Sunday, June 14, 2009

Clean Coal Is Back on the Drawing Board

I suspected coal fired power would be a dead-end over the next four years. According to not so much. In fact the Bush Administration's start towards "clean coal" via Carbon Sequestration is being continued with a future-gen CO2 capture project.

Just to get my enviro-street-cred 'I told you so' in as early as possible. How much you want to bet there is a major MTBE type problem with Carbon Sequestration that the brilliant engineers, chemists, and policy wonks failed to see? I just see deep well injection of anything and expect either sci-fi style earth quakes or Green Peace fundraising aquifers being effected.

I don't have any scientific basis for this. Just experience and a gut feeling. Critics please remember that I'm usually on the other side of this tech debate. Regardless, something about CO2 Sequestration just doesn't fit right.

Scientific America has a good article which does a great job of explaining the subject simply and in depth. What separates this deep injection method is the capture and mineralization (note: I don't know if that's even a real word) of the CO2 with surrounding geology.

A snippet from the article that gets right to the point:

The storage seems to be long term as well; the sequestered gas doesn’t just sit in the rock waiting for a chance to escape. Over decades it dissolves into the brine that shares the pore space or, over longer time spans, forms carbonate minerals with the surrounding rock, Hovorka notes. In fact, when she tried to pump CO2 out of her test site using natural gas extraction techniques, the attempts failed completely.

It's is an interesting science. But I see the more promising technologies being an approach to use the CO2 productively as a resource. I don't see dumping CO2 underground ever surviving as a long term strategy.

The activists and policy people I've met would fight this approach as hard and long as any other industry approach to simplify a reduction in pollution. Capture or dilution rarely are acceptable to true environmentalists. The only solution they accept (and the only one usually settled upon) is ultimately less pollution period.

This is a short term approach that no-doubt will work for petroleum and natural gas producers. Beyond those with capital experience in drilling deep holes though I don't see this as anything close to an acceptable solution for CO2 reduction by 2050 (the target year I hear policy wonks pointing to).

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