The Imperative for Broader, Bolder Action on Carbon Capture Utilization and Storage

By Shannon Angielski, Coal Utilization Research Council

The need to develop and adopt advanced coal or carbon dioxide (CO2) capture and sequestration technologies worldwide seems obvious in consideration of the following climate and socio-economic influences:

  • In December 2015, 195 nations met in Paris, France and agreed to non-binding individual greenhouse gas reductions globally by pledging to hold the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2° centigrade above pre-industrial levels;
  • Today, out of a global population of 7 billion, more than one billion people live without electricity. Several billion more have daily power supplies that are never reliable. By 2050, a mere 34 years from now, the planet will be home to 9.7 billion inhabitants but as many as 500 million will be forced to survive without electricity;
  • The bulk of the power needs in the developing world will be generated from fossil fuels, coal specifically, with the projections of coal use in China and India from 1990 to 2040 the most dramatic.
  • To address greenhouse gas reduction while the world is electrified with fossil fuels, carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) is essential. Without the application of CCS technology, the costs of mitigation will be truly astronomical, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) projects – on average – costs will 138% greater, the equivalent of trillions of dollars (US).

CCS will be important in the United States, where coal will remain a primary generator of electricity – as much as one-third of electricity generation through 2040. CCS will also be critical globally, where coal will be consumed to provide electricity to populations living in abject poverty. Where are we in the development and use of CCS technology, and where must we go next?

Emissions controls enabling coal use and technology innovation itself are proven paths forward. With time and money, there is no question that we can develop cost-competitive technologies to enable coal use while addressing climate change mitigation. Technology already exists in the form of super-critical pulverized coal-fired boilers that can dramatically improve the efficiency of converting coal to electricity. Greater efficiency means less CO2 emitted. The track record for successful technology development is rich with other examples, be it scrubbers, NOx controls or mechanisms to abate particulate matter. It is our technological ingenuity that permitted a doubling in the use of coal in the U.S. since 1970 while emissions of criteria pollutants (SO2, NOx and particulate matter) fell by nearly 90%.

These emissions control technologies are being used throughout the world. Where the U.S. retains control of the intellectual property and manufacturing base, these technologies have proven valuable for U.S. export and are therefore advantageous for our economic growth as well.