WASHINGTON, DC, November 8, 2007 (ENS) - Technology to sequester large amounts of carbon dioxide from coal-fired power plants is at least a decade away from commercial reality, experts told a Senate subcommittee Wednesday. The hearing on carbon capture and storage offered a sobering view of what many believe is a critical component of the world's effort to seriously address global climate change.
Howard Herzog (Photo courtesy UT-Austin)
The experts testifying before the subcommittee were unanimous in the view that a major increase in funding for carbon sequestration research and development is urgently needed.
"While geologic sequestration is scientifically feasible, it is not technologically or institutionally ready," said Howard Herzog, a carbon storage expert with the Massachusetts Institute for Technology's Laboratory for Energy and the Environment. "The number one impediment to moving ahead is lack of funding."
The U.S. Energy Department currently spends about $300 million annually on carbon capture and storage technology research and development. Herzog said that figure should be boosted to at least $1 billion if commercially viable technology is to be available within 10 years.
"The goal should be to achieve technological readiness by the time climate legislation creates market opportunities for carbon capture and storage technologies," Herzog told the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Science, Technology and Innovation. "Unfortunately we are currently not on that path."
Senator John Kerry (Photo courtesy the Peace Corps)
Subcommittee chair John Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat, used the hearing to unveil a proposal to address many of the concerns raised by Herzog and other experts who testified at the hearing.
Kerry's bill would increase funding with the aim of establishing three to five coal-fired power plants with advanced carbon capture technology and three to five large-scale sequestration projects.
The legislation authorizes $2.4 billion in annual grants through 2015 for the power plants, as well as $1.6 billion annually through 2015 for the sequestration projects.
It also calls on the U.S. Geological Survey, USGS, to complete an assessment of the nation's geological storage capacity.
"We've got a gigantic challenge," Kerry said in reference to climate change. "Everybody who is talking about the use of coal is now talking about carbon capture and sequestration … most people have suggested to me that we can only do this if we kick into high gear."
Democrats and Republicans on the subcommittee voiced support for the Kerry's bill, which was also met with approval from the panelists.
Sally Benson (Photo courtesy Stanford)
"We needed to do it yesterday," said Sally Benson, executive director of Stanford University's Global Climate and Energy Project, which fosters ways of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. "This is urgent."
The urgency stems from the major role coal-fired power plants play in the world's energy supply as well as their massive contribution to greenhouse gas emissions caused by human activities.
Coal plants are responsible for 40 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions and addressing this has long been seen as a vital piece of any climate strategy. Both China and the United States, the two leading emitters of greenhouse gases, have vast supplies of coal and little intent to stop burning the fossil fuel.
CO2 capture pilot plant at SINTEF and NTNU's laboratories in Trondheim, Norway.
"Coal is a critical fuel for the world," Herzog said.
Technology for capturing carbon dioxide from power plants is available, but storing it remains another matter. Despite small-scale success, much remains to be learned about the potential and pitfalls of storing large amounts of the gas underground, Benson told the subcommittee.
"The question of scale cannot be ignored," she said. "Today there are three active sequestration projects. To make a significant impact on emissions reduction, thousands of projects will be needed and each of these will be five to 10 times larger than any of the existing projects."
"The potential for unforeseen consequences from large-scale sequestration must be assessed and methods to avoid them developed," Benson said.
Geological sequestration involves the injection of carbon dioxide underground at depths of one to three kilometers, explained Robert Burruss, a USGS research geologist.
"At these depths, CO2 has the properties of a low-density liquid and it displaces the fluid that initially filled the porous space and will rise vertically until it is retained beneath a nonpermeable barrier or seal," Burrus said.
"A critical issue for evaluation of storage capacity is the integrity and effectiveness of these seals," he said.
Geological formations in the United States provide hundreds of years of capacity, Benson added, but little is know about the effectiveness of the most widespread option - saline aquifers.
Norway's Statoil and license partners started in 1996 to inject one million tons of CO2 per year into sands of the Utsira Formation at the Sleipner field in the North Sea. This is the first case of industrial scale CO2 storage in the world. (Diagram courtesy SINTEF)
"They have the largest capacity and are located closer to more emission sources," she said. "The sealing mechanisms for saline aquifers are the same as for oil and gas reservoirs - but here we need scientific proof that the seals are sufficiently thick, have uniformly good sealing properties, and are not penetrated by active faults."
Given the different challenges of different geological formations, Benson said, the research focus should not just be on large projects.
"We need to be sure we are building the fundamental research base and there is a high amount of leverage for a tiny fraction of the amount you are putting into these very large-scale demonstrations," Benson said.
"These small-scale pilot tests are very important … as there are 40 or 50 places where we would like to sequester carbon dioxide."
There are other "major non-technical issues associated with storage that must be addressed concurrently before carbon capture and storage can become a commercial opportunity," added Bryan Hannegan, a vice president of the Electric Power Research Institute.
Hannegan pointed to permitting challenges, legal and liability issues, environmental concerns as well as public acceptance of the technology.
"It also needs looking at possible new uses of CO2," Hannegan said. "We've been able to turn sulfur into wallboard, it is quite possible we could turn CO2 into a usable byproduct."
For more information on the existing CO2 capture and storage case studies, visit: http://www.co2store.org/
Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2007. All rights reserved.
|International Hydropower Association accused of excluding indigenous peoples and supporting Taib’s corruption USCC Releases Model Rule for Composting Operations ADA Carbon Solutions Announces New Hire of Vice President of Sales and Key Executive Promotions|