Carbon Capture Technology Not Practical, Claims Study

As if the fossil fuel industry hadn’t had enough bad news recently, a new study out of the University of Houston concludes that carbon capture and storage technology, which sequesters carbon dioxide emitted from power plants into the ground, cannot work on the scale needed.

The study, by Michael Economides, professor of chemical engineering at the University of Houston, and his co-author Christene Ehlig-Economides, of Texas A&M, says the amount of space needed to store the CO2 emitted from an average coal plant underground has been massively underestimated, and that a single plant might need a reservoir the size of a small US state.

“When you try to inject something into an existing formation which is already at pressure, it (pressure) has to go up,” Ms. Ehlig-Economides told Reuters on last week. “The models that people are using more often than not do not accommodate this.”

The report was quickly attacked by a variety of geologists, who pointed to numerous pilot projects now in use around the globe, such as the Sleipner plant in Norway. Critics include Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, the Pacific Northwest National laboratory and the American Petroleum Institute.

Critics specifically attacked the premise that the underground areas where the gas would be pumped are “sealed boxes,” when in fact CO2 pumped into these formations can seep through porous rock to other underground reservoirs.

CCS technology has attracted a lot of attention (and money) from Congress as a potential “compromise” solution to dealing with global warming emissions. If the technology can be rolled out on a large scale, it could greatly reduce the fraction of America’s GHG coming from fossil fuel power plants.

But it is expensive and, as yet, unproven. It also, if I may inject my own hot air into the conversation, looks a lot like your typical big, expensive go-nowhere federal boondoggle, akin to SDI missile defense and the like.

In related news, Norway has delayed the construction of a full-scale carbon capture project in Mongstad, citing “big challenges we are facing in making the project good enough on an industrial scale,” Oil and Energy Minister Terje Riis-Johansen said, in Reuters.

BC (Ben) Upham is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles. He has written for the New York Times, and was a writer and editor for News Communications, Inc., a local paper consortium serving Manhattan. When he's not blogging on green issues -- and especially renewable energy -- he's hiking in the Angeles Mountains or hanging out at El Matador.

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