With attention focussed on the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) released into the atmosphere by coal fired power stations, coal mining companies are desperate to find ways of maintaining the viability of the industry in the era of CO2 induced climate change and carbon trading.
One method being considered is to use CO2 Geo-Sequestration, sometimes known as "Carbon Capture." It is one of a number of "Clean Coal" technologies that reduce CO2 emissions.
The concept's simple enough. Just capture the C02 after the coal's burnt, cool and compress it, then push it down the nearest convenient hole in the ground, where it will forever remain out of sight and out of mind. Sounds easy, but there are a number of difficult technical hurdles.
For a start, there's a lot of CO2 produced. The power stations in New South Wales burn millions of tons of coal a year. The weight of CO2 produced is 3.7 times the weight of the carbon in the coal. That's a hell of a lot of material to be safely disposed of.
Next, it's not that easy to separate the CO2 from the flue gas of a conventional power station. A lot of it is nitrogen plus other gasses which are largely inert in the combustion process, and you don't want to be adding those to the already large amount of CO2 you're trying to get rid of. For that reason, carbon capture may not be the 'bolt on solution' for conventional power stations that everyone hoped. It may mean building completely new plants that burn coal in pure oxygen, negating the need to separate the flue gasses, but markedly increasing the capital cost of the process.
And lastly, sites that can safely store the material are not readily available. Certain geological structures are required, and they're not always were the coal is burnt. If not close, the energy required to compress and transport the the CO2 to suitable sites will further increase the costs.
Despite the problems, Carbon Capture (along with nuclear energy) has been the darling of conservative governments. Until now.
THE [Australian] Government is facing a tough decision over whether to continue funding the world's leading clean coal experiment after the Bush Administration ended its commitment to the $US1.8 billion ($2 billion) project, citing massive budget blow-outs.
The US move is a grave setback for the Australian coal industry's hopes that a commercially-viable clean coal plant would be built in the foreseeable future. The US-led FutureGen project was embraced by the Howard government which pledged $15 million to it shortly before last year's election.
This is a surprising development considering that the current US administration is sympathetic to the fossil fuel industry. Not to be outdone, the former Australian government supported Carbon Capture at the expense of other environmentally friendly energy solutions.
Hopefully, this development marks the end to governments trying to pick green energy technology winners. If makes more sense for all technologies to be in the mix and receive equal opportunity to receive government research funding.
Who knows? Carbon capture may be a viable green technology, but it needs to be evaluated on an equal footing with all other technologies, whether they be nuclear or windmills.