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Capturing Carbon on the Cheap

Some of the processes being looked at as cheaper ways of capturing carbon dioxide emissions include a government-led large-scale implementation at a power plant, a installation at a natural gas production facility and rolling out the technology to other industrial facilities, according to an article in the MIT Technology Review.

Despite the US’ growth in renewable energy use, electricity generation from coal is expected to grow twice as much as generation from electricity by 2020. But without carbon capture technology many coal plants would fail to meet strict regulations and face closure.  However, no one currently knows how much large-scale carbon capture will cost and finding out will cost billions of dollars, MIT Technology Review reports.

One method being investigated as a workaround to find cheaper ways to capture carbon is for government to demonstrate its effectiveness on a large scale. The FutureGen project was originally planned as a new kind of hydrogen and electricity producing power plant. It was canned by the Bush administration due to high costs, but it was reinstated in a form that costs half as much after the Recovery Act. The project is now focused on retrofitting an existing power plant, but, given design and permit challenges, it may still not be ready to take advantage of Recovery Act funding, the article says.

A natural gas production facility in Norway has been using carbon capture technology for years and emulating it could provide another way forward, the article says. Utilizing such technology at a natural gas production facility can be more efficient as such facilities produce a far more concentrated stream of CO2 than power plants.

Capturing carbon at industrial facilities may be the only way to deal with emissions from such sources as ethanol and steel plants, the article says.  Two projects that capture carbon from fermentation at an ethanol plant and another that captures it from a hydrogen plant production plant are now online. This kind of industrial site carbon capture could account for about half of captured CO2 by 2050, the article says.

There is also a market for selling captured CO2 to oil recovery projects, such as a Department of Energy demonstration project in Texas that went online earlier this month. This adds an income stream to the process of CO2 capture and, once used by the oil recoverers, the gas is trapped underground in a capped well.

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4 thoughts on “Capturing Carbon on the Cheap

  1. My firm also has a technology for carbon capture. (AAEC) has developed alternative/renewable energy technology that would be very useful in the United States and other countries. I’ll endeavor to license our IP in the various countries so that the products could be made there under license – but we will not establish any foreign offices – so we are looking for qualified freelance helpers to identify likely license takers and forward our introduction information for a finder’s fee to be paid on licenses signed. We generally don’t expect the freelancers to do any selling, only introducing of our technology and providing AAEC company information which can be done in person or by email. On the other hand if qualified persons wish to maintain an office and hire staff and become more engaged in the commercialization of AAEC’s technology we will be willing to work with them in that manner.

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  2. This article represents an engineer’s fantasy to stabilizing climate systems and ignores existing technologies. For example tropical forests in 75 countries hold over 247 billion tCO2e through biological processes. Annual global emissions are approximately 10 billion tCO2e.

    Lets make use of tools that have been developed over 3.2 billion years of innovation and deploy/preserve forests.

  3. Doesn’t this just add to the problem. Even if we capture more and more CO2 there is still a problem of where to store it – a bit like the nuclear waste problem, and ocean pollution – it will eventually com back to bite us.

  4. I take your point Fred but we need all the tools we can get in our arsenal. CO2 is nothing like Nuclear in that it is not radioactive or toxic to us except in the instance there is too much in the atmosphere. I agree that accidents can happen and earthquakes or freak weather events could release carbon from where it is stored. However in the process of finding places to store nuclear waste I believe we have found safe stable areas to do so. In the meantime we can work on a way to use the carbon without releasing it. Right now the priority is capturing it and storing it, even drawing it from the atmosphere if possible.
    Dillon, you also make a good point. This is what should happen, but with growing population, need for more housing and food, is this really what will happen. ‘Picking winners’ for places to re-forest will also become increasingly difficult in a changing climate (i.e. what trees, where and how will we ensure their survival to maturity?). Once population plateaus, perhaps we can then focus on planting more tress and finding a use for stored carbon. There is no single magic bullet and waiting for one is not an option.
    This is not to say that I support continued introduction of new nuclear plants, though retrofitting of plants to use thorium that can also burn uranium waste is another ‘tool’ we could use.

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