Sunday, November 06, 2005

MIT White Paper

Here is a great white paper, from MIT professor Howard J. Herzog, which summarizes the state of carbon capture and storage,

What Future for Carbon Capture and Sequestration?

New technologies could reduce carbon dioxide emissions to the atmosphere while still allowing the use of fossil fuels.


Amid the dire warnings of severe weather perturbations and globally rising temperatures, scientists, engineers, policy makers, and others are searching for ways to reduce the growing threat of climate change. There is no single solution, but the development of carbon capture and sequestration technologies, which has accelerated greatly in the last decade, may play an important role in addressing this issue.

This was not always the case. Ten years ago, the field of carbon capture and sequestration consisted of a handful of research groups working in isolation. Finding funding was difficult, as the field was not yet included in the research portfolios of traditional funding sources.

But then things began to change. In March 1992, more than 250 scientists and engineers from 23 countries gathered in Amsterdam for the First International Conference on Carbon Dioxide Removal (ICCDR-1). Researchers were surprised to learn how many of their colleagues were already seriously investigating the subject. Attendees came to that meeting as individuals, but left it as a research community whose research progress has proven extraordinary in the decade since ICCDR-1. Today, there is an interconnected international community; funding agencies, such as the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), have established programs in carbon sequestration, and equally important, industry is analyzing and developing needed technologies. Significant challenges still lie ahead though, most pressing of which is reducing costs and developing storage options. Although the magnitude and timing of any impacts from climate change
remain uncertain, there is increasing pressure to reduce greenhouse gas emissions now. A major target is CO2 from fossil energy use.

One way to sequester carbon involves the removal of greenhouse gases directly from industrial or utility plant exhausts and subsequently storing them in secure reservoirs. Removing CO2 from the atmosphere by enhancing its uptake in soils and vegetation (e.g., afforestation) or in the ocean (e.g., iron fertilization) is yet another form of sequestration. Sometimes called enhancing natural sinks, the technical and political issues associated with this type of carbon sequestration have become major points of contention in the Kyoto Protocol negotiations. On the other hand, carbon capture and sequestration from large stationary sources—the focus of this paper—can be viewed as emissions avoidance and therefore probably will not require special treatment in any international climate agreement.

Emissions avoidance can also be achieved by improving energy efficiency or shifting to nonfossil energy sources (renewables and nuclear). Carbon capture and sequestration complement these traditional areas of research, particularly because the United States relies on fossil fuels for more than 85% of its energy needs, and trillions of dollars are invested in the current energy infrastructure. Transitioning away from fossil fuels use will be difficult. By reducing CO2 emissions, however, carbon capture and sequestration allow the use of fossil energy to continue, while buying time to make the transition to other energy sources in an orderly fashion.

Read More Here