Such plants are designed to scrub the mercury, nitrogen oxide, and sulfur dioxide before they separate the remaining byproducts: carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, and hydrogen, which could be used to power everything from cars to power plants. The largest demonstration projects are in Norway, where Statoil is placing 1 million tons of carbon per year into a saline aquifer deep in the North Sea, and in Canada, where the carbon is going into the Weyburn oil field just north of the North Dakota border. If it could truly work at scale, coal would be back in the game.
“Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) is a critical technology for reconciling our continued dependence on fossil fuels with the imperative to protect the global environment,” Judi Greenwald, vice president for technology at the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, said at a congressional hearing this past July. (The nonprofit, nonpartisan center aims to advance practical solutions for climate change and energy challenges.)
Using the captured carbon to enhance oil recovery is closer to reality than permanently storing it underground, she added. Electric power generators, which create about a third of all carbon emissions, could sell their byproducts and offset the financial risks.
Some 80 percent of the world’s energy comes from coal, oil, and natural gas. Under current scenarios, the EIA expects fossil fuels to continue providing 65 percent of this country’s electricity consumption in 2040, with 35 percent coming from coal.