May 19, 2011

The Case for more resources transformational technology rather than spending money to master hiding waste

Currently many countries are looking to spend many billions of dollars to research and implement carbon sequestration. What does the end state of this option look like ? In many decades we will have spent trillions of dollars to pipe carbon dioxide into the ground and we could have energy that is still dirty but where we sweep the dirt underneath the carpet. The world economy is maybe two to four times as big but fifty billion to 100 billion tons of man-made carbon dioxide is piped underground. Tens of billions will be spent on further research to develop the capability to store carbon dioxide underground at an affordable cost. More research and effort will be put into making sure that this massive hiding of carbon dioxide does not cause unintended harm from gas explosions.

Nuclear fusion and factory mass produced deep burn fission are solutions that have some technical risk and the research and the deployment effort for society might be somewhat comparable. The risks for the development are over estimated. There are benefits from lesser successes with nuclear fusion. Transmutation - cheaper ways to close the fission fuel cycle, space applications that are far easier than replacing coal as a cheap but clean energy source. For factory mass produced deep burn fission there are benefits as we get closer to factory mass production of components and as we work up to deeper and deeper burn (use more of the fissionable material from 5% up to 100%).

The end state of successful development of transformational technology (like nuclear fusion or factory mass produced deep burn fission) is a society that has a sustainable energy production that is hundreds of times larger. It is a society that can use those techonologies to open up the solar system to human exploration and colonization.

What is the objective for society - spending trillions to develop new capabilities with carbon sequestering. Plenty of research needed and trillions to implement an inherently weak and limited plan or to aim for a revolutionized society and set of solutions.

Is it better for a country to build up a new trillion dollar industry based on better landfill techniques for garbage so that an economy of roughly the same size does not choke on its own waste or to spend the money on technologies that enable a clean economy that is hundreds of times bigger. If you dialed back the clock hundreds of years, cities were choking on horse manure and using a lot of horses - there could have been costly solutions where we stuck with horses but cleaned up the waste or there was the shift to cars which while it has pollution actually has less pollution issues until the scale of the economy is ten to one hundred times bigger.


In 2009, US Secretary of Energy Steven Chu today announced at the National Coal Council that $2.4 billion from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act will be used to expand and accelerate the commercial deployment of carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology. As of 2011, the Office of Fossil Energy has received $3.4 billion from the Recovery Act. Initiatives will focus on research, development and deployment of technologies to use coal more cleanly and efficiently.

EU energy spending.

EU non-carbon energy plan (US$73 billion/ 50 billion euro) called for coordinated research on a continental level, proposes $23.4 billion in solar power research, $8.8 billion in wind power research, $10.2 billion in nuclear power research, $13 billion for developing energy from biomass and waste, and $19 billion in carbon sequestration technology.

Carbon capture and storage at wikipedia
An integrated pilot-scale CCS power plant was to begin operating in September 2008 in the eastern German power plant Schwarze Pumpe run by utility Vattenfall, in the hope of answering questions about technological feasibility and economic efficiency. CCS applied to a modern conventional power plant could reduce CO2 emissions to the atmosphere by approximately 80-90% compared to a plant without CCS. The IPCC estimates that the economic potential of CCS could be between 10% and 55% of the total carbon mitigation effort until year 2100.

Capturing and compressing CO2 requires much energy and would increase the fuel needs of a coal-fired plant with CCS by 25%-40%. These and other system costs are estimated to increase the cost of energy from a new power plant with CCS by 21-91%. These estimates apply to purpose-built plants near a storage location; applying the technology to preexisting plants or plants far from a storage location would be more expensive. Recent industry reports suggest that with successful research, development and deployment (RD&D), sequestered coal-based electricity generation in 2025 will cost less than unsequestered coal-based electricity generation today.

The reasons that CCS is expected to cause such power price increases are several. Firstly, the increased energy requirements of capturing and compressing CO2 significantly raises the operating costs of CCS-equipped power plants. In addition, there are added investment and capital costs. The process would increase the fuel requirement of a plant with CCS by about 25% for a coal-fired plant, and about 15% for a gas-fired plant. The cost of this extra fuel, as well as storage and other system costs, are estimated to increase the costs of energy from a power plant with CCS by 30-60%, depending on the specific circumstances. Pre-commercial CCS demonstration projects are likely to be more expensive than mature CCS technology; the total additional costs of an early large scale CCS demonstration project are estimated to be €0.5-1.1 billion per project over the project lifetime

In 1986 a natural carbon dioxide leak at Lake Nyos killed 1,700 people and a large number of livestock.

The theoretical merit of CCS systems is the reduction of CO2 emissions by up to 90%, depending on plant type. So if your economy and fossil production increased by ten times you would be back where you started on CO2 emissions and you would be spending trillions each year just to get back to where we are now. It is an inherently weak and flawed plan and approach.

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