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        The coal industry has been making a big case for capturing CO2 for some time as part of the industry's 'Clean Coal' image makeover. It's been more promised than realized - until now. Catherine Brahic via New Scientist reports Canada's Boundary Dam power plant in Saskatchewan, Canada's largest, will be capturing CO2 before it can go up the flue and into the atmosphere. The captured CO2 will then be injected into the ground, in part to boost oil recovery.

Each year, Unit 3 of SaskPower's Boundary Dam plant emits 1.1 million tonnes of carbon dioxide. But from this summer, 90 per cent of that CO2 will never see the light of day. Instead, the gas will be piped to the nearby Weyburn oilfield and Deadwater saline aquifer, and pumped several kilometres underground.

"The resulting 110 megawatts of power produced will be some of the world's most environmentally clean power from fossil fuels," says SaskPower's Robert Watson.

"2014 is a pivotal year for CCS," says Stuart Haszeldine of the University of Edinburgh, UK. "The technology is going from zero to something. It's terrific."

       Given that the world is not going to stop burning coal any time soon, this is good news. Anything that reduces CO2 emissions is to be encouraged. This is a pilot project, and it will be getting a lot of attention. Like it or not, there are many new coal plants slated for construction around the world. Coal-fired electric power generation is a major source of greenhouse gases.

        Carbon Capture and Sequestration (CCS) not a magic bullet, however, as the New Scientist article points out.

Boundary Dam is CCS's first big success story, and more must follow. The International Energy Agency (IEA) says that, to have a 50 per cent chance of avoiding 2 °C of global warming, which is probably too dangerous to adapt to, the energy sector can only emit 884 gigatonnes of CO2 between 2013 and 2050 (Redrawing the Climate-Energy Map, 2013). Burning proven reserves of coal, oil and gas would release 2860 Gt. So we must leave two-thirds in the ground (Technology Roadmap: Carbon Capture and Storage, 2013).

Here's the rub: the IEA says we will build enough power plants by 2020 to burn our budget by 2050. "Climate change mitigation can and should start by lowering consumption and increasing energy efficiency," says Ruben Juanes of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "But the reality is that fossil fuels will continue to dominate the world's primary power for decades to come."

emphasis added

         Following the money is important as well.

The big hurdle for CCS is money. Adding chemical scrubbers to a power station uses about 20 per cent of its power output. Power companies are unlikely to pay that hefty cost without incentives.

For now the cost of electricity from a CCS power plant is higher than normal fossil fuels but close to wind energy, says Haszeldine. The most pricey bit is reheating the solvent to release captured CO2. Researchers are now looking into scrubbing reactions that use less energy. If that works, power plants could use residual heat alone to drive the reaction.

       A few caveats that should be considered. 90% capture is far better than no capture at all, but if this makes zero carbon energy sources less competitive and drives them out of the market, that's not good. It remains to be seen how efficient the capture process will be in actual production too, and what other complications follow from it. (How long does the capture solvent last, what does disposing of it entail, etc.) The loss in efficiency from the capture process means that much more coal will need to be burned to make up the difference.

       Can this process be adapted to existing plants, or is it more effective to incorporate it into new construction. If it does spur new construction, each new plant extends the use of coal for the lifetime of that plant. What about natural gas? The rush to obtain natural gas by fracking and convert coal plants to burning it because of price and emission advantages is well underway. So here's a question: can the same capture technology be adapted to plants burning natural gas? If so, will it increase the pressure to expand fracking?

      Further, there's the time factor. It's going to take years to prove the capture technology and make it something other than experimental. Do we have that time? If we adopt it around the world, is there going to be enough capacity to store all that CO2?

       CO2 is not the only problem with coal, though it is a huge one. Extracting coal from the ground, processing it, transporting it, the ash residue from burning it - all of these things impose non-trivial burdens on the planet. If carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) makes it possible to burn coal for power with lessened effects on Global Warming and Climate Change, we will still be stuck with those other environmental costs.

      In an ideal world, we should be insisting that if CCS technology is available and works, it should be used as widely as possible. BUT… only as long as it takes to phase out burning coal and other fossil fuels. In the world we have, let's take the good news with a grain of salt and remember we still have along way to go.


CCS at the Boundary Dam in Saskatchewan:

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (22+ / 0-)

    Not quite Clean Coal, but a bit cleaner at least.

    "No special skill, no standard attitude, no technology, and no organization - no matter how valuable - can safely replace thought itself."

    by xaxnar on Wed Mar 05, 2014 at 06:53:13 PM PST

  •  I'll reserve judgement... (6+ / 0-)

    ...until the saline seltzer starts coming up.

    Otherwise, I'm dubious.

    Float like a manhole cover, sting like a sash weight! Clean Coal Is A Clinker!

    by JeffW on Wed Mar 05, 2014 at 07:01:15 PM PST

  •  I don't see the energy to compress the CO2 (7+ / 0-)

    It takes massive compressors to inject the CO2. Maybe the oil company pays for it, but it makes the net energy less.

    I only see this being economical where used as EOR. Still, better than nothing.

    "Who is John Galt?" A two dimensional character in a third rate novel.

    by Inventor on Wed Mar 05, 2014 at 07:02:27 PM PST

    •  It's actually not that bad, energy-wise. (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      xaxnar, nextstep

      Huge amounts of water and gas are injected into pressurized layers every day in the course of oil and gas recovery.

      Recall the fluid column is energy-free compression, by the time you've reached 5000' or so, there's 5000' of fluid/gas applying pressure the bottom hole, even without pumps running.

    •  Compression cost is not the issue (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Meteor Blades

      The energy cost is not that bad. I've seen studies showing a cost below $10/t CO2 for compression and piping.

      The real issue is location, location, location.

      This system only works when the geology in the vicinity of the power plant is right to receive gas injection, meaning former or active hydrocarbon reservoirs (including EOR) or deep aquifers.

      I deal in facts. My friends are few but fast.

      by Farugia on Thu Mar 06, 2014 at 10:27:37 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  This is not the answer. Coal sucks, period. (14+ / 0-)

    Coal still pollutes like crazy.  Even if you capture the CO2, there are other pollutant (mercury!) created by burning coal.  And, oh, what about all that ash?  Folks in North Carolina know that coal ash doesn't just disappear.

    And mining coal sucks bigtime, too.  You either have miners risking their lives to dig coal out from deep underground.  Or you remove entire mountaintops to get to the coal, destroying everything on the surface.

    Add to that the fact that no one has yet proven that you can inject commercial amounts of CO2 underground and have it stay.  If that stuff leaks, you're as bad off as you were before.  No one has done long-term testing on carbon storage.

    But, you know, except for all of that, carbon capture coal is a great freaking idea.

    The next Noah will work a short shift. - Charles Bowden

    by Scott in NAZ on Wed Mar 05, 2014 at 07:03:16 PM PST

    •  It's a boondoggle to allow the continued use (13+ / 0-)

      of coal. Billions wasted that could have been used to clean up our rivers and lakes or to subsidize solar panels.

      To thine ownself be true

      by Agathena on Wed Mar 05, 2014 at 07:19:19 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  But Solar Is No Answer Nor Is Nuclear (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        Japan was making plans to deploy an armada of solar satellites to beam down power to earthlings while a second nuclear holocaust was fixing to happen.

        Japan continues to slight geothermal power while fiercely competing with China for the business in poor countries.

        Canada is also a big player in geothermal power - for other countries.

        Waste biomass easily replaces coal and can clean up the environment at the same time.

        But establishment types from the fossil fuel purveyors to the sun worshipers stand in the way.

        We will learn or we may perish.

        Best,  Terry

        •  Solar by itself isn't the answer (4+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          xaxnar, wilderness voice, Agathena, kurt

          But it can be part of the solution.  Portugal achieved 70% of it's energy from renewable sources for a considerable amount of last year.  Solar was only a small part of that.  Geothermal, wind, and hydro accounted for most of the energy production.  No nuclear, not much in terms of burning fossil fuels.  But if Portugal went the way of Germany and added solar panels to rooftops they could get even higher.  Germany did just that and Portugal gets more sun than hey do.

          Now if these countries can do it why can't we?  Has nothing to do with sun worshippers and everything to do with fossil fuels.  Solar is the easiest and quickest way to start generating clean energy simply by putting up panels we can reduce our dependence on those fossil fuels.  It won't get up all the way or even a considerable amount of the way if done individually, but if every house had 10 panels on their roof then it would take up a good deal closer.  But beyond that we have to look at wind, geothermal, hyro and tidal as well as waste biomass.  

          This is your world These are your people You can live for yourself today Or help build tomorrow for everyone -8.75, -8.00

          by DisNoir36 on Thu Mar 06, 2014 at 04:34:14 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  I'm waiting for the solar iPhone. I heard it was (0+ / 0-)

            in the works.

            Everything is the answer but not Obama's list of "all of the above" which includes nuclear and so-called "clean" coal.

            Mining Insider: "Leave it in the ground"

            Why is it so hard for businesses to change?
            Climate change, for both the company and most big industries, is still what they call an ESG issue – environmental, social and governance – which has become a focus in the last 10 years or so. But ESG issues are second-order priorities compared with the top-order priority of shareholder value. And people see shareholder value as some magical thing independent of climate change. To me this has always been a big mistake.

            To thine ownself be true

            by Agathena on Thu Mar 06, 2014 at 11:13:50 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

          •  Partially True (0+ / 0-)
            Solar is the easiest and quickest way to start generating clean energy
            True enough in most instances though costly and not the cleanest.

            Large solar installations take up a vast amount of space and could even cause the extinction of many animals.  Valuable and scarce resources are required.  

            Rooftop installations require a subsidy to those that can afford it and higher prices for those that can't as well as a drain on baseload renewable power.  Many utilities love the sometime power though others fight it tooth and nail.


            Why not go cheap and clean?

            - Because the wind and solar apostles are plumb against it.

            Best,  Terry

  •  How much of this is going into the earth? (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    JeffW, kurt, Tonedevil

    and what guarantees are there that the containers won't leak. Oh yes the barrels will be solid. As solid as the leaky containers of nuclear waste?

    To thine ownself be true

    by Agathena on Wed Mar 05, 2014 at 07:17:25 PM PST

  •  Tax carbon electricity and use the proceeds to pay (4+ / 0-)

    for the capture technology. Takes some CO2 out of the problem zone, and acts like a carbon tax in that the price for renewables will keep coming down while the other stuff will keep going up in price. We don't have that many more years before carbon can't compete with renewables in the marketplace, and this would hasten that date.

    On the other hand, renewables own few to none politicians, and carbon has almost all of the current ones, and then some.

    I guess that we'll see!

    There can be no protection locally if we're content to ignore the fact that there are no controls globally.

    by oldpotsmuggler on Wed Mar 05, 2014 at 07:48:22 PM PST

    •  "renewables own few to none politicians" (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      oldpotsmuggler, Meteor Blades

      You da man but that is not entirely true.

      The intermittents that promise to keep Exxon and the Koch brothers in business along with the rest of the gang are real big even with Actual Democrats like Elizabeth Warren.

      Where can you find baseload renewables that can put the fossil fuel, nuclear and intermittents out of busines?

      - Everywhere.

      Harry Reid is in our corner and a real fighter for the most powerful renewable on earth, which is the Mother Earth herself, but he says nobody listens.

      Hardly anybody does.


      Best,  Terry

      •  Please tell us more about this. (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        oldpotsmuggler, JeffW
        ...the most powerful renewable on earth, which is the Mother Earth herself....
        Or give us a link or two.  Thanks!  

        "My country, right or wrong; if right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right." -- Sen Carl Schurz 1872

        by Calamity Jean on Thu Mar 06, 2014 at 04:29:50 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  he's referring to (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          oldpotsmuggler, JeffW

          geothermal.  It's hot down there, but only if you dig far enough.

          •  Oh Really? (0+ / 0-)
            It's hot down there, but only if you dig far enough.
            Hot Springs and Warm Springs are the names of towns scattered all around the U.S.  The water runs out on the ground as happened with oil once when prospecting amounted to looking for that leaking oil.

            Every oil and gas well, producing and abandoned, is a potential source of geothermal power with the massive hot water a burden to dispose of.

            The Romans and earlier cultures utilized geothermal, including evidence America's earliest inhabitants used it for cooking.

            The only geothermal power source in Alaska is a "Hot Spring" with tepid waters despite vast geothermal resources.  Iceland  adds heat to tepid geothermal waters with a trash burner at the remote village of Husavik.

            I could go on endlessly but the mythology continues.

            Best,  Terry

            •  Geothermal is everywhere (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:


              Now, of course, how you can recover it varies from place to place. Relatively few places have naturally occurring hot (+150C) reservoirs to tap. But lower temperature water and hot dry rock are exceedingly common. The challenge thusly is simply how to ecomically exploit them - other thermal cycles, fracking, water injection, etc. Here in Iceland we've even got one plant that's producing power directly from a magma chamber - that was previously thought impossible, until they drilled into it accidentally. My favorite general-purpose tech comes from Geotherm - only time will see whether it proves to be economical - involves drilling a single well down to the hot zone, then fanning it out and sealing with a thermally-conductive grout. Water is then circulated in the fanned-out area entirely inside the well until it's hot and back up to the surface. No fracking, no unpredictability (water loss into other strata, no lack of permiability, etc - the big problems with traditional EGS), no corrosive chemicals or toxic gasses in the outflow, and so forth. It's completely strata independent, the only thing that varies is the cost of getting down to the hot zone. But again, economics will judge all, and only time will tell.

              The day I'll consider justice blind is the day that a rape defendant's claim of "She consented to the sex" is treated by the same legal standards as a robbery defendant's claim of "He consented to give me the money": as an affirmative defense.

              by Rei on Sat Mar 08, 2014 at 08:48:36 AM PST

              [ Parent ]

      •  There's some of alot of things coming, and, (0+ / 0-)

        collectively, they're green and game changers. Carter got us started and then Reagan set everything back by at least tweny years.

        There can be no protection locally if we're content to ignore the fact that there are no controls globally.

        by oldpotsmuggler on Thu Mar 06, 2014 at 10:02:34 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  A Slight Revision, Friend :-) (0+ / 0-)
          Carter got us started and then Reagan set everything back by at least tweny years.
          That should read: Carter got us and Reagan started on a retreat from Nixon's liberal initiatives with Carter's attacks on government.

          It is bizarre that the hateful paranoiac had the most liberal administration of the 20th Century save only that of the antisemite Wilson, who was also not a nice man.

          Then Carter, a decent sort...

          Crazy world.

          Solar is becoming a terrible enemy of baseload renewables more than a complementary technology.  Carter started that too.

          Best,  Terry

  •  Coal plants are already uneconomic. (0+ / 0-)
    A few caveats that should be considered. 90% capture is far better than no capture at all, but if this makes zero carbon energy sources less competitive and drives them out of the market, that's not good.
    I don't think there's a whole lot of danger of this.  Certainly not while natural gas prices remain reasonable.
  •  What goes down, must come up (4+ / 0-)

    When pumping all that CO2 underground, unless it's being captured as a salt (i.e into a CaO or MgO deposit thus forming CaCO3/MgCO3) it will just find it's way back out through a thousand hydrological fractures that are impossible to track except by satellite over years.

    I have no hope for these pump it into the ground projects.

    It's a PR project IMO.

    Listen to Netroots Radio or to our pods on Stitcher. "We are but temporary visitors on this planet. The microbes own this place" <- Me

    by yuriwho on Wed Mar 05, 2014 at 08:39:44 PM PST

  •  Carbon capture from power plant and (4+ / 0-)

    industrial process exhausts, and the injection of the CO2 deep into an underground crude oil field, to force the oil to the surface for recovery, are proven technologies on both coal and natural gas, with decades of experience.

    Ninety percent carbon capture would be very high, most vendors only talk about 50-70% capture.  That would still make a coal fired plant as clean as a gas-fired plant.

    But the capture systems are very spendy and eat a lot of energy.

    When the CO2 is injected into an oil field, it comes back up with the oil, and is recaptured and reinjected.

    Denbury Resources captures a lot of CO2 in the US, including from a Texas refinery's exhausts. Denbury has big projects underway to capture CO2 from natural gas operations in the Midwest, and inject the CO2 into spent old oil fields, and recover additional oil.

    IIRC there's a coal fired plant in North Dakota that captures CO2 and pipes it into Canada to enhance oil recovery.

    A large gas fired power plant in Mass. captured CO2 for years, for resale.

    “The answer must be, I think, that beauty and grace are performed whether or not we will or sense them. The least we can do is try to be there.” ― Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

    by 6412093 on Wed Mar 05, 2014 at 09:00:02 PM PST

  •  Thank you for diarying on this important topic n/t (3+ / 0-)

    “The answer must be, I think, that beauty and grace are performed whether or not we will or sense them. The least we can do is try to be there.” ― Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

    by 6412093 on Wed Mar 05, 2014 at 09:04:14 PM PST

  •  Like inverting the smoke stacks (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    wilderness voice

    I don't see how you get the earth to accept all of that gaseous CO2 and keep it there.

    A coal plant has an expected lifetime of 30 years. 110 Mw is an insignificant amount of power. Multiply it by 1000 and you have a significant contribution to the US grid.

    So 1.1 million tons x 30 years x 1000 plants = 33 billion tons = 66,000,000,000,000 lbs of gaseous CO2 to be injected into the earth, and stay there over 1000s of years? At some point the seams will pressurize and not accept any more CO2.

    This might be a last ditch effort to save the coal industry. On the one hand clean coal doesn't make much sense, on the other hand there is lots of money behind it.

  •  How much do you care about cutting CO2 emissions? (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    xaxnar, wilderness voice

    The technology works according to scientists, the containment is good(given no
    serious leaks in 20 years of carbon sequestration) is it expensive? Yes, about as expensive as nuclear power.
    Are there alternatives? Yes, nukes, hydro, wind and solar
    and natural gas(to a point). There are plenty of potential carbon sequestration sites already identified(2400 billion tons of storage and US emits 6 billion tons per year).

    There are 500 coal power plants in the US providing 38% of US electricity and 100 nuclear power plants provide 20%. Hydro, wind and solar currently provide 9% adding around 1% grow to the grid per year.

    If 450 ppm is the redline and we will reach that in 25 years
    then we will never be able to avoid zooming past the redline without carbon capture and sequestration of existing sources.

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