Monday, February 09, 2015

The Professor Snowball lecture on coal carbon sequestration's record to date

FutureGen 2.0 carbon sequestration just lost most of its funding - all that was left from the 2009 Obama federal stimulus funding, because it's far too late to to spend it responsibly between now and the September 2015 deadline.

This is a pattern with CCS (aside from CO2 injection for recovering more fossil fuels). It's kind of like nuclear power, not penciling out under the green eyeshades.

That cancellation happened is also Not A Good Thing - we need options, wedges to reduce carbon, and this was one of them. Biomass-plus-CCS is also one of the very few carbon-negative options available to bring down not just emissions but actual CO2 levels.  It won't be any more economical than coal CCS, quite likely less economical. I'd like CCS and especially biomas CCS to happen, but the facts are being stubborn, absent some revolution.

Guess we're going to have to rely on biochar.


William Connolley said...

This is confusing. "FutureGen" rang bells, so I looks and found my 2008

Which said it was dead then.

Did it rise from the grave, only to die again?

Fernando Leanme said...

Brian, the design basis for future gen was flawed. Take a deep breath, sit down, grab a pencil and paper....


The flaw lies in the demand to have the CO2 sequestered forever. CO2 isn't nuclear waste.

The key to viability is to relax the requirement to have CO2 trapped for a very long time. If you relax the requirement you can run a simple linear program which includes the amount of co2 being sequestered, the leak rates from the CO2 reservoirs, and a realistic CO2 emissions profile (by realistic I mean the fact that fossil fuels do run out, and the cornucopians are wrong, we are running out of oil in a hurry and this isn't being accounted for).

If the CO2 reservoirs are allowed to leak over a period of say 20 thousand years, the carbon cycle has time to remove the CO2. There are also geologic formations which interact with the CO2 and can be said to behave as partial filters.

I don't think these alternatives are considered because the effort was conceived in a somewhat naive and limited mind set. This is typical of what I see in this field, we have too much dogma, little flexibility, unachiavable targets, and a lot of wasted effort.

Jim Eager said...

For once Fernando is making a reasonable point. Quite refreshing.

Brian said...

William - yes, that's what happened. Worth pointing out it was also a failure as a stimulus project, which were supposed to spend the money quickly to help get out of the recession. My water district got $70 million from the stimulus and spent it within 2 years, on a flood project and a recycled water treatment project.

Fernando - I'm not sure about all that. It's been some years since I looked at leakage rates, but the ones I saw were estimating around the time period you said or faster. All sequestration involves pumping CO2 deep underground. FutureGen was meant to reach deep saline aquifers, considered the most common potential way to sequester. They planned for only 80 years of monitoring in total. Do you have more info on cheaper sequestration?

I looked around their website for estimated leakage rates but didn't see any.

Aaron said...

End of pipe solutions are always more expensive. It is cheaper to use LED lights, and not produce as much CO2 than to use conventional lighting and CCS.

In the same way it is cheaper to use less water, than to build dams, water treatment, and waste water treatment facilities.

However, big end of pipe facilities are profitable for the contractors and confer status on the politician because with an end of pipe, everyone can see how he solved the problem.

It is much harder to take credit for preventing a problem.

Fernando Leanme said...

Brian, it would have to be modeled. But as you can imagine the shallower the rocks the more likely they have high porosity and permeability. This lowers the energy cost to overcome the storage system pressure. The key is also to withdraw water as the co2 is pumped in.

I've seen their requirements and it seemed to me they were excessive. Right now I would be willing to accept 1 % of the storage volume leaking per year. Again, this just needs to be modeled.

Andrew said...

It's certainly an interesting thought - if you could inject CO2 into some of the flood basalt formations off the western isles, I'd guess that it might simply react with the basalt.

Of course, getting the CO2 there in the first place may prove a bit tricky.

KAP said...

The only reason nuclear doesn't "pencil out under green eyeshades" is the absurd requirement for perfect safety, in an industry that is already the safest form of power production. Infinite safety costs infinite money.

Russell Seitz said...

So that's why I'm working on water conservation !

Jim Eager said...

Hmmm, OK, how's about we eliminate the legislated cap on liability and see if nuclear still pencils out then.

Dano said...

I'm not sure biochar is going to be the way to go unless we figger out how to quickly match inputs to application, so as to not tie up nutrients or make salts or the like.



Canman said...

My solution for expensive nukes and carbon sequestration (well maybe not a solution, but something to consider): Build cheap and dirty nukes in Antarctica. Then ship or pipe CO2 there to be frozen or converted to liquid fuels. Perhaps tankers could be equipped to haul liquid CO2 there and hydro carbon fuel back.

Russell Seitz said...

If Fernando can get the bugs out of using biochar to absorb liquid air , supply-side driven air sequestration could take a huge bite out of combustion globally.

Jeffrey Davis said...

Nuclear plants aren't being built because building a plant ties up cash for so long. Capitalists want a return on their investment tomorrow not 20 years from now.

Conservatives have become so orthodox in their anti-government whinges that they've cut off this country from ever again having a nuclear industry.

David B. Benson said...

Jeffrey Davis --- There are five nuclear power plants under construction in the USA and about 70 worldwide. The issue is simply whether there a traditional market for the power or a so-called liberalized electricity market. In the latter there is no adequate guarantee of providing the return (over 30 years) that investors expect,

Brian said...

I agree with KAP that some of the safety requirements on nukes are overstrict, especially compared to the thousands killed annually by coal pollution, and I agree with Jim that the legal limit on liability should be removed. My guess is the latter is more important.

Nukes don't seem to be doing too well in other countries either, so I doubt regulation is the only issue.