Billions Being Spent To Make Coal Just A Little Cleaner

Neverminding the naysayers, the government is pouring $3.4 billion of stimulus cash into “clean coal” technology. Duke Energy, Babcock & Wilcox and American Electric Power are all investing in carbon capture technology, and are all trying to get a share of the money.

Critics scoff at the idea of clean coal, and with good reason. The projects being developed will at most capture 40% of the carbon dioxide thrown off by coal plants. And that won’t be for another decade or so. In the near term, as in 4-5 years, maybe some carbon sequestration will grab 18% of the emissions.

The New York Times breaks down a few of the ideas:

Babcock & Wilcox have a plan to remove all the nitrogen from the air going into the boiler, so the output is nearly pure carbon dioxide. A project that captured 92 per cent of its carbon dioxide would cost nearly $1 billion, and the company is hoping the government will pay half.

American Electric Power will begin capturing carbon dioxide from 2 per cent of the smokestack gases from its mammoth Mountaineer plant, in New Haven, W.Va., by using ammonia, and injecting the gas into a $4.2 million well nearly two miles deep.

Duke Energy building a plant that if successful, could be capturing about 18 per cent of its carbon dioxide emissions within four or five years, and an additional 40 per cent a few years after that. It will differ from conventional coal plants in significant ways, cooking the coal into a fuel gas rather than burning it as a powder, and then thoroughly cleaning the gas and burning it in a jet engine, similar to that used to burn natural gas. Emissions of conventional pollutants, like sulfur, soot and smog-forming nitrogen, will be extremely low.

Of course, the government intended to build FutureGen, a coal plant that would’ve captured 90% of CO2 emissions last year. But a mathematical error by the DOE overestimated the cost of the plant, halting the project. Now its future is uncertain, but bleak.

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