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Carbon Capture and Sequestration

June 28, 2011

A recent article in the European Energy Review said that the public must be involved whenever a new energy program is initiated, whether it is the smart grid, nuclear energy or carbon capture and sequestration (CCS).

It appears as though people have been protesting CCS and other goodies like the smart grid.

In the spirit of this effort in public disclosure, let me explain CCS.

CCS involves capturing CO2 at power plants, building high pressure pipelines, and then transporting the liquid CO2 to some geologic formation where the CO2 can be pumped into the ground and sequestered.

Capturing CO2 at existing coal-fired power plants results in around 30% less electricity being available for distribution to customers. The reason for this is that the system to capture and compress the CO2 uses one-third of the electricity produced by the power plant. The derating of natural gas power plants is even greater because the CO2 in the flue gas is much thinner and is harder to capture.

Bottom line, it’s necessary to build hundreds of new power plants that cost billions of dollars to replace the electricity lost from capturing CO2.

Either build these new power plants or end up with a shortage of electricity.

It should be pointed out that only a few small pilot projects for capturing CO2 from coal-fired power plants have been built, while none have been built to try to capture CO2 from natural gas power plants. In other words, carbon capture is still experimental.

CO2 can also be captured when new integrated gasification combined cycle (IGCC) power plants are built. In an IGCC plant, the coal is cooked and converted to gasses, where the hydrogen gas is burned in a gas turbine and the CO2 is captured and compressed. Four of these plants have been built in the U.S., but most aren’t equipped to capture CO2.

IGCC plants cost about twice as much as the newest, low emission ultra-supercritical coal-fired power plant, so the electricity from an IGCC plant will be very expensive. An IGCC plant also costs about six times more than a natural gas combined cycle power plant.

The next step is to build around 20,000 miles of new pipelines, costing at least a million dollars per mile, and then pumping the liquid CO2, at around 2,000 psi, from the power plants to where the CO2 can be sequestered.

There may be some safety issues with these pipelines, as well as problems in getting the rights of way for the pipelines. No doubt, getting the rights of way will require the use of eminent domain and result in legal costs and community disruptions.

Then there is the sequestration process. Here there is very little information to support the contention that billions of tons of CO2 can be safely stored underground. While some small quantities have been stored underground and some have been used in oil field enhancement, there is no proof that huge quantities of CO2 can be stored underground for long periods of time without leaking back into the atmosphere.

It should be noted that without CCS, it’s impossible for the U.S. to cut CO2 emissions 80% by 2050, as this administration demands.

What we really have with CCS is an impossible dream, actually a nightmare based on speculation, unproven processes, and costing billions of dollars. With CCS we very probably end up with a shortage of electricity, or at best, very expensive electricity that kills jobs and hurts families – and this assumes the CO2 doesn’t leak back into the atmosphere.

These are the incontrovertible facts.

See Carbon Folly for more information.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. Mark permalink
    June 28, 2011 10:21 am

    Hi Don,

    I attended a CEC meeting on this subject last year and your thoughts on the costs to implement a plan match those presented at the meeting. The other item that is going to effect the output of our (in CA that is) power plants efficiency is the elimination of once through cooling to save water and have it be cooler when discharging the water back to it’s source.


  2. June 28, 2011 11:10 am

    Thanks. Your concern about once through cooling water is likely to affect other states besides California. A nuclear plant in New Jersey is being closed early because of this issue. Power plants need cooling, and water is the most effective method. Air cooling works, and may be needed in Arizona and other states that have water shortages, but it’s more costly and less efficient.

  3. Mark permalink
    June 28, 2011 11:53 am

    Hi Donn,

    I believe the comment at the CEC meeting was that when it’s really hot outside the combination of air cooling with multipass water cuts the output of a facility in the neighborhood of 10 to 20%- just when you need the output the most.

    You may find a discussion over at Judith Curry’s site of interest- if you haven’t already seen it that is.


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