Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS): The Rodney Dangerfield of mitigation technologies?
The report of the U.S. Carbon Capture and Storage Interagency Task Force was released August 12. This Task Force, jointly chaired by the DOE and EPA and involving a multitude of agencies was set up by order of President Obama in February. It was directed to come up with "a proposed plan to overcome the barriers to the widespread, cost-effective deployment of CCS within 10 years".
Stephen Chu had previously announced that DOE would be acting along these lines in a September editorial in Science. This Task Force report sketches out more of the plan. If acted on, it will broaden and deepen US commitment to developing this technology. Obama directed the Task Force to propose a plan to bring “5 to 10 commercial demonstration projects online by 2016”. Chu explained in his Science editorial why he believes CCS is necessary: "This is an aggressive goal, but the climate problem compels us to act with fierce urgency". Obama: "We have made the largest Government investment in carbon capture and storage of any nation in history, and these investments are being matched by private capital". According to the EPA, on top of the $3.4 billion in Recovery Act money already committed, industry is expected to put up $7 billion.
Now it came as a surprise to some who saw them campaign over the years to force so many other industries to develop new technology to reduce the impact of their operations on the biosphere, but CCS gets no respect from environmentalists. Al Gore denounced CCS in his NYTimes op-ed of November 2008 as “too imaginary to make a difference”. Greenpeace calls CCS a “dangerous distraction”. Carl Pope and Michael Brune, the old and new face of the Sierra Club, both allied with Gore in the “there is no such thing as clean coal” campaign.
Dangerfield was never kicked around like this.
The coal industry has acted as if it could care less if CCS is developed, while pretending it had already developed it. They touted CCS for years in an all talk and no build PR campaign that did not produce one single full scale CCS electricity generating station anywhere in the world. The PR went as far as attempting to convince the world such a plant was being built (FutureGen, nicknamed NeverGen, was a project started, then cancelled, by Bush), and went over the top with the infamous "clean coal carollers", an ad campaign featuring singing lumps of coal that had to be withdrawn days after its debut amid hoots of media laughter.
The serious money the industry has put into climate change so far has been aimed at stopping or delaying any effort to put a price on carbon emissions so they would never have to use CCS. Any cost specific to their industry will reduce their market share.
Although greens and industry types seem to have had no respect for CCS, scientists trying to show civilization that it can cope with climate change, should it ever decide to accept this mission, take a different view. As the 2005 IPCC Special Report on CCS noted: "with greenhouse gas emission limits imposed, many integrated assessment analyses indicate that CCS systems will be competitive with other large-scale mitigation options, such as nuclear power and renewable energy technologies".
Chu has said in the past that he believes wind and solar power can provide no more than 20 – 30% of US energy. This is because until and unless storage technologies that really don’t exist now are discovered, or an expensive national smart grid that nuclear and coal don't need is built, the fact is that solar and wind are intermittent. Although DOE is pouring money into anything it feels is promising there are no guarantees. Chu wants to make sure CCS will be ready to deploy off the shelf when the political situation changes and CO2 emission limits are imposed.
Unlike cost effective storage technology that would suddenly make solar and wind capable of taking over US electrical generation entirely, and contrary to what green types want everyone to believe, CCS technology exists except for proving that assembling all its pieces into full scale implementation will fulfill the demonstrated promise at pilot scale.
However, as this Task Force report noted: "Widescale cost-effective deployment of CCS will occur only when driven by a policy designed to reduce GHG emissions", and “CCS may play an important role in helping the United States meet carbon reduction targets".
Other statements in this Task Force report that seemed interesting:
- The US CCS effort is big: "Ten large scale power plant and industrial plant demonstration projects are currently being pursued by DOE and will provide information and experience regarding operations at scale"
- Its not big enough: compared with the combined commitment made by the US and the rest of the G8 nations at their 2008 meeting in Japan that 20 full scale CCS projects would have been launched by 2010, i.e. now: "most projects require significant work... to be considered launched at this time".
- Regarding transport of CO2 once it is captured: "3,600 miles of CO2 dedicated pipelines exist in the United States, carrying approximately 50 million tonnes to enhanced oil recovery projects" each year. "No technology barriers have been identified that would hinder the development of additional transport capacity".
- Regarding how to store all this CO2: "areas of the United States with appropriate geology could theoretically provide storage potential for more than 3,000 billion tonnes of CO2 - large enough to store the amount of CO2 emissions currently emitted from the entire coal fired electricity sector in the United States for over 1.000 years".
- But will the gas stay underground?: "risk is expected to increase during the injection phase of a storage project but decline over time as the system equilibrates and multiple trapping systems engage", and "Storage security is expected to increase over time".
- what's the plan if CO2 escapes? "It is expected that, should these impacts arise, they can be detected through appropriate monitoring, allowing consequences to be mitigated through readily available technology."
- no showstoppers on storage: "Open-ended Federal indemnification should not be used to address long-term liabilities associated with CO2 storage".
- Won't the Chinese just kill the planet anyway? Isn't that what every red blooded Chinese citizen is trained from birth to do to the United States?: "The United States, along with several other developed countries, is providing technical assistance to emerging economies (China, in particular)"
David Lewis: I made pottery in rural Canada for a number of years starting in the early 1970s. When scientists confirmed what the Antarctic ozone hole was in 1987 I felt a call to understand what was happening to the atmosphere. I was a delegate to the Toronto Changing Atmosphere conference of 1988. I told the scientists I met there that I was an artist, but I could read their journals, ...
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