Environmental Groups Tout Carbon Capture as Part of Climate Change Solution

A coalition of environmental groups say they’re supporting more widespread use of carbon capture and sequestration technology. The ENGO Network—which includes representatives from the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Clean Air Task Force and the Environmental Defense Fund, among others—announced the position at the UN climate talks in Doha, Qatar, yesterday.

Carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) is the technology where carbon dioxide is extracted from a power plant’s emissions and then is injected deep into the earth. The technology is viable—and has been tested at various sites and in varying degrees in the United States—but is still very expensive.

The announcement doesn’t necessarily amount to a position change for any of the ENGO members. The NRDC in particular has been talking about the necessity of carbon capture to reduce carbon dioxide emissions for years, especially as part of a cap-and-trade system.

The report released in Doha says the scale of the world’s coal infrastructure is so large that replacing it entirely with renewable sources—while possible—is daunting. So that’s where CCS comes in. From NRDC climate scientist George Peridas’ blog:

The report makes a case for CCS as one of several valuable tools in the broader climate mitigation portfolio. This is not an endorsement of CCS as a panacea or as our preferred climate solution. Increasing energy efficiency and utilizing renewable energy can and should come first. However, the size and extent of today’s global fossil fuel infrastructure is so large that additional tools, like CCS, can make the pursuit of emission reductions faster, cheaper and more certain.

It’s a lukewarm endorsement, but it’s an admission that coal will be burned in some quantity for the foreseeable future, and deploying carbon capture and sequestration will help reduce emissions. It’s also worth noting that the report says CCS should also be used in conjunction with natural gas-fired power plants (which still emit carbon dioxide, though the emissions are less than those from coal-fired power plants).

Environmental groups like the Sierra Club aren’t embracing the technology to that extent yet. In a section on the Sierra Club’s “Beyond Coal” website, the group advocates for a moratorium on new plants until CCS is proven to be effective, which it says won’t be certain for many years.

What is the Sierra Club position on new coal technology?

If coal is to remain a part of our energy future, it must be mined responsibly, burned cleanly and guaranteed to not worsen global warming pollution. At this time, there is no existing coal technology that meets these standards, including Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle (IGCC) or carbon capture and sequestration (CCS).

What about carbon capture and sequestration demonstration projects like the FutureGen plant? 

Right now, there are no commercially available or widely demonstrated technologies including carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) that make it technologically possible or financially feasible to burn coal without accelerating global warming. Due to the prevalence of coal use and its status as the most carbon-intense fuel, research efforts on effective carbon capture and sequestration are important. However, it will still be years before we see if any of these demonstration projects are successful in capturing and storing their carbon emissions, and until then it is critical that no additional coal plants are permitted or constructed without CCS capacity. While we wait and see how these technologies develop, we should be focusing on the clean energy solutions that are available today, including energy efficiency and renewables like wind and solar.

Meanwhile, coverage from Doha suggests the climate talks aren’t going smoothly, with developing nations angry at the United States, European Union and other industrialized countries for refusing to increase their carbon reduction targets.

Erica Peterson

Erica Peterson reports on energy and the environment for WFPL.

@ericampeterson

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