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From the Land of Clean Coal

Siemens und E.ON bauen eine Pilotanlage zur Abscheidung von Kohlendioxid (CO2). In der Anlage am Kohlekraftwerk Staudinger bei Hanau sollen rund 90 Prozent des CO2 aus einem Teilstrom der Kraftwerksabgase herausgewaschen werden. Die Anlage wird im Sommer 2009 in Betrieb gehen. Mit dem speziellen CO2-Waschprozess von Siemens verbraucht die Abscheidung des Treibhausgases vergleichsweise wenig Energie und belastet die Umwelt nicht. Die Technik wurde bereits im Labor erprobt und eignet sich auch für die Nachrüstung konventioneller Kraftwerke. Das Bild zeigt eine Grafik der Pilotanlage. 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 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.


Anonymous said…
I'm for studying it. But everything we know so far about the feasibility of carbon capture and storage shows it to be certainly expensive, and possibly only applicable to a small number of sites. We shouldn't bet more of our limited intellect than would be prudent on what are possibly empty promises. I'm not for hyping carbon capture and storage. I think the hype around this technology is mindless and damaging (potentially more damaging than the unfolding biofuels disaster).

If what we learn about carbon capture and storage shows that it ought to be our "plan C", then we need to focus much harder on what I may call plans A and B. A) Wind/Renewables/Efficiency/Gas/Nuclear and B) greatly expanded and new Nuclear technology. A and B have pathways for implementation. C, at the moment honestly doesn't have anything more than an idea with an outsized PR campaign.

Also, I'm just a layman in my thirties, but I've never been aware of that the nuclear and coal industries are linked in the zeitgeist.
The continued dumping of CO2 into the atmosphere will put our coastlines underwater, the storage of CO2 in the oceans will raise its acidity and harm ocean life and marine food production, the storage of CO2 underground will be a thousand times more hazardous to future civilizations on Earth that encounter these suffocating storage pockets than nuclear waste.

We must completely end coal utilization on this planet within 20 or 30 years, IMO. And dramatically increasing nuclear power is the best way to do that.
MAtt said…
I brought to light some interesting problems with clean coal which I think you would find interesting

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