The Obama administration is starting a last-ditch effort to make “clean coal” a climate change solution, despite its heavy focus on renewables and stiff rules to phase out fossil fuel.
But it’s a big gamble. Clean coal technology faces a number of woes in becoming commercial, especially from natural gas that is much more cost effective.
Despite the hurdles, the administration says that without the technology, meeting global climate change goals “will cost roughly 140 percent more than with it,” Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said last week during a small gathering of industry officials at a meeting of the National Coal Council, a federal advisory group.
At the heart of the push is the technology, typically known as “carbon capture and storage,” or CCS for short. But Moniz and the industry like to refer to “carbon capture utilization and storage,” or CCUS, which is seen as the only version of the technology that can be made affordable enough to deploy.
When carbon capture was suggested more than a decade ago as an option for reducing the emissions of coal-fired power plants, it came across as a bit unbelievable due to its scale.
Imagine a power plant and its smoke stack. Now imagine the plume of smoke being emitted from that plant. A power plant with CCS would divert the carbon dioxide from that plume of smoke and inject it as a liquid deep underground, where it would hopefully stay indefinitely.
While that may sound like the stuff of science fiction, it has become the only option to make coal viable under any plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Carbon capture utilization, an idea spurred on by China, seeks to create a market for carbon dioxide, including selling it to companies such as Exxon Mobil to use in oil drilling.
Climate experts say a massive number of power plants outfitted with the technology would be needed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions enough to offset the Earth’s temperature from rising above 2 degrees Celsius by the middle of the century.