January 23, 2007 9:35 PM PST

The underground option for CO2

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INDIAN SPRINGS, Calif.--There may be a solution to the energy problem under our feet. Unfortunately, the answer is coal.

America is the Saudi Arabia of coal, said Ira Ehrenpreis, a partner at venture capital firm Technology Partners. Besides being abundant, the coal in the United States also has less sulfur than geologists find in places like India, but it still produces tons of carbon emissions when it burns.

The solution may be to turn the carbon dioxide that's emitted as a waste product into a liquid or a solid and then store it underground, said panelists at the Clean Tech Investor Summit taking place here this week.

"Carbon capture is easy," said Dan Arvizu, director of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Capturing the carbon from the smokestacks of coal-burning electrical plants would add about 20 percent to a consumer's electrical bill.

What happens to that captured carbon dioxide? Fuel giant British Petroleum and others have discussed storing the gas in depleted oil wells and caves. But those underground storage options aren't airtight.

"If only 1 percent leaks out a year, that means that in a century it's all out," Arvizu said.

To that end, the NREL has begun research into projects to turn the gas into a liquid or solid. "The research is just starting out," Arvizu said, but the idea is intriguing.

Ray Lane, a partner at venture firm Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield and Byers, said at the conference that he too liked the idea.

"It's how it was sitting in the ground (as a liquid or solid) for millions of years," he said. "I like coal."

Lane also regaled the audience with stories of hunting birds in South Dakota with friends who drive SUVs that can run on E85, a blend of gas that is mostly ethanol. A self-described Republican environmentalist, Lane said that this group was ahead of the curve.

But consumer surveys tend to show that most owners of E85-capable vehicles just fill their cars up with regular gas because ethanol is very hard to find. Only about 1 percent of U.S. gas stations have it.

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22 comments

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All gone in a century? Not quite.
If you lose 1% per year, that doesn't mean you have lost it all in a century. You'll still have almost 37% of it left.

Is that a significant loss? Sure.

Kindergarteners don't marry, the totally blind don't drive, and those who can't handle elementary school arithmetic don't have useful opinions on technical matters. They ought not be quoted in news stories as if they had any idea what they are talking about.
Posted by deaconb (4 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Unless...
Unless you lose 1% of the ORIGINAL volume, each year... then you lose 100% of the total amount originally stored. Hmmm... guess it's just how you read the sentence. You assume 1% of the available volume, and I believed it to be 1% of original volume.
Posted by mgee99 (36 comments )
Link Flag
Energy, Environment, and CO2
As a person who is very involved in the technology side of energy, your article is incorrect as to stating the true facts of CO2 capture and sequestration.

Capturing CO2 from today?s coal fired technology will increase electricity costs by at least 70%, if not double them. Putting CO2 capturing technology on a coal fired plant is akin to adding optical chips to an old manual typewriter. It makes no sense. Why perpetuate an outdated and terribly inefficient technology?

The new gasification technologies make it much easier to capture almost 100% of the CO2 versus traditional "coal burning" power plants. However, the best solution is to avoid creating the CO2 in the first place.

When addressing energy independence, you also address the environment and CO2, as they are inextricably linked, as are the solutions. Sequestration does make sense, by storing the CO2 in certain types of geologic formations, like those found in many Sates including Texas, Illinois, Indiana and Ohio. It would be not advisable to store CO2 near populated areas as a leak could have some severe and deadly consequences to humans as opposed to the environment.
Stan Jasek
Posted by StanJasek (11 comments )
Reply Link Flag
End the use of Coal-fired power plants
As above.

We need long term solutions.
Not short-sighted ones.
Posted by rslc (93 comments )
Reply Link Flag
CO2 is airborne fertilizer
CO2 is airborne fertilizer. We should make a deliberate conscious effort to use it by crops, forests, etc. Let nature recycle it for us, work with sunshine to turn it once again into usable energy, and use it again, repeatedly. Sequestering CO2 is a stupid idea.
Posted by RavingEniac (57 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Nature doesn't work that fast
Even without deforestation,
human is putting many times more CO2 into the air,
more than the forest can consume.

Let alone with deforestation since human industrialisation.
Posted by rslc (93 comments )
Link Flag
Solution
There exists technology to convert the CO2 into a solid at the smoke stack that would provide a net increase in energy. Algae has been used to capture emitted CO2 at the stack. By using algae that contains a high percentage of oil the oil can be pressed out of the algae and used as bio-diesel fuel. The remainder can either be processed into alchohol with the remnants being sequestered or directly sequestered thereby reducing the overall CO2 footprint.
Posted by rshelton3000 (26 comments )
Reply Link Flag
also
Algae could be part of the answer. Sequestered CO2 could, over
time ,be pumped into algae ponds. Algae is fast growing, check out
my fish tank. As stated, press out the oil and then use the algae as
feed for the herbivores. The CO2 needs to be converted back into
O2.
We can not use most of the corn to make ethanol, taco shells will
cost too much.
Posted by twotall610 (53 comments )
Link Flag
ALIENS MOVIE TO THE RESCUE
Guess what guys it's time for?

We are producing too much C02 with too few trees to get rid of it. We can't just plant more trees. We can but with increasing population and development it just is not enough.

Solution:
Almospheric Scrubbers -Takes the C02 and converts it into oxygen using a type of photosynthesis. Massive power requirements though of course...

Problem:
Don't have the Technology yet.... You heard me get to work.
Posted by SiXiam (69 comments )
Reply Link Flag
The solution is plants
The solution is easy. Harvest plant material, maybe even that switchgrass, and pump them into abandoned oil wells. No technology is needed to capture CO2 or to convert it. Plants already accomplish this. Over time, oil could even be converted into a renewable resource.
Posted by MyLord (34 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Excellent Idea!
Let's knock down some of these cities, highways, shopping malls and industrial parks and plant trees. That would definitely help the situation.
Posted by gw188397 (45 comments )
Link Flag
Re: The solution is Plants
Unfortunately the geology of oil wells is not conducive to your solution. Oil is held in oil sands or other porous material and therefore any solids being pumped into the oil well would clog the pores. My original idea, before I discussed it with experts, was to pump the solution with the algae into such wells but they shot that idea down in flames. We could, however, bury the solid remnants of the algae and pump the oil down the wells.
Posted by rshelton3000 (26 comments )
Link Flag
America is like...
an obese person who has tried to lose weight using every known gimmick except healthy diet and exercise. We need to consume less energy. Period.
Posted by gw188397 (45 comments )
Reply Link Flag
sitting in the ground
"It's how it was sitting in the ground (as a liquid or solid) for millions of years," he said. "I like coal." Nice quote
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Posted by preferatele12 (2 comments )
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