Carbon Capture and Storage: Coal Industry Myth or Clean Energy Solution?

Sunset Over the Fisk Coal Fired Plant (Photo Credit: vxla, Creative Commons license, http://www.flickr.com/photos/vxla/5506703846/)Coal is the backbone of the American electric sector. It fuels half of the country’s electricity generation and it is cheap and readily available in places like Wyoming and West Virginia. Coal also accounts for approximately 40% of the country’s carbon dioxide emissions.

In the hope of perpetuating the use of a cheap and secure fuel, fossil fuel interests and their allies have urged the development of subterranean CO2 sequestration using a technology called Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS). The coal industry has branded CCS as a “clean coal technology” and has depicted it as a solution to climate change that will allow the country to continue to burn coal without emitting CO2. Utilities, industry and the government have pledged billions of dollars for clean coal projects. 

Support for “clean coal” went all the way to the top: President Barack Obama advocated for it during his first presidential campaign, saying, “This is America, we figured out how to put a man on the moon in ten years. You can’t tell me we can’t figure out how to burn coal that we mine right here in the United States of America, and make it work.” Even some environmental advocacy organizations, such as National Resources Defense Council, have supported CCS.

In her thesis, Rachel Henschel (MCP ’09) investigated the impacts of Carbon Capture and Storage and the reasons behind the support is has received from politicians and environmental groups, and concluded that CCS does not make sense. First, the technology cannot be built and scaled in time to mitigate climate change. Additionally, CCS will be so expensive that utilities have not been willing to invest in it. It also poses serious environmental and health risks such as water source contamination, earthquakes, and death by asphyxiation. Read more about Rachel’s conclusions in her thesis here, and share your opinion on EPP’s Facebook group.

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Posted on January 23, 2013, in climate change, technology and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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