Looking Behind The Clean Coal Curtain

We all know that fossil fuels are dirty business. Can carbon capture and sequestration technologies help to make “clean coal” a reality? The answer is as complicated as the technology itself, which is still largely under development, but many vocal critics claim that the promise of clean coal is no more real than the lump of coal Santa is supposed to give naughty children at Christmas.

Currently, carbon dioxide (CO2) is routinely separated and captured as a by-product from industrial processes such as synthetic ammonia production, hydrogen production, and limestone calcination. However, when it comes to capturing it from coal (and natural gas) plants, the process becomes more complicated, as the CO2 must be extracted from flue vents (or other “source points”), and once harvested, must be disposed of, either by deep geologic or ocean storage, or recycling through various products, such as fuel, plastics, cement, and fertilizers.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, existing capture technologies are not cost-effective when considered in the context of sequestering CO2 from power plants. The government hopes to bring those costs down through improved research, but at present, the technology uses 10-40% of the power produced by a power plant, which–if widely adopted–has the potential to drive up the demand for coal and erase many of the efficiency gains of the last 50 years.


image via Wikipedia

Clean coal” has, nevertheless, been a recent rallying cry by the coal industry, which claims that since capture research has already significantly improved the environmental performance of coal-based generation for traditional emissions such as SO2, NOx and particulate matter, CO2 is simply the next on the list. A number of private companies, buoyed up by Department of Energy carbon capture research funding, have been working to make that goal a reality by developing improved carbon capture and sequestration technologies.

One of those companies is Skyonic, which has been operating a plant demonstrating its SkyMine technology since 2007 at various locations in Texas, including in conjunction with Capitol Cement in San Antonio, in preparation for its first commercial pilot plant that is due for completion in 2012. It will recycle CO2 captured from various industrial processes in the form of commercially saleable mineral products.

Susan DeFreitas has covered all manner of green technology for EarthTechling since 2009. She is a graduate of Prescott College for the Liberal Arts and the Environment, and has a background in marketing green businesses. Her work on green living has been featured in Yes! Magazine, the Utne Reader and Natural Home.

1 Comment

  • Reply January 26, 2011

    Roy West

    I work for a big oil company and we have nothing to worry about from the Obama administration. He has us covered so we do not have to worry about any changes for the next 6 years. He brokered a deal with the rest of us at big oil companies to reduce the amount of money going into to clean energy.We are only concerned about profits. People who die from exposure to toxic emmissions were expendable anyways. We rule the world and no one is going to change that. We do not care if there are 9 million square miles of oceans which are ecological dead zones-no body swims there anyhow. Who cares about animals anyhow. We need more money to pay out bonuses to our top earners at our company. We spent 18,000,000 million on parties to celebrate the record profits we made from the American people. Somebody pinch me-I can not believe that we raked in another 67 billion this last quarter and that was before we got all of the tax breaks for being good corporate citizens. With credit from the Federal Government for all of our expenses we stand to double it to 120,000,000 million dollars. Go America! Yeah! Hey can anyone share Glenn Becks phone number? I need to call and thank him and Rush Limpbaugh for their stellar performance going after those pesky scientist who keep saying we are in serious trouble. You know that is a lie to make republicans look like war mongers, thieves and blustering idiots. Thanks Glenn for standing up for pollution, destruction of habitat and the complete disintergration of planet earth. You are number one in our book. We would love to have you and Rush speak at this years celebration. Name you price-we have lots of money to go around. Maybe Rusch Limpbaugh can get that tummy tuck he as always wanted. Just kidding-he is just big boned. It is funny to see his bones giggle the way they do when he moves. Hey, we can handle the truth. If not we find a fake scientist have him post lies on the web and lobby congress to throw up road blocks to any clean energy programs. Yes, we are the oil and gas industry. Praise God and Big oil.

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