Wednesday, May 7, 2008

PA's big stake in carbon sequestration tests

The nation's energy crisis would be yesterday's news if so-called, clean-coal technology can be proven to work effectively and economically.

That's a big 'if' --perhaps a long shot--but it would provide an enormous economic boost to coal-producing states like Pennsylvania, which:

* Has anthracite coal reserves in excess of 7 billion tons
* Is the nation's second largest exporter of electricity, and
* Generates 55 percent of its electricity from coal

The Bush Administration, to the chagrin of some environmental groups, is committed to the technology and is spending millions on projects to test the viability of "carbon sequestration."

What is it? Simply put, it's the process whereby greenhouse gas-producing carbon dioxide emissions from power plants would be captured (rather than escaping to the atmosphere) and injected into old coal mines, salt mines and other below-surface cavities.

Will is work? And at what environmental and financial cost?

At present, large-scale carbon sequestration is as much concept as reality, but Congress has appropriated funds to test whether it can provide a real-world solution to the world's CO2 emissions problem.

Yesterday, the Department of Energy announced awards of more than $126.6 million for carbon sequestration tests in California and Ohio--the Department's fifth and sixth large-scale projects.

"The formations to be tested during the third phase of the partnerships program are the most promising of the major geologic basins in the United States. Collectively, these formations have the potential to store more than 100 hundred years of CO2 emissions from all major point sources in North America," said Acting Deputy Secretary of Energy Jeffrey Kupfer.

"Tests like these will help provide the confidence and build the infrastructure necessary to commercialize these technologies, and will enable the U.S. to continue using its vast resources of coal while protecting the earth for future generations."

According to the DOE, the new projects are designed to demonstrate the entire CO2 injection process - pre-injection characterization, injection process monitoring, and post-injection monitoring - for large scale injections of one million tons or more to test the ability of different geologic settings to permanently store CO2. The Department says it plans to invest $126.6 million in the two projects over the next 10 years, while "industry partners will provide $56.6 million in cost-shared funds to make these projects a success."

More information on the DOE projects is available here.

Many in the environmental community see the funding as a wasteful diversion from more promising technologies, like solar, wind and cellulosic ethanol.

Greenpeace on Monday released a study called "False Hope: Why carbon capture and storage won't save the climate."

Is carbon sequestration research a good use of your federal taxes? Let us know what you think about this or related energy issues by clicking on the "comment" line below.

Anthracite coal mining in Pennsylvania
Southeast Regional Carbon Sequestration Partnership
The Status of Carbon Sequestration - Cleantech Blog
Putting the genie back in the bottle - Bizmology blog

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