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American Automobile Fuel Consumption Debate

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Anup

I want to quickly add that according to my observation, resistance to Carbon Capture and Storage is much higher in Europe than in the US. In general, I have found people do not like the idea of sequestration, much like they do not like nuclear power. The risks in both cases are real, and we must work on reducing those.

Sierra Club is not THE environmental oranization, but a fairly representative one. In any case, many environmental organizations think that Sequestration is just a delaying tactic, and a means to promote coal, which it is. This is along with the uncertainty about storage of CO2 is leading a lot of people to question the usefulness of sequestration.

I am among those who say that our problem with Energy and Climate Change is so big that we are going to need everything under the sun to tackle it. CO2 capture and storage can definitely play a big role in it, and we should continue working on it.

Tom

My perception is that a number of environmental groups are skeptical but open-minded about geologic storage of carbon dioxide. Groups like NRDC and CAN Europe have questions that they want answered but they recognize, as Anup says at the end of his post, that if it is done correctly this technology could play a big role in reducing carbon dioxide emissions.

I think these environmental groups want to make sure that carbon sequestration is a component of a larger plan - and not a delaying tactic. They want to see real movement towards alternative energy sources while work continues on carbon sequestration.

On a separate note, I agree that more needs to be done to understand the risks of geologic storage of carbon dioxide but I do not think the risks are on par with the risks of nuclear power. While your post does not suggest that the two risks are equal - I just want to make that point clear.

Tom

It is a big week for carbon sequestration in the news (or in my news). Today on Salon, Katharine Mieszkowski has an article about "clean coal" technologies (Coal: Clean, green power machine?) which features carbon sequestration after the jump.

Ms. Mieszkowski begins the article by tearing into a group called Americans for Balanced Energy Choices who have been sponsoring an ad that features an eagle enjoying the clean air provided by clean coal. She then reviews the promise of and problems with carbon sequestration (carbon dioxide capture and storage does not seem to be used very often).

The problems: high cost and unknown leakage rates (which could negate the enterprise).

The promise: reduction of carbon dioxide emissions from coal.

I think she hits the nail on the head with this passage:

For the Bush administration, the promise of true "clean coal" is remarkably similar to the promise of the hydrogen fuel-cell car -- a tantalizing technological fix that's decades off, so one can endorse it happily and continue merrily polluting in the present.

That is the core of the problem. If carbon sequestration and clean coal technologies (the article includes a discussion of gasification) are supported in lieu of near term action (carbon tax, renewable energy goals, pushing hybrid technologies, etc), I think the administration and the industry will lose remaining environmental organization good will.

Anup

I would suggest reading the following article: Modeling Uncertainty of Induced Technological Change. The article argues that:


...Under uncertainty the near-term investment decisions in new technologies are more important in deciding the direction of long-term development of the energy system than are decisions that are made later, toward the end of time horizon. Thus, the most dynamic phase in the development of of future energy technologies will occur during the next few decades. It is during this period that there is a high freedom of choice across future technologies and many of these choices would lead to high spillover learning effects for related technolgies.

or as explaied by Farrel et. al:
Energy technologies (or, more properly, energy technology systems) are very long-lived, capital intensive, and have enormous economies of scale, all of which intensify the importance of early choices in research, development, and deployment (Antonelli, 1997; Gritsevskyi and Nakicenovic, 2000). This effect, called path dependence, is particularly true on the supply side, where fuel production technologies (mines, wells, refineries, railroad lines, pipelines, and delivery outlets) are necessary before even the first retail sale can be made.

Of course, I do not mean to say that near term actions of carbon reduction should not be taken, quite the contrary. I am trying to suggest that we can, and shoul, do both. I don't see how carbon taxes, renewable energy goals, or pushing hybrid technologies will prevent longer term research and development in sequestration or hydrogen, and vice versa. This is what John Heywood calls two paths forward approach, and I agree with him.

Mike

Sequestration makes national news, and you guys are complaining? I thought Tom would be dancing on the table tops.

Jenny heard the NPR broadcast and picked up on something more subtle. She said that she did not hear the word "sequestration" at all in the clip. I haven't gone back to check, but I thought it was interesting. To a majority of people, the meaning of "sequestration" is not immediately apparent. If in widely viewed/heard venues the media calls it something else (like enhanced oil-field recovery, etc.), then Tom's hard work on public knowledge would be skewed.

Wait... did I just complain too?

Tom

Mike, that is a great catch by Jenny, I did not even notice it. In the survey (How Aware is the Public of Carbon Capture and Storage?), we defined carbon sequestration as “using trees to absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.” We defined carbon capture and storage as “capturing carbon dioxide from power plant exhaust and storing [it] in underground reservoirs.” The IPCC is working on a technical paper that will be titled Special Report on Carbon Dioxide Capture and Storage - I think it is due out next year.

All that means that I botched the title of this post; I assumed NPR called it “carbon sequestration” but they were much closer to calling it “carbon dioxide capture and storage.” The survey looked at both terms. We did not ask about EOR - that might have been a good one.

The naming thing has been an ongoing issue with this technology. A survey by Carnegie Mellon called it carbon capture and disposal.

Anup, thanks for the articles, I scanned them and hope to give them a closer inspection later. I think we are arguing from the same side of the coin (which does not make for a very good argument). Just to be clear, I think we need to implement policies that reduce greenhouse gases in the near term but we need to continue to fund research into CCS, gasification, and hydrogen fuel cells. I agree that it is possible to do both – in fact, I believe it is important to do both.

Mike

The US DOE has declared a recent sequestration project a success.

By the way, why is the US funding this project if it is in Canada? Don't we have EOR oil field candidates in the US?

Tom

Mike, US DOE contributed some but not all the funds. Some Canadian agencies were also involved.

The primetime EOR candidates are along the Gulf Coast. The CO2 was coming from a synfuel project in North Dakota (another reason for US involvement) and it is closer to the oil fields of Canada than to the Gulf Coast from ND. If I have my facts straight, they had been using naturally occuring CO2 before starting to use the source in ND.

I can't put my finger on it at the moment but some popular mag (the Economist or Wired or something) had an article about the rebirth of the synfuel plant (Great Plains Synfuels Plant) when they found a market for the CO2.

Tom

Found the article, it was in Technology Review and worth a read:

Carbon Dioxide for Sale

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