Kyoto – A Perspective (Part 31)

Posted on Sun 06/01/2008 by




Geosequestration is the technical term for sequestering something in geological layers, in this case, liquefied carbon dioxide (CO2). The word sequester in this case translates as removing something from where it is and them making it reside in another, out of the way place.
It is also called ‘Carbon Capture and Storage’. The capture part is where Carbon is removed from the smoke, without saying how, and the storage part also simplifies it, not saying how or where. Using this spoken term like this makes it sound like the process is so simple.
Remember I earlier spoke about how they use a form of psychology in situations like this. The thinking is that something of a scientific nature not easily understood is reduced to the simplest possible explanation, and then that statement is delivered with the aplomb that something like this is easily understandable, so there’s no need to worry about it.
Again, it is further simplified, reducing it further, using the term ‘Clean Coal’, an anachronism in itself.
Again, psychology is used to explain, in an almost off the cuff manner that it is something easily achievable.
Politicians, artfully schooled to confidently say ‘Clean Coal’ make it sound just so simple. Yep, we can do this and without blinking, they tell us everything will be okay.

It’s a confidence trick.

At large baseload coal fired power plants, immense amounts of coal are burnt to produce steam to drive turbines, producing smoke that pours from the top of the stacks. In recent times, modern plants have started including scrubbers in the final stage, to remove Sulphur based particulates from the smoke. There are numerous chemicals within the coal itself, and some conjecture has it that burning coal releases more radioactive particles into the atmosphere than what might be released from a Nuclear power Plant. At the moment the expensive scrubbers are being retro fitted into older plants, and included in the design of new plants.

This area is where the ‘capture’ part of the statement comes in. The smoke will be collected, and in some manner, they propose to separate the CO2 part of that smoke, and then release the now cleaned smoke up the stack. If you just think about it, this is not a simple process, and that translates to expensive, in this case very expensive. The CO2 will then be directed to holding tanks where it will be cooled.
Think about it. Some plants in high power usage times are burning on average around 10,000 tons of coal per day, and some, more. After burning, that’s an immense amount of gas to store onsite. Once cooled, the gas has to be liquified, because in this state, it takes up considerably less volume, this usually achieved under pressure.

Yes you say, I can understand most of that, and it most probably could be done.
However, consider the expense, for each and every existing plant, the time that plant will be offline during construction, and while offline, then others will have to take up the load. The cost will be enormous, and will have to be passed along to the end user of the electricity.

At the far end of the process, the ‘Storage’ part of it eludes me also.

The idea is that existing formations already discovered can be used for storage of the liquified CO2. Currently, a gas is pumped down to where oil deposits exist between rock formations. This gas, pumped down under pressure forces the oil up to the surface, theoretically leaving an empty space. This empty space is proposed to be used for containment of CO2. However, what needs to be scientifically proven is that these areas are stable enough to be used for this purpose, stable enough to house the gas, so that it doesn’t seep into surrounding formations, water tables or underground water holdings, and stable enough so that it will never seep back to the surface.
Also, as part of this ‘storage’, we’re talking millions and millions of tons of CO2. Admitted, a lot of oil has been pumped from the ground, but the areas where oil currently has been removed are not all perfect for this proposed containment of CO2, and these areas need to be proven 100% safe, not just in the short term, but for all time, and if oil dries up, then so does prospective sites for the burial of the CO2.
What this effectively does is to bring the storage of CO2 into the same picture as safe storage of nuclear waste.
Again, this is the theory. The liquified CO2 arriving from the power plants needs to be stored, again in immense holding tanks. Then, methods to get that CO2 back into the ground in exactly the right places between rock strata has to be constructed. Again, you can only guess at the immense cost of all this at the ‘storage’ end. No private enterprise will be able to afford this without passing it on to the end user of the electricity.

That’s the capture and the storage effectively covered. What about what is in between the plant and the rock formation.

Currently here in South East Queensland, we have water restrictions, mainly because governments at State and Federal level failed to construct dams to cover water contingencies, mainly because environmentalists believe rivers should run free. So, water levels in dams in South East Queensland currently sit at 40%. There are areas in North Queensland that are always awash with water, so much so that it floods down rivers and into the Pacific Ocean.
There was a suggestion that a pipeline be constructed to pump water down into the South East to assist with input into dams already existing here. The idea had cold water poured on it (poor pun I know) when a government minister said the idea was not feasible, and the cost would be immense for the government.
The really strange thing is this.

Queensland is the largest coal producer in Australia. It uses some of the coal, and also supplies to the export market, mainly China. As I mentioned in the previous post, coal royalties paid to respective States and Federal Governments amounts to an absolute fortune. The Government here in Queensland currently collects around $15 billion from those royalties. They like to tell us how they sink that and more back into infrastructure for those coal mining firms, but what a politician says can sometimes be artfully interpreted. Because of this, anything that might detract from those royalties is problematical, so something is needed to make coal acceptable.

In the same week as the water pipeline was mooted and the politician virtually laughed it off as a crackpot idea, this same politician was pushing the party line with regard to ‘clean coal’, and how this was the answer we have been seeking for so long. He explained in the simplest terms, pointing to a large map, that the CO2 was collected here, and replaced into the ground here. However, the strange thing was this. All over the map of Australia, and you know how big that is now, the same size as the contiguous mainland US States, well, all over the map was drawn pipelines from the coal fired power plants to the ‘holes in the Earth. Not one pipeline the length of the one for the water, but four or five, some longer. It seems a little incongruous that a water pipeline is going to prove too costly, but five times that many are not going to be costly. The ‘costly’ part is cost to the government as opposed to cost to the private enterprise person seeking to develop the pipelines.

So, what we have is an immense cost at the plant end, an immense cost at the storage end, and an immense cost in between.

The thought in circles who have an idea of what it means is that the costs are more than the most expensive forms of renewable sources. This gives the impression that clueless politicians have no idea of what is involved, and desperately looking around for ways to safeguard the fortune coming in from coal royalties.

Currently, in the US, a project investigating the feasibility of just this ‘capture and storage’ has been abandoned after nearly one billion dollars has been spent on it.

Here’s the thing. Currently, there is minuscule research at the capture end, and just as much at the other end.

Nowhere on the Planet is there anything like this in current usage, and at the current rates of research, the theory that is all it is now might be able to be in use around the mid 2030’s, and at immense cost.

This is just another case of having nothing to do with the environment and everything to do with the money.