Thursday, August 12, 2010

FutureGen 'Old Clean Coal' Project Bags $1 Billion from DOE

 "How many billions of taxpayer dollars will we send down what is now just a hole in the ground before we recognize that pumping carbon pollution underground is nothing more than an industry pipe dream?"
-Dan Howells, Greenpeace

Old Clean Coal was a dirty old soul
And a dirty old soul was he;
He tried to filter and pipe CO2 down a hole
And instead it blew up a tree.
Every fiddler has a carbon credit to piddle
Some carbon credit swaps had he;
Oh there's none so rare, as polluted air
With Clean Coal for all Mattoon Illinois to see.

WASHINGTON, DC – President Obama gave a $1 billion enhance on Thursday to FutureGen, a “beleaguered” alliance aimed at curbing carbon dioxide pollutants created by burning coal to produce electrical power thorough an experimental, federally funded carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) project for Mattoon, Illinois. In a sudden shift of events this week, Mattoon dropped out of the project citing that it was “not in their best interest”. Mattoon was expected to serve as host of the experimental, jobs-creating, coal-fired power plant that would test whether carbon pollutants could be stored underground. The move is said to leave federal energy officials “scrambling to find a new site to store the pollutants.”

Is 'clean' coal really clean? If not, can carbon capture and sequestration technology (CCS) eventually be perfected to make coal become a leading American energy alternative at home and for export  abroad?

Jeff Biggers at the Washington Post explains What a Load 'Clean' Coal' is below:

Clean coal: Never was there an oxymoron more insidious, or more dangerous to our public health. Invoked as often by the Democratic presidential candidates as by the Republicans and by liberals and conservatives alike, this slogan has blindsided any meaningful progress toward a sustainable energy policy.”

He makes a compelling case against ever counting on coal mining becoming safe and clean for humans and the environment here:

Orwellian language has led to Orwellian politics. With the imaginary vocabulary of "clean coal," too many Democrats and Republicans, as well as a surprising number of environmentalists, have forgotten the dirty realities of extracting coal from the earth. Pummeled by warnings that global warming is triggering the apocalypse, Americans have fallen for the ruse of futuristic science that is clean coal. And in the meantime, swaths of the country are being destroyed before our eyes.
Here's the hog-killing reality that a coal miner like Burl or my grandfather knew firsthand: No matter how "cap 'n trade" schemes pan out in the distant future for coal-fired plants, strip mining and underground coal mining remain the dirtiest and most destructive ways of making energy.”

In his excellent article entitled Obama: The Making of a Clean Coal President, David Sassoon profiles both sides of the clean coal argument. While CCS “fits the limitless growth model like a glove, with the technology expected to double the size of the fossil fuel industry from its current size”, he speculates it will need two decades of government support to grow. In other words, the technology just is not there yet. A Department of Energy roadmap published late in the Bush administration (2007) projected that commercial-scale application of CCS would NOT be possible before 2030, saying:

"As a technology and a research discipline, carbon sequestration is in its infancy."

But the very real economic imperative of capitalizing on the abundance of  U.S. coal and patently owning 'clean' coal technology can not be underscored in these insecure economic times, as Sassoon explains that the Democrats are looking to the legacy energy industries which have another advantage:

They play powerfully inside a global economic system built on the assumption of limitless economic growth, and which is in dire need of boost in the wake of the US mortgage crisis. The coal supply remains a commodity that needs to be mined, shipped, exported and traded — a BTU bonanza for the nations that have it in abundance like the U.S., Russia, China, India and Australia.
Further, with China already leading the world in the export of solar and wind hardware, CCS offers the prospect of being an exportable big ticket advanced technology that even the Chinese will want to buy.”

So until 2030, President Obama may well believe – fervently and unconditionally – that government investment in clean coal technology is essential for our domestic economic growth and global climate sustainability.  Fair enough. You might call the phantom 'clean' coal the Skunkworks of polluting DIRTY coal development or the Manhattan Project of pollutants... But if all goes well, and at least until 2030 - it looks like we're stuck with plenty of DIRTY coal, and the choice of continuing to burn it and keep polluting the planet.

So what's next? Eli Kintisch from Science Insider explains below:

"Now, with $1 billion in stimulus funds, DOE has announced FutureGen 2.0—with decidedly less-aggressive goals. The project will retrofit an existing plant that burns the coal as solid coal—the old-fashioned way, pulverized into fine powder. But it will do so in burners full of rich oxygen, so the coal is burned more fully and produces a nearly pure stream of CO2 and water vapor—making the CO2 easier to collect and store than in traditional plants.
So instead of focusing on new technology for brand-new plants, the move emphasizes the need for understanding the decidedly less-sexy chore of creating retrofits for the coal plants that run today."

In the meantime, will dirty coal plants here and in countries around the world be fined for polluting? Will China, for example, be purchasing plenty of carbon credits in the near term? If we really care about the environment, dirty coal is not the way to go.


1 comment:

prezdumas said...

Er, um.

The Emperor has No Coals?

Brilliant poem, 2T!