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In the high-stakes game of climate change, the United States and other countries are betting on the idea that technology can make dirty coal cleaner.
For years if not decades, U.S. efforts to develop big coal-fired power plants that push CO2 emissions into the ground instead of spewing them into the atmosphere have stalled. The situation has gotten so bad that green-tech experts refer to this period of technological development as the “valley of death” for carbon capture and storage technology, or CCS…
“If we’re going to be able to add carbon capture and storage to our toolbox of ways to address climate change, the time to demonstrate it is right now — or yesterday, maybe,” said Sarah Forbes, a senior associate at the World Resources Institute. “CO2 emissions are continuing to rise, and we’re seeing impacts of climate change…”
And President Obama last month announced a $1 billion revamp of the country’s flagship CCS research project, a near-zero-emissions coal-fired power plant in Illinois called FutureGen. It’s urgent that both efforts succeed, Forbes said…
About half of U.S. power comes from coal, and the process of burning coal for electricity accounts for about 80 percent of the country’s CO2 emissions from electricity, according to the Energy Information Administration.
Renewable energy sources like wind and solar — which, together, account for less than 2 percent of U.S. electricity production — won’t be able to ramp up fast enough to replace coal, said Scott Anderson, a senior policy adviser at the Environmental Defense Fund.
“We’re not champions of coal at EDF, but we’re realists,” he said. “Although we see room for a huge expansion of renewable energy and efficiency, in the near term, we don’t think that coal is going away. … We still have a huge existing base of coal plants that will be around, at a minimum, for a number of decades.”
In the United States, many are pinning hopes on FutureGen…The project took a blow in late June, however, when two of its private-sector backers, American Electric Power Co. and Southern Co., withdrew. Because of delays and cost overruns, the project has earned the nickname “NeverGen.”
Meanwhile, other nations are moving ahead. In China, the similarly named GreenGen plant is expected to be completed before FutureGen. Australia has a project called ZeroGen, and several European countries are working on similar technologies.
Some have described the situation as an arms race. The country first to prove that CCS works may be able to export the technology elsewhere.
Obama probably has the best quote on the question: “If we managed to put a man on the moon in 10 years I think we can do the same with coal-based production of electricity.” Or something like that.
Point being – as an ecology activist for decades I think it would be foolish to pass on the energy potential of our great coal deposits because some don’t like the idea of using it – at all. That’s not science. It’s not even ideology. It’s religion.