Sen. Corker on CCS: “It seems like when donkeys fly they’ll do it on a commercial basis. Secondly, a lot of water is used in that process.”

Political question of the day: Is Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) a realist who believes in serious climate action — or is he in fact just trying to undermine congressional action?

I gave him the benefit of the doubt last time. I said his well justified trashing of rip-offsets –“I am also opposed to the inclusion of international and domestic offsets” — wasn’t just a way to set up the climate bill for failure or at least for him to vote against the final bill (see “Sen. Corker agrees with Climate Progress on rip-offsets“)

But now he comes out swinging against coal with carbon capture and storage. Yes, he advances a realistic view (see “Is coal with carbon capture and storage a core climate solution?“), but this technology is the darling of all moderates and conservatives who might conceivably vote for a climate bill. Is he badmouthing it to spook them?

Judge for yourself. E&E Daily has the details on what Corker said and on yet another of the many Achilles heels of CCS:

Efforts to capture or reduce carbon dioxide emissions could cause a spike in water consumption, experts told the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee yesterday, voicing their support for legislation that would analyze water usage in energy projects.

S. 531, sponsored by Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) and ranking member Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), calls for a host of new assessments of the water usage in power, transportation fuels and other sectors. The bill also seeks to study the amount of energy consumed in water storage and delivery systems.

Carl Bauer, director of the Energy Department’s National Energy Technology Laboratory, warned that carbon capture technology in particular could have drastic implications for freshwater resources if it is not improved. He emphasized the need for additional research to advance carbon capture and water management technologies.

Lawmakers also expressed concern about the current water costs of carbon capture technology. “We can develop all the zero-carbon technologies we want, but without a reliable supply of water, they amount to nothing,” Murkowski said.

“I’m a skeptic,” said Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.). “It seems like when donkeys fly they’ll do it on a commercial basis. Secondly, a lot of water is used in that process.”

Other efforts to reduce carbon emissions also present problems. Building additional nuclear power plants could increase water consumption, Bauer said, noting that they consume 40 percent more water than equivalent contemporary subcritical pulverized coal technology. Water cooling technology options can help decrease water use at nuclear plants, but often increase power costs.

On the other hand, adding near-commercial carbon capture and storage technology to pulverized coal plants in order to capture 90 percent of carbon emissions would more than double the amount of water used per unit of electricity generated.

“Advanced technology coal plants offer the opportunity to significantly reduce the consumptive footprint, with integrated gasification combined cycle technologies,” Bauer said.

Energy providers pushed for federal help and research dollars, suggesting Congress establish incentives that would decrease the capital cost of installing water management equipment.

Stephen Bolze, president and CEO of power and water for GE Energy, noted that industry is responsible for 45 percent of all water withdrawals in the United States and said he expects to see the United States’ energy demand double and water demand triple over the next 20 years. Faced with declining resources, he said industry, the federal government and public entities should work together to make reusing water cost-effective.

Michael Webber, associate director of the Center for International Energy & Environmental Policy at the University of Texas-Austin, and other witnesses endorsed the call for a national water census conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey that would take stock of the United States’ water resources. Provisions for a water census are contained in H.R. 1145, introduced by House Science and Technology Chairman Bart Gordon (D-Tenn.).

Corker expressed strong support for a census, saying it would help cities and states as they worked toward a sustainable future.

So, does Corker want serious congressional action — or not?

Certainly I think everyone should be a realist about CCS — but then I spend a lot of time explaining why we don’t need CCS to meet near term or even medium-term targets (see “If Obama stops dirty coal, as he must, what will replace it? Part 1” and “Part 2: An intro to biomass cofiring“). I doubt Corker shares that view.

And yes, in a globally warmed world where fresh water becomes an increasingly scarce commodity, the last thing we want to do is design our energy system around water intensive processes:

18 Responses to Sen. Corker on CCS: “It seems like when donkeys fly they’ll do it on a commercial basis. Secondly, a lot of water is used in that process.”

  1. Kevin says:

    Does anyone have good info on NET water usage for PC/IGCC/CCGT with and without CCS and for nuclear? I always see this claim that plants suck up massive amounts of water, but I know that nuclear just needs it for cooling and kicks most of it right out of the back of the plant, so net usage is relatively low. (I’m sure there are some system losses in there for evaporation through leaks, but I can’t imagine it’s much more than 1-2% for a plant without evaporative cooling towers.)

    I’m assuming that IGCC is using water as the source for hydrogen, but wouldn’t the other just be using water for cooling and have low net usage?

  2. glen says:

    I would also like more info on post-combustion CCS for pulverized coal plants.
    By more info I mean; water usage for non-CSS vs with CSS

  3. Jay Alt says:

    It is not clear to me what the dreaded water costs for CCS they might be referring to.

    The FutureGen proposal uses effluent from the wastewater treatment plant of a small town.

    It isn’t even sited on a river or lake.

  4. john murray says:

    iwould not trust sen corker further than i could throw a tennesse walking horse

  5. Harrier says:

    Slightly related, have there been any more reports about the supposition that the US actually has a lot less coal reserves than everyone has assumed? I remember reading something to that effect, and I’ve been searching for information about it just now.

  6. Kevin says:

    Answered part of my own question. A 2006 report to Congress from DoE shows withdrawals (net usage) of 300 gal/MWh (electric) of 300-480 for conventional fossil steam and 400-720 for nuclear. The lower numbers are for open loop systems using a natural body of water; higher numbers are for closed loop systems using towers or cooling ponds. (These include increased evaporation rates downstream from putting out higher temperature water.) CCGT is 100-180, mainly because of higher efficiency, and coal IGCC is 330. Coal IGCC gets higher efficiency from combined cycle, lower because of the gasification process, and it uses 130 gal/MWh for the hydrogen to convert coal to methanol, so it comes out comparable to conventional steam.

    Anyone citing the massive 20,000-60,000 numbers is trying to pull the wool over your eyes. They need that much water available to operate, but they’re not removing that much water from the natural water cycle because the vast majority is returned. It’s like saying that all of the water you shower with is being removed from your local river. Most of it goes back the treatment plant and back into the river, with some system losses along the way, unlike the water that goes on your lawn. (Areas that draw water from aquifers are a different story, since most of the waste water doesn’t get treated and pumped back into the aquifer.)

    All that said, the withdrawal requirements are an issue when the plants are in drought areas. If local streamflow drops below the inlet requirements, the plant has to reduce power or shut down because of lack of cooling water.

  7. Kevin says:

    Couldn’t find anything on CCS requirements, though, so if anyone knows about increased requirements for it, please post. (CCS drops the efficiency of the plant, so that’ll have a big effect, but I don’t think it uses additional water in the CO2 capture process.)

  8. Harrier says:

    Scratch my earlier question, I just found Joe’s posts on peak coal.

  9. Kevin

    A nuclear plant in Alabama had to be shut down briefly last year because of the drought in that area.

  10. söve says:

    The lower numbers are for open loop systems using a natural body of water; higher numbers are for closed loop systems using towers or cooling ponds.

  11. mauri pelto says:

    Wow this from a politician downstream of Kentucky, a major coal state. TN more of a nuclear state. Does this indicate trying to keep costs down for coal or an interest in saving water? I do not see climate as entering into the equation for the skepticism of Corker and locally water saving is the issue for TN.

  12. Bob Wright says:

    Would the donkeys be flying first class or coach? Wouldn’t be surprised if there hasn’t been an occasional donkey on Aeroflot aleady. They’ll just have to settle for one of those little bottles of Coke.

    Interesting Article:

    The guy might be right if they just use an amine in water solution to capture CO2 in the stack.

  13. It is good that S.531 is realistic about the impact of power generation on water supplies. No one can reasonably deny that there is now a world water crisis.

    Cooling water flowing through a thermal power plant is hot when returned to the environment, and concerns about thermal pollution is why a system with cooling towers is preferred. However, evaporative cooling of the recycled cooling water in the cooling towers is a big waste. We need an improvement on turbine exhaust steam condensing, to reduce water waste at thermal power plants.

    Water concerns may also dampen enthusiasm for biofuels. As the UN report pointed out, biofuels may help solve the energy crisis, but they aggravate the growing water crisis.

  14. Thank god they’re talking about energy vs. water.

    This is a potentially HUGE issue and is, by itself, reason enough to abandon all hope of CCS, Nuclear and any other power sources that require large amounts of water. People forget that one of the reasons Atlanta almost ran out of water was that downstream, there was a nuke plant that couldn’t see its water supply (a river) fall below a certain level or it would be forced to shut down.

    Scientific American did a fantastic article on the energy vs. water issue that I highly recommend:

    “Water is needed to generate energy. Energy is needed to deliver water. Both resources are limiting the other—and both may be running short. Is there a way out?”

  15. glen says:

    I found a good, credible source for my question(2nd response on this blog).

    pdf pages 34 and 35

  16. Sam says:

    A couple of comments. First, thanks to Christopher Mims for that SciAm article–I just read it and also highly recommend it. Second, Boltze of GE is quoted in the E&E article as saying “that industry is responsible for 45 percent of all water withdrawals in the United States” and that he expects “water demand triple over the next 20 years.”

    I have never seen any estimates that high for industry withdrawals. The stats I have seen are more like 20-25%–agriculture is by far the largest user of water (60-80%, depending on the area and country). But more important, Peter Gleick has noted in several places that overall water withdrawals peaked around 1980, and have been falling ever since. See, for one convenient example, a talk he gave in Berkeley a few years ago: “In fact, in California between 1980 and 1990 industrial water use went down 30% in total terms. Industrial GNP went up 30% and that was due in part to getting better at what we do, and in part to changing what we do” and “We’re using less water in the U.S. today then we used 15 years ago, which was a front page New York Times story when this data came out about a year ago” (the talk was given in 2000).

    The point being that if we use some creativity, there are ways of using less water for almost everything. We need to adopt what Gleick and Lovins call the “soft path” mentality for both water and energy use. See (subs req) or, which has links to a chapter Gleick wrote in one of his books on water:

  17. Chris says:

    Do to the lack of good analysis I found on the web comparing Carbon Capture to other forms of CO2 mitigation, I had to do my own:

    Based on my preliminary findings, I’ve found that the money spent on CCS could actually spent on much better CO2 mitigating technologies. We need to seriously analyze whether CCS is a waste of money or not! I’m not saying we dont need to reduce CO2 output, I’m just saying there is probably a BETTER WAY.

  18. ben says:

    I am looking for info on CCS & cooling water requirements, rights and regulations.
    -What are the water requirements by the a typical coal fired power plant?
    -Where is this water from? Does it compete with other uses (agriculture / society use) ?
    -How is it disposed once it s been used?
    -What s the water rights/regulation/legal framework (region oriented but still) for this?

    If any info email me at