Sunday, January 11, 2009

Carbon Capture and Sequestration: Political Lobbying Over Science?

Given the net energy loss and possible future carbon trading fiscal disadvantage, are coal-fired plants really given a new lease on life - in environmental impact terms – via carbon capture and sequestration technology?

By: Ringo Bones

During the turbulent campaign period of the 2008 US Presidential Elections, incoming President Barack Obama pointed out back then that coal-fired power plants will bankrupt themselves the longer they operate due to stricter environmental regulations with regards to greenhouse gas emissions. Especially when it comes to carbon dioxide where coal-fired power plants will lose out in the end economically due to binding international treaties governing carbon trading schemes.

But given coal’s abundance and aggressive lobbying at Capitol Hill, will carbon dioxide capture and sequestration schemes really lends a new lease on life on coal-fired power plants that generate electricity. Or just a politically buoyed gimmick of dubious benefit in reducing the overall harmful effects of global warming brought about by our excessive greenhouse gas producing industrial processes? Will the phase-out of excessive greenhouse gas generating coal-fired power plants just technological and environmental policy inevitability?

From a physicist’s standpoint, carbon dioxide capture and sequestration from a stationary fossil fuel burning internal combustion engine used to generate electricity will always result in a net loss of overall energy output. Due to that energy being diverted to extract the carbon dioxide from the amine-based separation solvent used to capture the greenhouse gas from the coal-fired power plants flue gases.

Plus the regeneration and reuse of that solvent also diverts additional energy from the stationary plant. Not to mention the transport of the carbon dioxide gas to it’s final – and hopefully geologically stable – long-term storage space requires another additional carbon expenditure. Even when the carbon dioxide is stored in the abyssal depths of the ocean bottom still require an additional expenditure of energy which unfortunately results in the release of additional carbon dioxide into the atmosphere under our current methods.

Unless a renewable energy source such as solar energy were employed, the amount of carbon dioxide generated by the energy requirements to support the entire carbon dioxide capture and sequestration processes could exceed the amount being sequestered from the atmosphere. In truth, is carbon capture and sequestration really just whitewashing – or to put it into perspective “green-washing” – so lobbyists / interest groups can attain their political and economic ends? It would be terrible if policymakers will have to wait a tragic incident like the one that occurred in Lake Nyos of Cameroon back in August 21, 1986 where 1,700 people and 3,500 livestock suffocated due to the sudden release of carbon dioxide from the lake.