Energy and Global Warming News for May 18th: Carbon capture is the longest of long shots

Carbon capture schemes an expensive step into the unknown

This article, from the Australian Sydney Morning Herald, illustrates precisely why betting on a carbon capture scheme to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is a recipe for disaster. The nonexistent technology must be developed, tested, and deployed on a large scale very rapidly. No one knows what it will cost or even if it is possible, making CCS the longest of long shots on which to pin humanity’s hopes.  See also “Is coal with carbon capture and storage a core climate solution?

The [Australian] Federal Government will spend $2 billion to build “industrial-scale” carbon capture and storage projects in Australia.

You would be better off just burying the money, from an environmental point of view, because many doubt the CCS technology will work. The best proponents can say is, it has to. But if it doesn’t, the money is worse than wasted, because the spending will have exacerbated the climate problem by justifying construction of new coal-fired power stations that burn for another 30 to 40 years.

The public could bear the ultimate liability if the technology fails, too, because the Offshore Petroleum and Greenhouse Gas Storage Act — the world’s most comprehensive, according to the Government, when it was passed last November — nicely shifts long-term liability (beyond 15 years) onto the Commonwealth.

I’m afraid it is a near certainty that the US public would have to swallow all of the liability associated with carbon capture and storage, too, in the unlikely event it becomes commonplace in this country.  After all, the public has taken on most of the liability associated with nuclear power, and it has far riskier outcomes see “How much of a subsidy is the Price-Anderson Nuclear Industry Indemnity Act?“).

The story continues:

We’ve seen what lengths James Hardie went to, to avoid its long-tail asbestos liabilities.

Insurance companies would not take on CCS risk at any price, as even the Government recognises. “Obtaining insurance [for CCS] is nigh on impossible because these are pilot schemes,” a spokesman for the Resources and Energy Minister, Martin Ferguson, told the Herald.

Private investment in CCS to date has been minuscule, which is why there is no commercial-scale facility in operation today.

The Australian Coal Association told the Herald that just $25 million had been spent by the end of last year from its Coal21 Fund – the industry’s main vehicle for funding CCS projects – although its members had made legally binding commitments to spend another $496 million. All up the fund expects to invest more than $1 billion over the next decade. The ACA says coalminers are not the prime polluters – it’s the coal-fired power stations – and they should not have to front the expense of CCS.

Ferguson’s office says coal companies had no incentive to invest in CCS under the Howard government. “The reason the coal industry is now starting to make significant contributions toward CCS “¦is because they now see the Federal Government is going to put a price on CO2 emissions, meaning they now have an economic incentive to invest in reducing emissions,” the spokesman said. Industry reaction to the budget commitment to CCS this week was that it was a mere “down payment” on the investment required – as Dick Wells, the chairman of the Commonwealth-appointed National Low Emissions Coal Council, told one newspaper – or “a bit like peeing in the ocean”, according to Keith Orchison, a columnist and former oil and gas industry lobbyist.

Tony Maher, national president of the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union, welcomed the government’s CCS spending this week. Two years ago, though, he told a public meeting in Newcastle that – unlike renewables where there was a clear need for Government funding for pilot projects – the coal mining industry was “a very wealthy global private sector industry and it does not need one dollar of public support.”

Maher also admitted scepticism about CCS would “only be overcome once it’s developed “¦ but there’s no reason to oppose the use of the private sector’s money to deploy those technologies. If it doesn’t work, you’ve only wasted Rio Tinto and BHP’s money, and I don’t see that there’s any need to cry about that. If it does work, it’s a tremendous achievement.”

Maher told G-BIZ this week there was no model for private funding for large-scale CCS projects and a hybrid model including public spending was needed.

So having prospered for decades under generous state-based royalty regimes, and having furtively lobbied against effective climate change policy, and having failed to manage the risk that climate change was actually occurring, and having demanded (and won) extensive concessions under the draft emissions trading scheme now that action is urgent, the coal lobby has the hide to demand the public fund the very CCS technology they have been unprepared to back themselves for the last 15 years. And the money needed? Whatever it takes. It’s a bottomless pit.

What do we get for our initial outlay? The Government expects its investment of $2 billion – generating a total investment of $6 billion after 2-for-1 matched funding from industry and state governments – will fund construction of between two and four new CCS-fitted coal-fired power stations generating between 250MW and 450MW each.

By comparison, the $1.2 billion investment in four flagship solar energy stations will generate 1000MW for about $3.6 billion after matched funds are invested, according to the Government’s announcement.

Simply put, CCS is hideously expensive. At Moomba – the biggest known onshore reservoir – it is technically feasible, I am told, and commercially attractive if the carbon price is about $80 a tonne. Well, we’re starting at $10 – so don’t hold your breath. That’s why, speaking on the budget on Lateline Business this week, Industry Fund Services’ chairman and Infrastructure Australia director, Garry Weaven, welcomed the Government’s clean energy expenditure but added he personally had “some question marks over carbon capture and storage as a technology bet”.

WorleyParsons is big in CCS and solar. Last year Worley proposed Australia’s largest solar power project to date, the Advanced Solar Thermal initiative. Backed by Rio Tinto, BHP Billiton, Woodside and others, the project would generate 250MW, for about $1 billion.

That project could qualify for funding under the Government’s solar flagship program, but it would be Worley’s clients that needed to apply. Peter Meurs, managing director of Worley’s sustainable business unit, told the Herald: “The fact is the world hasn’t done enough CCS yet to be very definitive on prices. We need to build more complete projects to get more definitive numbers. My feeling is the Government is doing the right thing, in helping the first large-scale CCS and solar projects get going in Australia.”

My feeling? The solar spending better count, because we’ll never see that CCS money again.

Energy and Commerce panel’s Dems seek united front to pass cap-and-trade bill

The House Energy and Commerce Committee is expected to pass legislation this week that would overhaul U.S. energy and global warming policy, assuming Democrats can stay united in the face of hundreds of GOP amendments.

Unveiled Friday, H.R. 2454 includes items long sought by environmentalists, including a cap-and-trade program to curb greenhouse gas emissions and a nationwide renewable electricity standard. The 932-page bill, also comes with the support of President Obama, who applauded the “historic agreement” after weeks of intense negotiations among Democrats representing vastly different regions and economic sectors….

Democrats have a 13-seat advantage on the committee, which means Waxman can lose six Democrats and still pass the bill by a single-vote margin absent any GOP defections. Waxman last week predicted passage in committee, and Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.) said he expected a party-line, 36-23 win….

Industry leaders have also been saying positive things about the House climate bill.

“We may be on the brink of something astounding in Washington,” Exelon CEO John Rowe said Friday during a speech at the National Press Club.

“We believe it is vital that this important legislation move out of committee and to the House floor for consideration this summer,” added Mayo Shattuck, the CEO of Constellation Energy, a Baltimore-based electric utility that produces more than 60 percent of its power via nuclear energy.

Even Jim Connaughton, the former chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality under President George W. Bush, called the bill a “highly credible first step.” He also praised the Democrats’ legislative process, which included significant concessions to Boucher and coal-state Democrats.

“It was a real sorting out of differences and bridging some gaps,” said Connaughton, who now manages energy and environmental issues as a Constellation executive vice president. “That bodes well in trying to bring some Republicans on board down the road. If they can keep that spirit of accommodation, that’s a good thing.”

That deserves a wow!  (see “Jim Connaughton, Jedi Master of Doubletalk“)

Officials from several other major electric utility companies said they would make public statements on the House bill as early as today, including Duke Energy Corp. and PSEG Inc….

The National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners applauded Democrats for sending 35 percent of the allowances for free to local distribution companies that service electric utilities. However, NARUC’s leaders said they had concerns about allowances going to merchant generators “who are not regulated and therefore have no obligation to share benefits with their consumers.”

I’m with NARUC:  No allowances to merchant coal!

U.S. Chamber sharpens critique of House energy bill

Major climate and energy legislation moving through the House Energy and Commerce Committee would create an expensive, complicated, regulation-heavy system that would not spur developing nations to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce charges in a letter to lawmakers.

Even so, the nation’s largest business association regards the cap-and-trade plan sponsored by Reps. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Edward Markey (D-Mass.) as the lesser of two evils. U.S. EPA regulation of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases under the Clean Air Act would set off a “catastrophic cascade” of rules and lawsuits, R. Bruce Josten, the chamber’s executive vice president for governmental affairs, warned in the letter sent yesterday.

All eyes on RES as Bingaman sprints to finish markup

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will attempt to finish marking up comprehensive energy legislation this week, including a renewable electricity standard, if Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) and panel members can work out an agreement by Thursday.

Tomorrow, the committee will mark up provisions on nuclear waste, cybersecurity and a refined petroleum products reserve. Thursday, the panel could take up the renewable electricity standard, or RES, as well as remaining provisions on building efficiency, oil and gas development on public lands, carbon capture and sequestration, and energy market regulations.

From a Theory to a Consensus on Emissions

Many members of Congress remember the painful political lesson of 1993, when President Bill Clinton proposed a tax on all forms of energy, a plan that went down to defeat and helped take the Democratic majority in Congress down with it a year later.

Cap and trade, by contrast, is almost perfectly designed for the buying and selling of political support through the granting of valuable emissions permits to favor specific industries and even specific Congressional districts. That is precisely what is taking place now in the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which has used such concessions to patch together a Democratic majority to pass a far-reaching bill to regulate carbon emissions through a cap-and-trade plan.

Smokey Joe Barton Bets He Will Have Henry Waxman ‘By The Nuts’

Barton claimed that Waxman “doesn’t have the votes to pass the bill”:

“He has got a chance to get the votes. If you are familiar with Texas Hold ’em poker, he doesn’t have the nuts. It is not a done deal. Nor do I. . . We will see which has the other by the nuts next week.”

Study Finds Reduction in Turbine Bat Kills

Wind turbines kill large numbers of bats each year “” a public relations quandary for wind energy companies. But the results of a new study show that sacrificing some nocturnal spin time can save the lives of bats, and perhaps boost the industry’s image as well.

The study was conducted by researchers from the Bats and Wind Energy Cooperative at the 34.5 megawatt Casselman Wind Power Project in Pennsylvania. The researchers found that turning turbines off at night during low-wind periods when bats are most active reduced mortality rates – by about 70 percent on average.

NY wants to install 100 MW of solar power

New York wants to install up to 100 megawatts of solar photovoltaic power at public and private facilities to help meet the state’s aggressive renewable mandate, the governor said in a release Friday.

Specifically, the state-owned power generating company, the New York Power Authority (NYPA), will seek parties interested in entering into public-private partnerships with the state to install the solar arrays.

The solar power generated by the arrays would power about 15,000 homes, according to NYPA.

Biomass As A Source Of Raw Materials

For the protection of the environment, and because of the limited amount of fossil fuels available, renewable resources, such as specially cultivated plants, wood scraps, and other plant waste, are becoming the focus of considerable attention.

Processes such as pyrolysis or liquefaction allow the conversion of biomass into bio-oil, a highly promising renewable source of energy. A team of German and Chinese scientists led by Johannes A. Lercher at the Technical University of Munich has now developed a new catalytic process to convert components of bio-oil directly into alkanes and methanol. As reported in the journal Angewandte Chemie, the process is based on a “one-pot” reaction catalyzed by a precious metal on a carbon support combined with an inorganic acid.

Compiled by Max Luken and Carlin Rosengarten

12 Responses to Energy and Global Warming News for May 18th: Carbon capture is the longest of long shots

  1. Dean says:

    Regarding the whole CCS issue, it really demonstrates the most key aspect of the impacts of climate change. It isn’t the technology or the ecology, as important as all that is, but how the political structure responds. For society to mitigate, the polity must adapt, and most aren’t that capable of adaptation. Even if we have adequate technology, that doesn’t mean it will be applied. The cap and trade bill is another example of how politics interferes.

    Our technologies and lifestyles aren’t the only things that evolved with the current climate, our political structure – how we apportion power and control and access to the resources to live, also evolved with this climate.

  2. Lou Grinzo says:

    CCS seems like a perfect example of that line from Apollo 13 (quoting from memory): “You’re telling me what you need, I’m telling you what you have.”

    Those with a financial interest in keeping coal alive, even if in a modified form, plus those who want to “fix the global warming problem” without resorting to “too much” political or public policy change are grasping at CCS as a miracle techno-fix. CCS will not die a clean, quick, or cheap death. It will become the GW equivalent of corn ethanol in the energy realm, a colossally stupid idea that hangs on far too long.

    Maybe we need a Hall of Dumb Ideas: hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, CCS, corn ethanol, CNG vehicles (25% reduction in CO2 emissions doesn’t nearly justify the infrastructure conversion costs), doing anything new with coal other than leaving it in the ground, etc.

  3. Rick Covert says:


    Maybe Joe needs to write another book called, “The Hype about Carbon (capture and sequestration)” ;)

  4. Bob Wright says:

    Isn’t this one of the issues Greenpeace has with Waxman-Markey? Is it a “sacred cow” with Mr. Obama and company, or some sort of (expensive)bone to throw to big coal?

  5. James Newberry says:

    Keep an eye on the Bingaman bill. It may define atomic fission and coal as clean and allow a new taxpayer supported money line from the US Treasury for some kind of Clean Energy Bank. Definitions are key and the million dollar lobbyists representing billion dollar corporate interests may exploit this political opportunity.

  6. paulm says:

    We hear of secret talks with the US & China on CC and that mass migration due to climate change has already begun…

    Huang is one of millions of Chinese eco-refugees who have been resettled because their home environments degraded to the point where they were no longer fit for human habitation. The government says more than 150 million people will have to be moved. Water shortages exacerbated by over-irrigation and climate change are the main cause.

  7. David B. Benson says:

    Well, I know how to do CCS. Start with any wet biomass and place in anaerobic digester to produce biogas. Separate biogas into absolutely clean methane (which goes into the natural gas pipelines) and acid gas. The acid gas is mostly carbon dioxide and ready for sequestration as is, methinks.

    To do this on a meaningful scale, we’ll need lots of desert to grow the biomass. Just add water and fertilizer.

    Oh wait, we’ll need to desalinate and pump all that water. Use the methane (maybe also wind) for powering that.

  8. Leland Palmer says:

    I disagree, in general, mainly because I think that in order to avoid extinction as a species and perhaps as a biosphere, we have to shift massive amounts of carbon back underground, by coupling biomass fuel sources with CCS.

    If the choice were CCS or extinction, which would you choose?

    CCS may result in environmental side effects. None of those side effects can seriously be compared to the direct effects of runaway global warming, which I believe could exterminate all life on earth in a century or so. It’s hard to predict what will happen if a methane catastrophe is ignited, but the direct effects of runaway global heating will likely make the environmental side effects of CCS look like heaven.

    Having said that, I don’t like CCS either. I just don’t see any practical alternative, right now. Our biosphere has been poisoned by half a trillion tons or so of carbon. I believe personally that we cannot solve this problem without putting carbon back in the ground, using carbon negative energy ideas.

    Needless to say, digging fossil fuels out of the ground at this point is just plain crazy, IMO.

    Risks short of extinction are perfectly acceptable when dealing with this sort of situation, IMO.

    CCS has been used routinely and successfully on small and medium scales for decades, and is has been routinely used for secondary oil recovery from oil fields for decades, without apparent catastrophic side effects. Several oil fields in Canada are doing this, as well as many oil fields in Texas. Ultimate storage capacity in deep saline aquifers is something like 10 trillion tons of carbon, more than enough to put our half trillion tons of carbon back underground. Depleted natural gas fields offer ready sequestration sites, known to be naturally occurring gas traps.

    Carbon negative energy ideas are the only way to keep the whole system from tipping over, at this point, IMO. I think we are already past the global tipping point. Only by applying truly massive negative feedback and transferring literally billions of tons of carbon back underground can we keep the Earth’s climate system from tipping over.

    James Lovelock pointed out something like 30 years ago that the Earth’s climate system is far from thermodynamic equilibrium. If it were at thermodynamic equilibrium, it would resemble the surface of Venus, with surface temperatures of hundreds of degrees C, no oxygen in the atmosphere, and huge amounts of carbon in the atmosphere. Our Earth’s atmosphere is a huge thermodynamic anomaly, and the sort of changes life has wrought on our atmosphere are potentially detectable from astronomical distances, so that potentially we could detect similar differences in planets around nearby stars, by spectroscopy. Lovelock believes that this huge thermodynamic anomaly is actively maintained by life, mostly bacterial life. That does seem like the only reasonable explanation. By introducing carbon into the Earth’s climate thousands of times faster than has ever happened before, we are apparently tipping over this self-regulating climate system.

    Repeating, if the choice were CCS or extinction, which would you choose?

    I believe these are the choices, and I choose CCS, at least for right now, while suggesting research into carbon sequestration by mineral carbonation to solve the long term problem of how we get half a trillion tons of carbon back out of the atmosphere and oceans.

    We need to seize the coal fired power plants, and convert them by fiat into carbon negative power plants, combining for example biocarbon fuel, oxyfuel combustion, a HiPPS topping cycle, and CCS. This would result in carbon negative biocarbon power plants that are as thermally efficient as existing coal plants. If this were done worldwide, immediately, we could be roughly carbon neutral in perhaps five years, and go carbon negative thereafter. We could return to preindustrial levels of CO2 by the end of the century in this way, even if significant positive feedback effects occur.

    Looking at the problem quantitatively, the biggest hype is in hoping that lifestyle changes will significantly affect the core problem of these coal fired power plants pumping out 6 billion tons of carbon per year worldwide into our atmosphere, and other uses of fossil fuels pumping out a similar amount of carbon.

    The second biggest quantitative hype at this point is thinking that carbon neutral or slightly carbon positive energy sources like wind or solar can do more than delay a catastrophe, at this point.

    Our traditional carbon sinks are saturated, and are starting to evolve carbon.

    Without carbon negative energy, we’re toast.

  9. jorleh says:

    We know CCS to be the last rescue of the black criminals. To put 15 cubic kilometres compressed CO2 somewhere every year? Only perfect idiots can be without any maths to think 10% of that would ever be possible. Perhaps 1% for a show. Attack the criminal CCS humbug where ever you see it advocated.

  10. Leland Palmer says:

    Hi jorleh

    We know CCS to be the last rescue of the black criminals. To put 15 cubic kilometres compressed CO2 somewhere every year? Only perfect idiots can be without any maths to think 10% of that would ever be possible. Perhaps 1% for a show. Attack the criminal CCS humbug where ever you see it advocated.

    Think about it.

    15 cubic kilometers of compressed CO2?

    The total land surface area of the planet is 148,940,000 square kilometers.

    The total accessible potential storage volume is therefore something like half a billion cubic kilometers, if you go down a maximum of 3 or 4 kilometers.

    Supercritical CO2 would spread out, no doubt about it, but 15 cubic kilometers is less than a millionth of one percent of the available storage volume – under land.

    Of course, the best place for compressed CO2 might be under the continental shelves, which increases the potential storage volume still further.

    The IPCC 2007 report (put together by idiots, I guess) was a lot more upbeat:

    Will physical leakage of stored CO2 compromise
    CCS as a climate change mitigation option?

    25. Observations from engineered and natural analogues
    as well as models suggest that the fraction retained
    in appropriately selected and managed geological
    reservoirs is very likely to exceed 99% over 100 years
    and is likely to exceed 99% over 1,000 years.

    For well-selected, designed and managed geological
    storage sites, the vast majority of the CO2 will gradually be
    immobilized by various trapping mechanisms and, in that
    case, could be retained for up to millions of years. Because of
    these mechanisms, storage could become more secure over
    longer timeframes (Sections 1.6.3, 5.2.2,, Table 5.5).

    27. In the case of mineral carbonation, the CO2 stored would
    not be released to the atmosphere (Sections 1.6.3, 7.2.7).

    The arguments against CCS are mostly emotional, economic, and skeptical ones, not arguments based on mathematics. The math is quite favorable.

    Long term, CO2 storage as a carbonate would be better.

    But we are out of time, IMO.

    Carbon negative energy ideas are not perfect, but they do allow us to turn the corner on runaway warming, even in worst case scenarios.

    Solving the runaway warming problem makes all other solutions in the future possible, because it avoids our extinction.

  11. CR12 says:

    I feel there are ways to appease even economist regarding green initiatives. check out to see their business structure; operating on a triple bottom line while striving for sustainability. they offer interest rate reductions for investing in green products. Check out there website to see how this is NOT applied by Government incentives but rather true economic logic.

  12. Ric Rotondo says:

    The use of carbon dioxide to grow oil producing algae can be profitable using the patented US Greenergy approach that increases the amount of oil produced by the by 355%. The resultant biomass is used to produce natural gas.