Capturing and storing carbon

older coal power plantWhich of these images is the most common mental picture of a coal fired power plant?

Opponents of coal power usually post images that smother the air and rampage the earth.

All of which is true, yet recent proposals show a very different picture – sponsored by huge if not always credible institutions such as the US DOE.

FutureGen power plantFutureGen, scheduled to begin operating in 2013, is a US$1-billion “clean-coal” prototype, bound for either Illinois or Texas, the finalist states.

FutureGen’s power plant will be the first coal-fired operation ever designed to produce electricity and hydrogen with virtually no harmful pollution.

And why pollution?

The Future of Coal – a report that was released this week by the Laboratory for Energy and the Environment at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology predicts that coal consumption in the US will grow significantly by mid-century. “In virtually any scenario that we’ve explored, coal use increases – even when you place a substantial price on CO2 emissions.” Unlike oil, which is expensive and concentrated in geopolitically problematic locations, coal is plentiful in those countries where future demand is likely to be greatest, notably the US, China and India. [story at New Scientist Environment]

Given that coal generates the most CO2 per unit energy of any fossil fuel, the implications for climate change are serious.

Graphic of carbon sequestration

MIT is recommending a massive scale-up of technologies that capture the carbon released by coal burning and sequester it underground in porous rock formations.

Others promote what they say is a technologically simple method to grind coke and pipeline it to salt mines.

Several urban governments are considering pipelines that will force carbon dioxide into empty underground pockets around their cities.

Alberta is discussing a pipeline to move carbon dioxide from the oilsands and store it underground at a cost as much as $5 billion.

The Sierra Club has said carbon sequestration only encourages dependence on fossil fuels. [wiki on artificially
capturing and storing carbon

Scripps researchers found large amounts of carbon particulates from Asia over the West Coast of the United States.

More than three-quarters of the particulate pollution known as black carbon transported at high altitudes over the West Coast during spring is from Asian sources, according to a research team led by Professor V. Ramanathan at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego.

Future Pundit posits that with the Chinese putting 1 to 2 new coal burning electric plants online per week this problem of soot from Asia is going to get much worse before it gets better.

In the book, a cheese-loving king’s castle is infested with mice. So the king brings in cats to get rid of the mice. Then the castle’s overrun with cats, so he brings in dogs to get rid of them, then lions to get rid of the dogs, elephants to get rid of the lions, and finally, mice to get rid of the elephants.

That scenario in “The King, the Mice and the Cheese,” by Nancy and Eric Gurney, should give scientists pause before taking extreme measures to mess with Mother Nature, says Weaver of the University of Victoria.

However, in recent months, several scientists are considering doing just that.

They are exploring global warming solutions that sound wholly far-fetched, including giant artificial “trees” that would filter carbon dioxide out of the air, a bizarre “solar shade” created by a trillion flying saucers that lower Earth’s temperature, and a scheme that mimics a volcano by spewing light-reflecting sulfates high in the sky.