risks for ratepayers were too great, because costs were uncertain, perhaps double that of a standard coal plant. And in a Catch-22 that plagues the whole effort, the commission said A.E.P. should not build a commercial-scale plant because no one had demonstrated the technology on a commercial scale.

Vaclav Smil, wrote in Energy at the Crossroads:

A key comparison illustrates the daunting scale of the challenge. In 2005 worldwide CO2 emissions amounted to nearly 28 Gt; even if were to set out only a modest goal of sequestering just 10% of this volume we would have to put away annually about 6 Gm3 (assuming that all of the gas is compressed at least to its critical point where its density is 0.47 g/mL). The current extraction of crude oil (nearly 4 Gt in 2005) translates to less than 5 Gm3. Sequestering a mere 1/10 of today’s global CO2 emissions (less than 3 Gt CO2) would thus call for putting in place an industry that would have to force underground every year the volume of compressed gas larger than or (with higher compression) equal to the volume of crude oil extracted globally by petroleum industry whose infrastructures and capacities have been put in place over a century of development. Needless to say, such a technical feat could not be accomplished within a single generation.

[Note to Smil: Well of course it "could" be accomplished within a single generation if we had a WWII mentality for dealing with the climate problem. But since we don't, my point is moot.]

In June, BusinessWeek‘s “The Dirty Truth About Clean Coal” concluded:

The catch is that for now–and for years to come–”clean coal” will remain more a catchphrase than a reality….

Corporations and the federal government have tried for years to accomplish “carbon capture and sequestration.” So far they haven’t had much luck. The method is widely viewed as being decades away from commercial viability. Even then, the cost could be prohibitive: by a conservative estimate, several trillion dollars to switch to clean coal in the U.S. alone.

Then there are the safety questions. One large, coal-fired plant generates the equivalent of 3 billion barrels of CO2 over a 60-year lifetime. That would require a space the size of a major oil field to contain. The pressure could cause leaks or earthquakes, says Curt M. White, who ran the U.S. Energy Dept.’s carbon sequestration group until 2005 and served as an adviser until earlier this year. “Red flags should be going up everywhere when you talk about this amount of liquid being put underground.”

E&E News reported in June, ” Carbon storage technology is far from ready, utility execs warn” (subs. req’d):

Efforts to characterize carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) technology as a viable short-term “cure-all” for coal-burning power plants’ greenhouse emissions have been “way overblown,” the outgoing chairman of the leading utility industry group said today.

“It is a technology that [scientists] are comfortable can work,” said Jeff Sterba, the Edison Electric Institute’s outgoing chairman and chief executive of Albuquerque-based PNM Resources. “But is it commercially deployable in 10 years? No.”

… Added Jim Rogers, Duke Energy’s CEO and a former institute chairman, “CCS as a magical technology that solves the carbon problem for coal plants is oversold. … I think there is a lot to learn, and it is going to take us a lot longer for us to figure it out than a lot of us think.”

Ben Yamagata, director of the Coal Utilization Research Council, was interviewed by E&E News in June and said:

I think there is a tendency for both sides to over-exaggerate what’s possible from a technical perspective. Our view is that it’s important for political leaders to think about technology about development as a process of crawling, then walking, then running. And on the one side, I think in context of what Jim Rogers has said, there’s too much focus on the running at this point. And we really need to think about taking the first baby steps before we lope into a full-charge gallop on this stuff. And so I would say, yeah, I would agree that at least certain elements of it who want to have this happen very quickly have overblown the possibility of when all of this can happen, not can it happen, which is an important distinction here, but when it’s going to happen….

We have a plan that is a two-part program and it says we should have a much, much more robust, research, development, demonstration program, really on the order of magnitude of $17 to $20 billion dollars over the next 18 or 19 years.

In July, Coal journalist Jeff Goodell “Coal’s New Technology: Panacea or Risky Gamble?“:

Unfortunately, CCS is more fantasy than reality at the moment….

… given how quickly the price of renewable energy is falling (wind and large-scale concentrated solar power are already competitive with coal in some parts of the country), you have to wonder why anyone would go to the trouble of building a coal plant at all.

Jeff Goodell on Coal-is-Dirty.com,”How Clean Coal Cooks Your Brain“:

“Clean coal” is not an actual invention, a physical thing — it is an advertising slogan. Like “fat-free donuts” or “interest-free loans.”

… mining and burning coal remains one of the most destructive things human beings do on this earth. It destroys mountains, poisons water, pollutes the air, and warms the atmosphere. True, if you look at it strictly from the point of view smog-producing chemicals like sulfur dioxide, new coal plants are cleaner than the old coal burners of yore. But going from four bottles of whiskey a week down to three does not make you clean and sober.

The U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Fossil Energy resources on Carbon Capture Research can be found here.

Finally, I have been assumine one wedge of CCS by 2050 in my full climate solution (see “450 ppm Part 2: The Solution“), but I think the next version will likely drop that down to half a wedge, or perhaps 0.5 +/- 0.5 — 0 to 1 wedge for CCS.

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26 Responses to Is coal with carbon capture and storage a core climate solution?

  1. Wonhyo says:

    The coal, oil, and wood we burn for energy is nature’s implementation of CCS. When we try to artificially recapture carbon after we release it through combustion, we are essentially reversing the carbon cycle. The laws of thermodynamics guarantee that the energy we get out of a back-and-forth process is less than the energy we put in – the reason why a perpetual energy machine is impossible.

    A chemist might point out that, technically, we are not reversing a process because we start with hydrocarbons and end up with CO2. Certainly. But then we are taking a shortcut on the carbon cycle where we end up with concentrated carbon in an unstable form (CO2) instead of the natural cycle which leaves carbon locked up in coal, wood, or oil, with a high activation energy required to release it back into the atmosphere.

    It is an arrogant display of human arrogance to think we can do a more effective job than nature in carbon sequestration. Until we inject humility, and respect, into our approach to mitigating climate change, we are doomed to pursue grandiose pipe dreams, like CCS (and hydrogen, and the perfect battery, and….).

  2. Milan says:

    Well put.

    It is frightening to see how many governments are attributing a large share of their future emissions reductions to CCS, when there is no evidence that the technology will be able to deliver them at an acceptable cost.

    If CCS proves not to be viable, it will make the climate plans of places like Australia and Alberta look even more grossly inadequate than they do already.

  3. Earl Killian says:

    There are several other issues not mentioned:
    * Coal prices are soaring. Coal is no longer cheap.
    See also Sean Casten’s writeup http://gristmill.grist.org/story/2008/6/4/123223/5089
    Consumers have yet to feel the price increase much because utility purchases are usually long-term contracts that locked in lower prices. When those contracts are renewed, people will be surprised.
    * CCS requires 25% more coal burning and therefore mining/transportation
    * The effects of coal mining are devastating, particularly mountaintop removal
    * The non-climate effects of coal burning are a disaster for any community near a coal plant

  4. rjm says:

    CCS is just a maybe – even in the developed world. It certainly won’t be implemented by the developing world any time soon.

    Another point to consider: By 2050 we are going to add 2 more Chinas in total human population – mostly in the developing world. Better ramp up your CO2 expectations.

    From the NYT today:

    More than half of global emissions, which totaled more than 34 billion tons of CO2 in 2007, are now from developing countries, the report said. Their dominance reflects explosive growth in the burning of coal and manufacturing cement, another big source of the heat-trapping gas.

  5. TomG says:

    Just so much fiddling while Rome burns…

  6. charlie says:

    hmm…16.9 cents kw/h…isnt’ that was wind costs when you don’t have a tax subsidy?

    [JR: Try reading this blog or the Bush Admin reports on this. Wind is 6 to 9 cents per kw/h with NO subsidy.]

  7. charlie says:

    Hmm….ins’t the 6 to 9 cents figure based on a 2020 projection — not today?

    In any case, I mean the 16.9 cents figure to the consumer; which is a bit unfair to compare with the “costs” of clean coal.

  8. David B. Benson says:

    At today’s spot prices for central Appalachian coal, torrefied wood can easily compete as a direct replacement in any coal reactor. Burning torrefied wood is nearly carbon-neutral (only nearly depending upon the fossil fuel used in harvesting and transportation). Unfortunately the U.S. simply cannot grow enough wood near to the coal reactors to meet the current demand; perhaps only 10% of it.

    However, Azolla


    grows fast so long as the air and water are both warm enough. Possibly dedicated Azolla ponds across the southern half of the U.S. could produce, economically, enough biomass to be pyrolisized into a biochar suitable for replacing coal. This should work in South China and India as well; at least it is warm enough there.

    Unfortunately, I have been unable to locate figures for the number of tonnes (dry weight) of Azolla per hectare per year (depending upon temperature ranges). I suspect it is quite high. The farming costs would be quite low and the pyrolysis plant would be fixed, large and efficient.

  9. David B. Benson says:

    Alas, while Azolla makes a wonderful animal feed, this report


    shows it is, as a source of biochar, far too expenswive. :-(

  10. David B. Benson says:

    Joe — I suggest you give up on CCS as a wedge until such time as it is shown to be feasible on a large enough scale. I doubt that is anytime soon.

  11. Brooks Bridges says:

    Ray Hobbs, of Arizona Public Service, was quoted in “Earth: The Sequel”, cracked me up saying something to the effect (loaned my copy out):

    “Digging holes to get coal out then digging holes to put CO2 back in – sounds like something your dog would think up.

  12. Carbon Capture and Storage [sequestration] has a fatal flaw: “the capacity to SAFELY trap and store the CO2.” There is no safe way to confine trillions of tons of CO2 at high pressure for ever. For Ever is a lot longer than the 100000 years that people want nuclear “waste” to be stored. The CO2 WILL leak out and suffocate millions of people. CO2 is denser than air and displaces air at ground level. CO2 has caused suffocation in Africa. See:

    “Cameroon’s ‘killer lake’ degassed”
    “More than 1,700 people died after deadly gases spewed from Lake Nyos 15 years ago. ”
    “In August 1986, the lake released a cloud of carbon dioxide which hugged the ground and flowed down surrounding valleys to suffocate thousands of local villagers and animals.

    The rare phenomenon also occurred at Lake Monoun in the same volcanic zone two years earlier killing 34 people. ”

    The CO2 storage facilities proposed by Big Coal, besides being prone to leak, will be a target for terrorists. A terrorist has only to cause a leak to kill more people than a nuclear bomb would. Leaks are very easy to cause in high pressure containers. CO2 storage is a silent disaster waiting to happen.

    IF a SAFE way to store CO2 forever is ever proven, it should be used to store CO2 from industrial processes for which we cannot find substitutes. We have a substitute for coal fired power plants, called nuclear power plants. Nuclear power is the safest source of electricity, bar none. Nuclear power is also the cheapest, bar none and the cleanest, bar none. Spent nuclear fuel should be recycled, not wasted. We have spent the last 60 years working on reactor safety. Coal contains uranium. Carbon capture and storage should be reserved for making concrete. The first step in making concrete is to heat limestone [calcium carbonate CaCO3] to drive off the CO2 leaving CaO Calcium Oxide. Carbon Capture and Storage should be reserved for the CO2 produced in this first step in concrete making and other industrial processes for which there are no substitutes. Remember, we have to lower our CO2 output by 90% by 2050 in spite of a growing population and growing prosperity in India and China.

    I have no financial or other interest in nuclear power and no connection with the nuclear power industry.

    Reference: “Power to Save the World; The Truth About Nuclear Energy” by Gwyneth Cravens, 2007 Finally a truthful book about nuclear power. Gwyneth Cravens is a former anti-nuclear activist.

    Reference: “Environmentalists for Nuclear Energy”, by B. Comby
    English edition, 2001, 345 pp. (soft cover), 38 Euros
    TNR Editions, 266 avenue Daumesnil, 75012 Paris, France;
    ISBN 2-914190-02-6
    order from: http://www.comby.org/livres/livresen.htm
    Read a review of this book by the American Health Physics Society at:

    Association of Environmentalists For Nuclear Energy [EFN]

  13. Tony Noerpel says:


    I agree with Vaclav Slim. CCS isn’t going to happen.

    One consideration I would like to add to this discussion is mountaintop removal mining in Appalachia.

    I could arrange for a overflight for you of the West Virginia coal fields.

    Nothing says “deeply discounting the future” like surface mining of coal. A social worker would likely point out the similarity to drug addiction.

    Best regards


    PS Brooks: I like that quote.

  14. vakibs says:

    ” Clean Coal ” ? What a joke.

    Let’s call a power plant a clean coal plant when it captures and sequesters all the CO2 + CO + NO + SO2 etc that are emitted.

    If it is not doing that, let’s call it expressly a “dirty coal” plant.

    About 99.999% of the coal fired power plants should then be called “dirty coal” plants. Just to distinguished from the mythical creature of clean-coal.

    Guess Obama is in support of “dirty coal” then. And so is McCain.

  15. There is no safe way to confine trillions of tons of CO2 at high pressure for ever…

    However, it can be stored for a quite sufficient number of megayears at atmospheric pressure.

    Moreover, this takes advantage of an additional entropy increase beyond that merely due to fuel CO2′s dispersal in the atmosphere.

  16. David B. Benson says:

    Actually there are ways to confine CO2 underground for millions of years. CO2 has a chemical affinity for carbon and other elements. Up to the limit this provides, the CO2 would have to be strongly disturbed before it would outgas.

    But olivene production is certainly more secure. Just now it is unclear whether this can be made to go faster and at what cost.

  17. David B. Benson says:

    Here is another scheme to capture CO2 directly from the air:


  18. David B. Benson says:

    That sfcheme claims ‘less than 100 kWh per tonne of CO2 captured”. Assume sequestration costs of $20 per tonne of CO2 and electricity at $0.10 per kWh.

    ($0.10×100 + $20)x(44/12) = $110 per tonne of carbon.

    Burying biochar is certainly less expensive than that.

  19. David B. Benson says:

    Actually, it is not certain:

    Logging: $10 — 20 per tonne
    Torrification & transportation: $90 per tonne
    Torrified wood at site $100 — 110 per tonne
    Burial: $10 — 12 per tonne
    $110 — 132 per tonne

    Spot price for comparable grade coal: 1.10x$135x(11/12.5) = $130.68 per tonne

  20. Sabin Colton says:

    I have also seen your Cato Unbound article on global warming and am appalled that you have bought into this mess so perfectly. Temperatures have been decreasing now for almost 10 years and very much so in the last 2 years, even while CO2 rises.

    There is no evidence that CO2 can cause or has caused warming in the past or present. The historical records from the ice age cores, which are good for trends and not absolute levels, and the last 200 years of real bottle data show that temperature is independent of CO2 and CO2 follows the lead of the temperature. Particularly, in the early 1800′s and in the 1940′s CO2 was significantly higher than now, about 440 ppm, and there was no warming at all. And in the ’40′s temperature declined while CO2 was high.

    The unfounded assumption that human activities have completely swamped out or over-ridden natural climate factors is the basis for the global warming scare. The very low activity and long periodic cycle of the latest solar cycle confirms why the Russians think we are fools. The 60-70 year Gleissberg cycle has been around for over 200 years and we have just turned the peak and are on our way down. New England lobstermen and N Pacific fishermen are also well aware of the cycles of temperature and can track the solar cycles by the relative abundance of different species or thei catch levels.

    So, get off the stupid we-must sequester-carbon routine. It is bogus. What we should be focusing on is being independent of foreign carbon and not shipping all of our money to other countries. Alternative energy sources are being developed anyhow, as the cost of fossil fuels will stimulate these efforts. Wind, geothermal, nuclear and solar energy going to thrive. Biodiesel, except for recycling, is a bust and should be abandoned immediately – it is stupid to burn food and drive up food prices on a wasteful and no gain strategy.

  21. David B. Benson says:

    Sabin Colton — I urge you to read “The Discovery of Global Warming” by Spencer Weart:


    to discover that CO2 is a global warming (so-called greenhuse) gas. Without it, the planet would be uninhabitably cold. With too much of it, it will be too warm for civilization.

  22. Jim Prall says:

    Sabin: for someone so horrendously ill-informed as to claim there is “no evidence that CO2 can cause or has caused warming in the past or present,” you are remarkably confident in your opinions on climate.

    I second the motion that you need to go back to basics and expose yourself to the very well established foundational science about the greenhouse effect. Weart’s online materials are an excellent overview.

  23. Joe Bftsplk says:

    re: your “four fundamental problems” that CCS has.

    1. Cost: The California study identified that in that state, coal fired power would cost 50% more with the addition of CCS, as I noted in my previous comment here. This is roughly in line with every authoritative study I’ve ever seen, i.e. the IPCC stated IGCC coal fired power with CCS would cost 25 – 49% more. (see: table 8.3a, IPCC Special Report on CCS September 2005). Thus this may be a fundamental problem but it appears that costs of this magnitude have always been described in the literature, and the literature is calling for rapid deployment.

    You say your four fundamentals are the reason interest is waning recently that CCS will be part of the climate solution.

    McKinsey (CCS: Assessing the Economics, Sept 2008) is stating lesser figures for the EU, citing costs between 30 – 50 Euros per tonne CO2 that would make mature CCS economical, i.e. $42 to $69 USD vrs your Guardian article quoting Royal Dutch Shell sources saying $100. $50 a tonne CO2 is said by Mark Jaccard (Sustainable Fossil Fuels, 2005) to be an addition of 3 cents per kWhr to the cost of electricity. The range between McKinsey and the California Public Utilities Commission studies just about duplicates the range found years ago by the IPCC on these reports are dated 2008.

    2. Timing. George Bush and his Department of Energy did not get FutureGen off the ground. This means something? I thought Bush was the guy who is proud of his record of nothing done on climate on his watch. If whatever Bush had been standing in the way of is something that is wanted, i.e. solar and other renewable power subsidies that only were put in as an earmark when Congress was desperate to enact TARP, Bush and/or Congress get attacked for inaction. On CCS, delay is cited as a problem the technology has, rather than Bush and/or Congress and/or DOE blocked it.

    “How can we expect to build hundreds of these plants when we’re having so much trouble building the first one?”.

    Here’s what Marc Levinson from JPMorgan Chase said at the CCS Expert Meeting on Finance held in NYC May 2008, summarized by the author of the Summary Report of that meeting: “CCS has no positive purpose it only has another purpose to avoid another cost (putting CO2 into the air) and currently this does not have a cost in the USA. If there are to be any projects in the USA… the companies will go first to the Government for funding, such as FutureGen”.

    Why would anyone expect otherwise, except of course for all the PR the coal industry has been putting out. Its one thing to be upset with Big Coal over their PR, but surely we can’t be expected to believe they’ve been actually trying to do something on CCS? When did an industry voluntarily choose to increase its costs 25 – 50% to install pollution abatement equipment, ever, anywhere?

    3. Scale. People seem to think that by describing the scale as equivalent to the oil transport system of today this makes CCS unfeasible. A better analysis would be to describe the estimated cost in $ per tonne. There are 5,000 km of CO2 transport pipelines, 90% in North America, injecting 50 million tonnes of CO2 annually as part of enhanced oil recovery projects, according to the IPCC, so the costs are well known. $ per tonne is the way chosen by the IPCC to describe scale. (see: Figure 8.1 from Chapter 8 Cost and economic potential, from their Special Report on CCS). $4 – $5 per tonne as long as its less than 200 km is the way Mark Jaccard interpreted this data. The larger the volume per year in a given location, the cheaper it is per tonne.

    Capture is the costly part of CCS, and people who magnify the transport cost should realize and/or acknowledge this.

    You also throw in high level nuclear waste as if it is a comparable problem. Do you really think so? The 50 million tonnes of CO2 that is already being injected is being done with no particular care as to whether it will stay in the field for all that long, and that fact should be a more major problem taken on by the environment groups in that case. They aren’t doing it. I suspect the storage problem becomes comparable to high level nuclear waste only once it is considered in the CCS context.

    Underseafloor storage has been identified by the NAS off the NW US coast for 100 years of US CO2. Bush has been cutting the NAS and all science research in the US back if inflation is taken into account. Nevertheless, scarce dollars are being allocated by the NAS into CCS.

    The MIT study goes into a discussion of the problems of storage, but concludes: “it appears that geological carbon sequestration is likely to be safe, effective, and competitive with many other options on an economic basis”.

    You characterize the MIT report as if they didn’t think CCS was viable.

    “We conclude that CO2 capture and sequestration (CCS) is the critical enabling technology that would reduce CO2 emissions significantly while also allowing coal to meet the world’s pressing energy needs.” (Executive Summary, page x) The MIT study says they want deployment speeded up.

    4. Trust: Could anyone trust Russia? Would anyone trust China? Well? I’m not sure what

    the point is. If no one trusted Russia enough to pay them to sequester their CO2 no one would pay, unless a preposterous international agreement was signed allowing scams like buying a certificate from Russia that meant nothing for use in meeting national emissions targets were allowed. If Russia decides to kill the planet because, when every other country has reduced its emissions to less than one tonne per person, Russia declares it has decided to move all its carbon from the ground into the atmosphere I would suggest to you this would become a foreign policy issue of the type that caused the Cold War. It isn’t that applicable to whether CCS policy in the US should be oriented to cause a more rapid deployment or not.

  24. shop says:

    I have no financial or other interest in nuclear power and no connection with the nuclear power industry.

  25. Asteroid Miner is right. There is no way to be sure that CO2 injected underground will stay put. If it leaks out, the consequences could be catastrophic for people overhead. The GAO debunked the “sequestration” idea at length in 2008, pointing out that getting community permission for transportation or storage of lethal gas will probably prove impossible. The volume involved is overwhelming. A 250 MW coal plant emits approximately a cubic kilometer (at STP) of CO2 per year, and that is not a big plant. Let’s hope the “stimulus package” will not be blown on a dry hole idea like “sequestration.”

  26. I like this article as you provide better information about under ground coal gasification that will capture the carbon emissions and pump them into underground…Great article.