We’re not quite as dubious about clean coal, or carbon capture and sequestration, as are many nuclear advocates, because while we acknowledge the significant technical challenges, we can’t escape believing that the coal industry is powerfully motivated to find a solution that will not drive it into a, shall we say, pit.
But we are not clear of dubiousness: because we also believe that time is a cruel mistress.
The EPA’s intention to lay the ground work for regulating carbon dioxide makes the clock tick a little faster for the coal industry. So does a looming cap-and-trade regime. So does the upcoming climate change conference in Copenhagen, likely to produce emission reduction guidelines more stringent than Kyoto. So, though we enjoy the ThisIsReality.org ads as well as anyone – they’re funny – we find ourselves in sympathy with the energy source that so often gets lumped together in policy discussion – fairly or unfairly, your choice - with nuclear energy.
So we were heartened – somewhat – by this story out of Germany:
A new process for scrubbing carbon dioxide (CO2) from power-plant exhaust gases could make carbon capture a more affordable option for the energy industry. The process, which is to be tested in Germany this summer, promises to remove up to 90 percent of CO2 from flue gases while using far less energy than other methods.
When people use big numbers like 90 percent – we heard a politician recently mention that 93 percent of mortgages are in good shape as an argument to let the rest fail – we use the voice recognition test. If you speak, say, this post into your computer and your voice recognition software gets 90 percent of the words correct, that’s still a heck of a lot of mispelled words. You might just want to learn to type faster.
So why not more than 90%?
In theory, 99.9 percent of the CO2 emitted from a power plant could be removed using the process, but Jockenhoevel says that 90 percent is the economic optimum in terms of infrastructure costs and how much energy is required: "The last 10 percent costs too much."
Well, okay. And this is just step one. How goes step two?
Jim Watson, director of the Sussex Energy Group at the University of Sussex, in Brighton, U.K., cautions that the cost of carbon capture has to be balanced against the relatively low cost of buying carbon credits. He adds that developing the technology is expensive, and storing sequestered carbon reliably is an as yet unsolved problem.
… Even if this summer's tests go according to plan, it will be years before the technology is deployed, partly because of the difficulty of storing CO2, and partly because of the price of carbon on the carbon-exchange markets.
Then, we read this:
Energy Secretary Steven Chu said today at a Senate Budget Committee hearing that finding ways to reduce emissions from the fuel is important “because India and China won’t turn their back on coal, and the U.S. won’t.”
“It’s a necessity given that the world has incredible coal reserves,” Chu said.
Which is were This Is Reality comes in.
We’re in favor of using all the technology big brains available to overcome these issues. And we won’t mention, this time, the politics of coal or the industrial imperative of coal. Because none of that matters right now. Because this is where we are. What choice do we have but to be sympathetic and to hope?
A coal plant with carbon capture facilities. We wish the Germans all the luck in the world. And how about knocking down that ban on new nuclear plants over there? Even the Greens must be tasting ashes on their tongues right about now.