Study on Carbon capture: The sooner, the better

August 14, 2012 by Ken Ward Jr.

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.

7 Responses to “Study on Carbon capture: The sooner, the better”

  1. Thomas Rodd says:

    Ken, this web article is an interesting followup/complement to your above post:

    Here is a concluding quote from the article:

    “We can and should be supporting both ultra-low carbon energy production and CCS. We can’t reduce the cost of ultra-low carbon energy if we don’t continue to ramp or at the very least maintain production. At the moment, the double whammy of unnaturally cheap natural gas and withdrawal of subsidies threatens the entire clean energy sector. At the same time, we will never learn what the real economic costs of CCS will be, or discover which forms are the most practical, if we don’t start moving beyond lab experiments and small pilot projects. “

  2. thomas morrison says:

    The U.S. emitted in 18.27 and 16.4% of the world’s total carbon dioxide in 2008 and 2010, respectively. China ranked first with 23.54% and 24.6%, respectively. 34% of the U.S. emissions are from burning coal which is only 6.2% of the world total. And we’re expected to cut emissions from burning coal when the rest of the world certainly will not? Madness.
    This puts in perspective the almost fanatical vendetta against mining coal by the liberal press like the Gazette,environmentalists (I hate using this word since we all are concerned about the environment), and Obama’s EPA.
    Low natural gas prices and Marcellus shale gas will cause even a bigger reduction in Appalachian coal production which will reduce the advisability of an Obama carbon tax and the mission of his renegade EPA —-and reduce your continual ranting against coal. I wouldn’t bet on it though.

  3. Ken Ward Jr. says:


    Thanks for your comment.

    Another way to look at it is per capita greenhouse emissions:

    Perhaps it goes without saying, but ours are much higher than China’s when you examine those figures.

    And, it’s also important to note, as reported by Scientific American:

    “… The Chinese government has committed to reducing its CO2 emissions per economic unit by at least 40 percent by 2020 … ”

    Some folks may be able to boil these issues down to “liberal” vs. “conservative” or whatever … but it’s not as easy anymore to simply argue: Why should we do anything about global warming when China won’t?


  4. meteo30 says:

    The CCS people seem to be completely oblivious to what’s happening on the ground. Coal plants are shutting down by the dozens. To my knowledge there are only two new ones in the region, the Longview Power Plant in WV and the Virginia City Plant in VA. Another proposed near Dendron VA is all but dead. Without new coal plants there is no real future for CCS. The old ones are woefully inefficient to begin with so what’s the point of plugging more controls on to these old inefficient plants that will waste more energy (coal) to operate? Wouldn’t it be more prudent to apply any carbon sequestration systems to the new gas-fired power plants that are being proposed by the dozens? Not sure if CO2 is useful in recovering gas from coal seams but I do believe it can be done to increase oil field production.

  5. Dell Spade says:

    Thomas is correct, China emits many more tons of CO2 than the US. I do not understand your point on “per capita”. China also has many more people. China can commit to reductions on paper all day long, but let’s see that really happen. Don’t hold your breath.

  6. thomas morrison says:

    If you believe China is going to reduce CO2 emission 40% by 2020 I have some land in southern Louisiana I would like to sell you, especially given China is increasing its emissions every year.
    The fact the U.S. emits more CO2 than China per person shows our standard of living is much higher, and I don’t feel at all guilty our emission rate per person is higher. I for one don’t want to lower my life style to pay for lowering CO2 in the form of much, much higher electricity bills when other countries emitting six times as much will do nothing, notwithstanding China’s “commitment.” Except for China, most other foreign countries have a hard time in improving their poor standard of living to worry about possible global warming. So we could lower our standard of living but global warming could occur anyway, if indeed it is the only culprit. Our planet has had many climate changes.

  7. Ted Boettner says:

    It seems to me what we need is leadership. And when did two wrongs equal a right? If the U.S. leads on implementing carbon reduction, I think other countries like China will follow, especially if we put a carbon tariff on imports from China (

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