image cc James Jordan
It turns out that removing CO2 from the smokestack of a coal fired power plant and then burying it under ground in a process called Carbon Capture and Sequestration (CCS) is the most costly, least efficient way to interdict carbon before it hits the atmosphere.
If the U.S. congress ever passes a climate bill that includes a Cap and Trade scheme, in which emitters of CO2 must pay to pollute, it could mean that because of cost, coal fired power plants will be the least likely industrial sources of carbon ever to have CCS or “clean coal” technology affixed to their smokestacks.
The reason is simple: the emissions from coal burning sources are so dirty that separating the CO2 from all the other pollutants they contain takes more energy than siphoning CO2 from other, cleaner sources, such as the emissions of natural gas fired power plants.
The nation’s first power plant to use “clean coal” / CCS technology has to use 30% of the energy the plant produces just to separate and bury the carbon the plant is emitting. This means the electricity it produces would ultimately cost up to 78% more than traditional coal, according to a just-released report.
Coal fired power plants have a second disadvantage when compared to other emitters of CO2, which is that their smokestacks release a stream of effluent that is only 12% carbon dioxide. In contrast, the kilns of cement plants release a mixture of gasses that is almost pure CO2, which can be sequestered without any additional filtering. (The manufacture of cement is responsible for almost 10 percent of worldwide human-caused CO2 emissions per year all by itself.)