Could Coal Fired Power Stations be the Answer to Global Warming?

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We have written recently about what a shambles we feel the whole cap and trade policy is in the US and how it is essentially a form of taxation but that the funds will flow as much into private coffers as the state, as can be evidenced by the enthusiasm with which major financial institutions such as Goldman Sachs are supporting it. However Cap and Trade may be what we are going to get and so along with federal tax credits for green technologies we may expect to see a plethora of projects that are essentially subsidized by the tax payer in the name of saving the environment.

Unfortunately even as technologies that could make a rapid contribution to reducing carbon emissions such as more efficient coal fired power stations are shunned by our politicians in the interests of long term pipe dreams ” read this article in the NY Times about FutureGen ” it is hard to see what benefit the changes will bring apart from just increasing cost. However one exception is a project that may reach fruition on the back of federal tax credits in New Jersey of all places. We say it in that manner because a coal fired power station has not been built in the state since the mid 90’s but if this manages to gather all the permits and approvals necessary it will be because it is designed to not release any carbon dioxide according to a NY Times article. The idea is to liquefy the CO2, pump it 70 miles off shore in a 2ft diameter pipe and then bury it one mile below the ocean floor in sandstone beds. The CO2 would displace seawater through a second drill hole and it is claimed would remain buried in the rock for eons. The project is to cost $5bn on current estimates but would become progressively more economical as carbon emissions become progressively more expensive. The Norwegians have been doing something similar in the Sleipner Field under the North Sea for the last 13 years, and oil wells in Texas frequently use CO2 to boost recovery rates, so the technology is largely proven.

Indeed coal fired power stations still hold enormous promise to produce economical lower carbon emission energy if the administration’s energy department and the environmental lobby can just get over their hang ups about coal being the cause of climate change. Even China is proving with their latest power stations that carbon emissions a third to a half of older plants are possible without government subsidy simply by embracing new higher temperature burn technology, coal gasification and the economies of scale that come with a concerted effort to replace old polluting plants with modern much cleaner plants. Meanwhile law makers in the US and Europe are clinging onto the zero emission nirvana of wind and solar power with all the accompanying hurdles that those technologies are going to have to overcome before they can realistically provide the majority of society’s power demand some decades into the future. Meanwhile we continue to pump millions of tons of carbon into the atmosphere when technology exists to dramatically reduce it.

–Stuart Burns

Comments (2)

  1. Brad Arnold says:

    Any carbon diet strategy would be dependent upon clean coal:

    “The vast majority of new power stations in China and India will be coal-fired; not “may be coal-fired”; will be. So developing carbon capture and storage technology is not optional, it is literally of the essence.” –“Breaking the Climate Deadlock,” Tony Blair, June 26, 2008

    But, Vaclav Smil, an energy expert at the University of Manitoba, has estimated that capturing and burying just 10 percent of the carbon dioxide emitted over a year from coal-fire plants at current rates would require moving volumes of compressed carbon dioxide greater than the total annual flow of oil worldwide — a massive undertaking requiring decades and trillions of dollars. “Beware of the scale,” he stressed.”

    China has one of the largest coal reserves in the world, and coal accounts for 67% of its primary energy use, compared with 24% for the world average. China is currently bringing two additional coal-fired power plants to the electric power grid every week. In a hypothetical scenario in which carbon intensity keeps pace with a GDP growth rate of 7%, by 2030, China would be emitting as much as the world as a whole is today (8 GtC/year) –Ning Zeng et al., Science, 8 February 2008

    “Contrary to the conventional wisdom that China is outpacing the rest of the world in building coal plants, the International Energy Agency has projected that between 2011 and 2020 the OECD (most of Europe plus the U.S.), with 150 million fewer people than China, will build 10 percent more coal capacity than China (184 GW for the OECD vs. 168 GW for China).” –“Schwarzenegger’s folly,” Gristmill, 16 Oct 2008

    “The alternative (to geoengineering) is the acceptance of a massive natural cull of humanity and a return to an Earth that freely regulates itself but in the hot state.” –Dr James Lovelock, August 2008

  2. Our existing coal plants may well be the short-term solution to our problems. They can easily be converted to burn clean, carbon neutral biomass. The cost is actually reduced while carbon capture will double costs.

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