Yergin on the necessary scale for CCS

by Milan on October 29, 2011

in Climate change, Economics, Power plants

Anyone who thinks it would be cheap and easy to bury the carbon dioxide pollution arising from coal-fired power plants would benefit from reading a passage from Daniel Yergin’s The Quest: Energy, Security, and the Remaking of the Modern World about the scale of that undertaking:

And the scale here would be very, very large. It would really be like creating a parallel universe, a new energy industry, but one that works in reverse. Instead of extracting resources from the ground, transporting, and transforming them, and then burning them, the “Big Carbon” industry would nab the spent resource of CO2 before it gets into the atmosphere, and transform and transport it, and eventually put it back into the ground. This would truly be a round-trip.

Indeed, this new CCS industry would be similar in scale to that of existing energy industries. If just 60 percent of the CO2 produced by today’s coal-fired power plants in the United States were captured and compressed into a liquid, transported, and injected into the storage site, the daily volume of liquids so handled would be about equal to the 19 million barrels of oil that the United States consumes every day. It is sobering to realize that 150 years and trillions of dollars were required to build that existing system for oil. (p. 402, hardcover)

Personally, I wonder whether it is really worth going through such a song and dance in order to keep coal viable as a source of energy. After all, it would still be producing large volumes of toxic air and water pollution, it would still require the destruction of mountains to dig up the raw matter to burn, and it would still ultimately be an exhaustible resource.


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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

. October 29, 2011 at 11:43 am


“According to Lynn Orr, director of the Global Climate and Energy Project at Stanford, using a quantity of infrastructure equal to that presently used to extract oil, we could sequester about 14% of humanity’s fossil fuel related emissions. That is about half the combined output from large factories and power stations – the kind of facilities where CCS is most likely to be used. According to an article in Nature, $80 billion dollars of investment per year would be sufficient to capture “several million tonnes of carbon per year.” Burying gigatonnes will presumably cost several orders of magnitude more.”

. November 12, 2013 at 11:58 am

“But there is an energy paradox with CCS. Any coal-fired power plant, oil refinery, or bitumen upgrader equipped to handle CCS will pay a huge energy penalty: it will have to burn anywhere from 25 to 32 percent more fossil fuels. Stripping and compressing CO2 is not cheap. This form of energy cannibalism also requires nearly a third more water and a third more chemicals. And the penalty doesn’t include the energy costs of retrofitting these plants. Moreover, to bury just 20 percent of the world’s emissions, calculates energy expert Vaclav Smil, we would need to create an entirely new worldwide absorption-gathering/compression-transportation/storage industry. That industry’s annual throughput would have to be about 70 percent larger than the annual volume now handled by the entire global crude oil industry, whose immense infrastructure of wells, pipelines, compressor stations, and storage systems took generations and about $60 trillion to build. Monitoring CO2 cemeteries would require more energy and public funds for thousands of years.”

Nikiforuk, Andrew. The Energy of Slaves: Oil and the New Servitude. 2012. p.172 (hardcover)

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