December 3, 2007 4:00 AM PST

FAQ: All about coal--a necessary evil

Related Stories

The public face of nuclear power in the U.S.

October 11, 2007
Related Blogs

Peak oil projections from Chevron's CTO

October 24, 2007

(continued from previous page)

What about carbon capture?
Since coal can't disappear overnight, several start-ups and industrial giants have gravitated toward ideas for storing carbon dioxide and other pollutants that come from it. Powerspan is building a facility in Sugarland, Texas, that will capture the emissions equal to a 125-megawatt generator. The company has developed a process called Electro-Catalytic Oxidation that filters out nitric oxide, sulfur dioxide, mercury, and fine particles from smokestacks. The remaining carbon dioxide is captured by an ammonia-based solution, which is later recovered.

Then there is Skyonic, which has come up with an industrial process called SkyMine that captures 90 percent of the carbon dioxide coming out of smoke stacks and mixes it with sodium hydroxide to make sodium bicarbonate, or baking soda. The baking soda can then be used as a safe material for landfills or sold to industrial buyers.

"It is cleaner than food-grade (baking soda)," said Joe David Jones, Skyonic's CEO.

The big issue for these companies will be cost--capture systems like this will likely cost tens to hundreds of millions--and how difficult it will be to retrofit existing facilities to accommodate this stuff.

How good is carbon capture and sequestration?
No one knows. Ideas range from putting gases into empty, underground chambers and ringing it with warning sensors (plans are being sketched out for trials in North Africa) to pumping it into porous rock formations (where it will bind with rock) or saline aquifers.

The goal of the Southeast Regional Carbon Sequestration Partnership (SECARB), funded by the National Energy Technology Laboratory of the Department of Energy, is to study carbon-dioxide injection and storage capacity of the Tuscaloosa-Woodbine geologic system that stretches from Texas to Florida. The region has the potential to store more than 200 billion tons of the gas, which the department says is equal to about 33 years of emissions.

Beginning in the fall, SECARB scientists will start to inject a million tons of carbon dioxide a year into a brine reservoir near Natchez, Miss. The large scale of the projects raises questions, though. What about soil contamination, leakage, or earthquakes?

Meanwhile, the clock is ticking.

"We haven't invested in deep research or spent much money in testing out the scenarios. There are a lot of uncertainties," said Jiang Lin, a scientist with the China Sustainable Energy Program with Lawrence Berkeley Lab in a recent speech.

"Without carbon capture and sequestration, we are all toast," Lin added.

Previous page
Page 1 | 2 | 3

See more CNET content tagged:
coal, BTU, ton, China, India


Join the conversation!
Add your comment
airblown IGCC can now agressively go forward
Well, if this is true.......
"Clean coal is the biggest opportunity" in clean tech, said Stephan Dolezalek, a partner at VantagePoint Venture Partners earlier this year. "If you can solve that problem, it will be bigger than Google."
...............then I invite all people to my site to see how to do it, and to team up to make it happen on an ASAP basis. Since we will need a lot more electricity to power vehicles, we must focus on getting IGCC working with the least-cost air-blown approach (the Japanese are doing air-blown), which will enable 50% more power from the same coal used.

Due to the ?hot-gas-recirculation? feature of this breakthrough gasifier IP, the widest possible range of solid fuel quality, even wet fuels, can be used with little efficiency disadvantage. Plus, there?s better integration of the gasifier vessels within the IGCC steam system to further simplify the process, maximize efficiency and eliminate refractory from all vessels (a reliability issue).

Furthermore, CO2 sequestration is not an issue as I just hit upon some key data that shows temperature trends have not changed a bit since the 80% emissions increase starting about 1970 (see my gasification blog at and my blog that CO2 is not causing global warming (I?m not saying warming isn?t happening, just that CO2 isn?t causing it, and this issue has virtually stopped aggressive air-blown IGCC development in the US, now we an go forward with a clear conscience). With that much CO2 emissions increase and absolutely no change in temperature trends means CO2 is not a casual variable. And if we can?t believe real data trends, what can we believe in? It?s time to get to work and make air-blown IGCC pay the clean-coal dividends we know are there. To make it happen fast, that takes risk-taking private investment.
Posted by Lloyd Weaver (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
in my humble opinion

"clean coal" is only the latest boodoggle being manufactured and created by
the corporate/government power structure to soak the middle class.
Contrary to a barage of statements by govt. officials and repeated in the media,
there is no scientific proof that global warming was caused by human activity.
furthermore, current evidence strongly suggests that the "global warming" bubble has burst and the earth is coming into a cooling trend, perhaps dramatic, perhaps as frightening as a little ice age.

consider, for a parallel, those stupid neon lightbulbs which are being foist upon us
to replace incandescents: they cost us ten times as much money to purchase
and they contain all sorts of esoteric, dangerous, polluting, toxic metals
which will cost 10 times as much to dispose of properly or else will
further poison the environment.

In any case, Chinese and Indian officials are not likely to comply,
so the huge profit and cost will have no material impact on our atmosphere.
Posted by chistletoe (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Why not use biocoal? It's got the same energy density as coal and can be handled and pulverized exactly the same. I am developing a project to produce it from agave biomass (35+ tonnes of biocoal per hectare per year) and will sell it at a lower price than coal, making it very attractive for electricity generating facilities and heavy industries. With the cap and trade system around the corner, it will be a great business (The US carbon market will reach 2T USD in the near future).

Biomass derived biofuels (syngas, biooil, biocoal) can substitute fossil fuels not only at electric generating facilities and industry, but also in transportation, at a lower cost (in all of them) and without polluting and warming our beloved planet.

Agave grows in marginal land (semiarid and Mediterranean climates), thrives with no watering nor agrochemicals, is easy to cultivate at a very low cost of prodf
uction. I am trying to start plantations in Texas and California, the 1st and 2nd largest GHG emission States in the USA. Then, I will go to China and India.

Agave produces 3X more sugars than sugarcane, 4X more cellulose than the fastest growing eucalyptus and captures 5X more CO2 than the GMO poplar tree or 15X more than pines.

Arturo Velez
Posted by Agavelez (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
"clean coal" It is the only way to make gas from coal.
Posted by ekirinne (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag

Join the conversation

Add your comment

The posting of advertisements, profanity, or personal attacks is prohibited. Click here to review our Terms of Use.

What's Hot



RSS Feeds

Add headlines from CNET News to your homepage or feedreader.