Coal Tattoo

Study on Carbon capture: The sooner, the better

On the heels of his big speech criticizing the coal industry’s public relations campaign, Sen. Jay Rockefeller made a pitch to various interested groups asking for ideas about how to get moving on improving and deploying carbon capture and storage, or CCS, technology — which the senator unfortunately insists on calling “clean coal” (one of these days, perhaps Sen. Rockefeller will get around to reading the studies about mountaintop removal’s impacts on water quality and public health).

Well, there’s a new study out that adds to the notion that there is a bit of urgency in getting moving on CCS, if this technology is going to be part of the solution to global warming and, in the process, help save the coal industry. Here’s how Chemical and Engineering News summarized the new study:

If coal-fired power plants began now to deploy systems for capturing and storing greenhouse gases, they’d see a drop in efficiency, requiring them to burn more coal to meet electricity needs. Still, doing so would prevent enough greenhouse gas emissions to have a substantial climate payoff by 2100, according to a new climate modeling study.

OK, now we know that there are lots of issues with CCS, including safety, expense and the massive build-up scale necessary. But it’s also something that more than a few smart people believe is a necessary part of addressing climate change — and it’s perhaps also something to use as a political tool to get coalfield politicians to go along with mandatory reductions in greenhouse emissions.

But it’s worth reading this study (see here) to get an idea of how actually getting CCS up and running at power plants sooner — rather than later — will do much more to reduce coal’s long-term impacts. As that C&EN story explained:

The researchers found that, compared to no action, the early retrofit scenario reduced long-term heating by nearly 50% Outfitting only new plants reduced heating by about 25%. The reason for the large difference in results is that carbon dioxide lasts for roughly 100 years in the atmosphere, Sathre explains: Any gases not removed by scrubbers early on in the model’s span heat the atmosphere throughout the rest of the century.

Because of CO2’s long lifetime and other factors, such as improving CCS technologies, the researchers found that the differences among scenarios became especially pronounced after the year 2050.

And not for nothing, but one conclusion that Sen. Rockefeller might want to consider if he’s truly looking to move CCS forward:

The study is “certainly timely,” says Eric Eddings, an engineer at the University of Utah, because of ongoing political debate over how to address climate change. He says deployment of CCS systems would involve countless political hurdles: Plant operators, he says, don’t want to invest in the technology unless the law requires them to do so.