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Carbon capture and storage — A dream that may be unachievable

The Dutch pull-out followed on the heels of the cancellation of CCS funding in Britain, and just a week or so later, the state of Mississippi told Southern Company and its subsidiary Mississippi Power they would no longer allow a blank electricity ratepayer check for construction of the Kemper County “clean coal” plant.

As far as the Netherlands is concerned, the withdrawal of Uniper and ENGIE from the ROAD project will not affect the country’s overall belief that CCS is needed. In a news release on June 27, the Minister of Economic Affairs said, “The Cabinet considers this development indispensable for the realization of climate goals. It is therefore important to continue to stimulate the development of carbon capture and storage, also known as CCS. This requires large-scale demo projects.”

The Ministry also stated the pullout would not affect the Netherlands’ goal of achieving a 25 percent reduction in CO2 emissions by 2020, saying, “This will meet the Urgenda judgment. Retracting ENGIE and Uniper from ROAD does not change anything.”

Kemper CCS power plant in Kemper County Mississippi.

Kemper CCS power plant in Kemper County Mississippi.
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In 2008, the U.S. Department of Energy provided funding to Southern Company Services, Inc. to design, construct, and operate a coal-based Transport Integrated Gasifier (TRIG) Combined Cycle power plant with 65 percent CO2 capture at a site in Kemper County, Mississippi.

But a myriad of technical problems and other delays resulted in the initial cost of $2.014 billion to jump to $7.5 billion on the plant, coal mines and pipelines used to carry captured carbon dioxide to oil companies, which would pump it underground to extract more crude oil from wells. Today, the plant burns natural gas.

The outlook for CCS is sort of bleak
Some people think the litany of failures makes for a bleak outlook in CCS, while other think CCS will do much better when applied to smaller industry-specific applications. And to be sure, the Kemper, Mississippi failure had a lot to do with Southern’s Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle (IGCC) technology more than anything else.

Diagram developed by MIT showing partial carbon-capture sequestration technology.

Diagram developed by MIT showing partial carbon-capture sequestration technology.
eis.doe


Carbon capture and storage is a complicated process. Capturing carbon dioxide from the air or flue gas produced by fossil fuel-burning power plants is accomplished using adsorption (or carbon scrubbing), membrane gas separation, or other adsorption technologies. One big issue with carbon capture technology is that it requires more energy – as much as 25 percent.

And secondly, adding CCS technology to existing fossil fuel-fired power plants is not economically feasible. Not only that, but many power plants are not located near a CO2 sequestration or storage site. Storing of CO2, either in underground geological formations or other facilities also has its issues, such as the cost of maintaining facilities and the risk of leaks.

Facing the truth about carbon capture and storage
To date, billions of dollars have been sunk into technologies bent on creating a system than is cost-effective and workable for CCS. But the strange thing about all this work is that it is based on the continued use of coal. The search for technologies that would create “clean coal” for burning in coal-fired power plants is almost a moot subject in today’s renewable energy revolution.

Peabody Energy s Bucyrus Erie 3850-B Power Shovel named  Big Hog  working at the company s Sinclair ...

Peabody Energy’s Bucyrus Erie 3850-B Power Shovel named “Big Hog” working at the company’s Sinclair Surface Mine in 2010.
Peabody Energy Corp.


Actually, “clean coal” is an oxymoron because coal doesn’t actually get cleaner, and all it really means is that emissions created by the burning of coal are being managed in a way that makes them a little less harmful. Even more telling is the fact that coal companies have invested very little in “clean coal” technology.

Peabody Energy contributed $2 million to fund the University of Wyoming’s Peabody Energy Clean Coal Technology Laboratory in 2012, but only after the state committed $75 million toward the research. The bottom line is simply that the public has been taken in by the idea that “clean coal” is possible, yet the coal industry continues to perpetuate the myth.

I guess with President Trump’s proposed budget that includes funding cuts amounting to 85 percent for carbon capture and storage, coal will end up being left behind. If the government, investors and the industry won’t fund CCS, the technology will end up in the trash dumpster.

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We are deeply saddened to announce the passing of our dear friend Karen Graham, who served as Editor-at-Large at Digital Journal. She was 78 years old. Karen's view of what is happening in our world was colored by her love of history and how the past influences events taking place today. Her belief in humankind's part in the care of the planet and our environment has led her to focus on the need for action in dealing with climate change. It was said by Geoffrey C. Ward, "Journalism is merely history's first draft." Everyone who writes about what is happening today is indeed, writing a small part of our history.

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