Will Carbon Sequestering give us Clean Coal?

Will Carbon Sequestering give us Clean Coal?

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Sometime within the Nineteen Seventies when our household outings have been normally to locations like Yogi Bear Jellystone park or the native drive-in film, my father drove us to a coal-fired power plant. The native electrical firm had simply put in smokestack scrubbers to adjust to the Clean Air Act. The transformation from sooty gray smoke to puffy white clouds of steam appeared like a miracle. 

Nixon-era greenwashing

Dad taught Science so he was in a position to clarify how the scrubbers used electrical energy to draw ash and soot. It was just like the way in which a charged balloon attracted our hair or clinged to the wall. These scrubbers have been superb however they weren’t designed to cut back the lung-rotting sulphur dioxide (SO2 – sox for brief), nitrogen oxides (NOx – nox for brief) or ozone (O3). They did little to cut back the degrees of brain-rotting mercury or lead and did nothing to gradual the discharge of carbon dioxide (CO2) into our environment.

Twenty-five years later the corporate proposed three extra “clean-coal” energy vegetation on the identical web site to reap the benefits of the grandfather clause of environmental legal guidelines written when the unique vegetation have been constructed within the Fifties. The proposal’s Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) stated that new applied sciences did seize extra air pollution. Per megawatt-hour, every new plant would produce much less SO2, NOx and O3 than the older ones. This factoid was repeated on promoting together with the promise for jobs. But the satan was within the particulars. In sum whole together with the prevailing vegetation, regional air high quality would decline and barely meet Clean Air Act requirements provided that the smokestacks have been constructed increased than the Federal Aviation Association (FAA) allowed. 

I realized that photovoltaic solar energy was thought of to be too costly and that new nuclear energy vegetation have been disqualified till somebody discovered a safe way to store the waste

The new “Clean-coal” energy vegetation have been costly to construct in order that they must keep on-line for a minimum of 50 years in an effort to be cost-effective. Gas turbine power plants produce much less CO2 per megawatt and are cheaper to construct however they’re dearer to function. Computer fashions really useful hundreds of megawatts of offshore wind farms because the most cost-effective power supply. But these fashions have been ignored.

Jobs have been the last word trump card within the energy plant debate however environmentalists introduced up the possible unfavourable impression of mercury and thermal air pollution on the state’s fishing trade and the impression on site visitors from the freight trains that might carry greater than 6000 tons of coal on daily basis to generate roughly 1100 Megawatts of electrical energy and launch 12,000 tons of Carbon Dioxide into our environment.

Despite greater than a century of science exhibiting the impression of CO2 on local weather and the truth that a CO2 focus of 4% is deadly, this invisible gasoline shouldn’t be thought of a pollutant. When anybody introduced up the subject of CO2, the phrase sequestering was used as if it was a magic incantation that might remedy our carbon-based troubles.

What is Sequestering?

The dictionary offers:
Se·ques·ter verb

  1. isolate or conceal away.

“Tiberius was sequestered on an island”

In the context of carbon dioxide, sequestering refers to any technique which might lock this greenhouse gasoline safely away from the place it will probably hurt us and the environment.

Since the O2 element of CO2 shouldn’t be dangerous, the only technique to sequester CO2 could be to separate the Oxygen from the Carbon, reversing the coal-burning response:

C + O2 → CO2 + power


CO2 + power → C + O2

Unfortunately unburning coal is sort of as tough as unbaking a cake. A clever faculty professor named Merlin as soon as taught us the three legal guidelines of physics as:

  • You can’t win
  • You can’t break even
  • You shouldn’t even strive.

Even if coal was pure carbon and air was pure oxygen, the coal unburning response would take extra power than we bought from burning the coal. But let’s be optimistic. Maybe there’s a technique to sneak round that third legislation of physics, a trick to cover the carbon from mom nature.


Plants use chlorophyll and power from daylight to soak up carbon dioxide and launch oxygen. They already know the way to sequester carbon. Over time these vegetation will finally turn into coal which is usually carbon. So it’s doable to reverse that chemical response! Climate impression’s nature based solutions use vegetation as a part of the carbon offsets which assist corporations transfer in direction of a carbon-neutral steadiness. According to an article revealed within the journal Nature, quick rising timber comparable to Eucalyptus and Acacia can take in as much as 5 tons of carbon per hectare per yr.

Going again to my neighbourhood coal energy plant, in an effort to retailer the 12,000 tons of carbon dioxide this 1.1 Gigawatt plant emits on daily basis we would wish greater than 876,600 hectares of eucalyptus or acacia timber. That’s 8766 sq. kilometre, a forest greater than 11 instances the scale of Bahrain! Even if this a lot land is out there and never getting used for housing or agriculture, timber don’t stay eternally and forests are usually lower down the place their wooden finally decays or burns, releasing its carbon again into the environment. Seaweed, algae and different vegetation have additionally been explored for his or her potential to sequester or capture carbon nevertheless it’s useful to place sequestering into perspective. It took nature a couple of hundred million years to sequester carbon into the coal we’ve already burned over the previous 350 years. So go forward and plant a tree. Plant as many as you will have land for, however they aren’t the short and simple answer we have been in search of.

Physical Limits of Carbon Capturing

A second technique for sequestering carbon is to retailer it straight. For instance, the big caverns created by salt mining may very well be used as large carbon dioxide storage tanks. Dry oil wells and deserted coal mines is also used for direct storage. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, Canada and Norway are already storing greater than 1,000,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide underground yearly. Other giant scale underground carbon storage initiatives are underway within the U.S., China, Australia and Europe. But not each gap within the floor would make a superb carbon dumpster. High strain carbon dioxide might trigger environmental issues just like what we’ve already seen with fracking.

The Chemistry of Carbon Capture

One promising type of carbon sequestering entails a chemical trick. If carbon dioxide is pumped into an underground cavern made out of a sort of volcanic rock known as basalt, a chemical response takes place. The default is carbonized because it captures carbon dioxide right into a mineral type. In an experiment conducted in Iceland the place basalt volcanic rocks are widespread, 90% of the carbon dioxide injected was captured into stone in solely two years. Similar pure processes would take hundreds of years.

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory just lately refined this method and revealed in a peer-reviewed journal the present report for the most cost effective carbon seize at $39 per metric ton. Previous state-of-the-art carbon sequestering usually value $57 per metric ton. 

Carbon Sequestering raises the price of coal

We know coal isn’t good for the environment however we nonetheless burn it as a result of it’s low-cost. Coal at present prices about $40 per ton. But since burning coal produces twice its weight in CO2 and the price of burning coal and sequestering its carbon may be very shut to 3 instances the price of coal: $120 per ton.

There are different chemical tips involving constructing supplies. One quite common constructing materials is lime mortar. Over time the mortar absorbs Carbon Dioxide from the air because it hardens into one thing resembling limestone on this response: Ca(OH)2 + CO2 → CaCO3 + H2O

The lime mortar used within the Great Pyramids at Giza are very slowly reacting with carbon dioxide because the mortar turns into one thing resembling the limestone from which it got here. Self-healing concrete is how the Romans constructed buildings to final hundreds of years.

On the floor this response occurs rapidly however even after hundreds of years, this response shouldn’t be but full for the mortar that holds the nice pyramids collectively. It is feasible that new discoveries in chemistry will assist us produce buildings that take in extra CO2 than was launched throughout its development.

What’s subsequent for carbon sequestering?

We have greater than a century of stable science telling us that our grand experiment to launch hundreds of thousands of years of carbon into our environment over the course of some hundred years will finish in tears. Each era has kicked this looming environmental catastrophe down the street and handed it on to the following. The motive coal remains to be an infinite a part of our power combine is that our international accounting system doesn’t measure its true value. We fake coal is reasonable but when we might measure the true value of environmental harm or sequestering, it’s doubtless it could lose each benefit it has over wind power, solar power and even nuclear energy.

We should proceed to discover new methods of sequestering carbon dioxide whereas reminding one another that one of the best ways to take away carbon from the environment is to not put it there within the first place.