Opinion - Carbon Sequestration Underground Offers Potential Solutions
By Jeffrey Jarrett, Assistant Secretary, Office of Fossil Energy, U.S. Department of Energy
From some of the overheated, so to speak, talk about climate change in the media every day, one could mistakenly draw the conclusion that we face an immediate, incontestable and potentially catastrophic problem, and that the federal government isn't doing anything about it.
Here's the real story. As scientists wrestled with a mass of complex and imperfectly understood data that suggested the global climate was warming somewhat and that man-made carbon emissions might be contributing to the change, President Bush announced a comprehensive, multi-billion dollar Climate Change Science Initiative that would use good science to settle questions concerning the causes and potential consequences of climate change and a complementary Technology Program that would devise ways to reduce man-made CO2 emissions.
As a result, the technology to substantially reduce man-made CO2 emissions from energy production, particularly coal-based electricity generation, should be available in a few short years -- and it will be an essential component of the FutureGen prototype power plant of the future.
It's a big challenge. Eighty-five percent of the world's energy comes from fossil fuels -- oil, gas and coal -- that emit CO2, just as we humans do every time we exhale. If we were to try to reduce CO2 emissions by mandating a reduction in fossil-fuel use without satisfactory and cost-competitive alternatives, even as our population and economy grow and the populations and economies of developing countries grow even faster, we would risk economic and social dislocations that really don't bear thinking about.
The recently released strategic plan for the Department of Energy's $3 billion Climate Change Technology Program lays out the comprehensive, common-sense, technology-based ways we plan to reduce carbon emissions without adversely affecting our economy and standard of living.
The Technology Program emphasizes efficient energy use, non-CO2 emitting alternate energy sources, international collaboration and something called "carbon sequestration," in plain English, the technology for capturing and permanently storing underground the CO2 emissions from coal-based power plants.
In the United States, about 22 percent of total energy, and 52 percent of our electricity, is produced from coal. Coal accounts for 25 percent of total worldwide energy. Imagine the dent we could make in CO2 emissions if we could find a cost-effective way to "bury" the CO2 produced from coal power plants.
It looks like we'll be able to do just that.
The Department of Energy is conducting five dozen carbon sequestration research and development projects in conjunction with private industry, academic institutions, state governments, environmental organizations and international partners both in the United States and overseas.
Here at home, a nationwide network of seven regional partnerships is helping to determine the technology, infrastructure and regulations best suited to promote carbon sequestration in different parts of the country. The department recently announced a $450 million, 10-year program to validate advanced carbon sequestration technologies in North America.
Sequestration is not just a matter of finding underground formations suitable for storing carbon dioxide. It also presents a unique opportunity to use waste CO2 from energy production to produce more energy, namely oil and natural gas.
Injecting CO2 into mature oil fields is a tested and proven way to stimulate production from older oil fields that still contain a lot of oil. Projects are currently under way to test the ability of oil and gas formations to store injected CO2 permanently. If successful, the availability of large volumes of previously unavailable and affordable waste CO2 for injection from power plants could lead to a surge in domestic oil and gas production.
The promise of carbon capture and storage is also stimulating something else -- the interest of other governments. Twenty-two nations plus the European Commission, accounting for 75 percent of the world's carbon emissions, have joined the Carbon Sequestration Leadership Forum created by the
Just how promising is carbon sequestration? A recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimated that sequestration could get us more than halfway to the ultimate goal of atmospheric stabilization. More than halfway, from just one technological option.
There is still a lot of testing, measuring, monitoring and verification to do, but carbon sequestration is shaping up to be the kind of smart approach for the development of innovative, advanced technology that always has and always will address the energy and environmental challenges that come our way.
Jeffrey Jarrett is assistant secretary, Office of Fossil Energy, for the U.S. Department of Energy, former Director of the Federal Office of Surface Mining and the former Deputy Secretary for Mineral Resources Management of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. He can be contacted by sending email to: email@example.com .
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