“The evidence is mounting internationally that so called clean coal will never be achieved as an economical alternative to Renewable Energy,” said Matthew Wright Beyond Zero Emissions Lead Campaigner.
The FutureGen Industrial Alliance has released an Initial Conceptual Design Report to investigate the feasibility of a ‘clean coal’ plant.
Beyond Zero Emissions believes that the report is largely an attempt to just promote coal burning as a necessary part of future global energy and in response has produced a document called the ‘FutureGen Conceptual Design Retort’.
The main aim of so called ‘clean coal’ is to capture the carbon that is ordinarily emitted into the atmosphere by conventional coal-fired power plants, and sequester it in underground reservoirs using a hypothetical technology called partial carbon capture and storage.
The Beyond Zero Emissions ‘Retort’ highlights the fact that the FutureGen plant won’t be fully tested until 2017 and a commercial plant will not be ready until 2022 at the earliest. This means that existing coal-fired plants will be pumping massive quantities of CO2 into the atmosphere for many years before ‘clean coal’ becomes commercially available, assuming it ever does. On page 5 of the Alliance’s report it states that the project was initiated to determine ‘if ‘ the technology is feasible, yet on the same page this is contradicted by the claim, “When successful, the FutureGen plant… will provide the basis for a new generation of reliable, environmentally benign, coal-fueled power plants…” By preemptively assuming a successful outcome, the Alliance exposes its agenda to promote coal as a “… necessary part of a sustainable, global energy portfolio”, despite their own acknowledgement that the technology to eliminate CO2 produced by burning coal may not be feasible.
“James Hansen, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies has stated that there should be a moratorium on building any more coal-fired power plants until the technology to capture and sequester the CO2 emissions is available.” said Mr Wright.
“The FutureGen Alliance’s claim that they will successfully capture and sequester CO2 emissions at some indeterminate date is an attempt to lull us into accepting the continued operation and construction of coal-fired plants in contradiction of recommendations by eminent scientists.” said Mr Wright
As the world’s largest coal exporter, Australia is also keen to prove the viability of ‘clean coal’ with a proposed plant named ZeroGen. The ‘Retort’ comments that “…this initiative by the Queensland government has been a failure to date. Even the coal industry is sceptical about the plan to pipe carbon dioxide from the Stanwell power plant in Rockhampton, 220km away for geological storage.”
As Australia leaves proven renewable technologies sitting on the shelf, wind power is expanding at a phenomenal rate around the world. Wind power capacity increased by 25% globally in 2006, and is expected to grow by an average of 19% per year up to 2010.
This growth rate, and advances in wind power technology, is making wind power competitive with other energy sources. With this is mind, the ‘Retort’ questions how ‘clean coal’ can ever be cost-competitive given that by 2022 renewable energy is predicted to be less expensive than even conventional coal. ‘Clean coal’, with the extra costs associated with transporting and capturing the carbon emissions, will be more expensive still.
Given the long time-scale and a multitude of unanswered questions hanging over ‘clean coal’ technology, Beyond Zero Emissions suggests that it would be preferable for Australia to implement large-scale wind power and other zero emission technologies now.
“The Liberal and Labor parties have been duped by the coal industries mega marketing machine, lead by Rio Tinto and BHP” said Mr Wright.
“Claims by the industry that we’ll have commercially viable Clean Coal by 2015 ahead of the Americans are laughable”
FutureGen Initial Conceptual Design Report
‘FutureGen Conceptual Design Retort’, Beyond Zero Emissions.
ABC Insight “Power Plays” – exposes the unease around ‘Clean Coal’
‘Banning New Coal Power Plants Will Slow Warming’, by Staff Writers, Washington (AFP) Feb 27, 2007
‘Coal sector in pipeline push”, Andrew Trounson,22 May 2007
‘International wind markets expected to grow by an average of 19% per year up to 2010, according to latest GWEC report’, Global Wind Energy Council.
‘Wind Power Gathers Speed’, NOVA, Australian Academy of Science.
Climate Change and trace gases – peer reviewed paper by Hansen et al.
The Earth today stands in imminent peril
No more coal power, says NASA
Rio Tinto to cut coal jobs as drought bites into power
CSIRO submission to the Prime Ministers Emission Trading Task force – to stay below 2 degrees C “we need” to keep below 375–550ppm CO2e – We are already at 430ppmm CO2e in earth’s atmosphere http://www.pmc.gov.au/emissionstrading/submissions/142_sub_emissionstrading.pdf
This media release online and printable pdf format
Dunno about you, Jenny, but my investment in CXY (developing underground coal to gas tech near Kingaroy in Qld) is doing very well even despite the resounding correction in the intrinsically rotten US financial markets. (Couldn’t happen on a better day as Murdoch takes over the WSJ, eh?)
As for wind farms, I’ve yet to see satisfactory data proving that the energy saved by the devices is more than that used in their creation.
No form of energy harnessing is a zero sum game. The only thing we as humans can influence in a really meaningful way at present is our demand. We *could* choose to reduce our population before it is done for us as a consequence of our own profligacy, but I doubt the economic rationalists infesting the halls of power, who base their idiotic projections on ever increasing productivity and insane growth, would countenance this heresy.
Paul Biggs says
Let’s do as the Chinese do – build coal fired power stations at the rate of one or two per week. Put energy security first and Canutian attempts at climate control last.
So what are you doing to do with all that electricity – toast crumpets?
Matthew Wright says
I draw your attention to page 48 (page 52 of the pdf) where the World Energy Council gives total life cycle costs.
This analyssis is done on older wind turbines which are less efficient than the latest ones, however you will see that in this paper wind is considered to give out 20x the power that went into total life cycle energy cost. While a Coal Conventional Coal power plant is expected to give out 11x and a low NOx 5x.
Wind power therefore compares very favourably, to any other technology that has been analysed. (and you’ll find similair results in dozens of reputable studies).
Your investment is very speculative, and there is no demonstrated product at this stage. An interesting gamble. If you were to invest in a wind manufacturer like Vestas of Denmark, you would have seen their value rise and rise of recent times.
Its’s a bit sad here Matthew because our little Vestas narcelle factory got the shove recently
Vestas nacelle plant Wynyard 2006
Wynyard Southern Prospects May 2007
Before getting too excited about wind power, it is possible that if sufficient numbers of wind generators were built they may alter global climate my shifting wind patterns. Who can definitely refute the possibility? If, as the experts would have us believe, doubling the concentration of a gas (CO2) that is a minute proportion of the atmosphere can so significantly alter global climate, then why wouldn’t tens of thousands of wind turbines? Wind is an indirect form of solar energy like fossil fuels. Better to harness solar energy directly. Researching into clean coal is a sensible approach until we find a viable energy alternative that we can be confident will not adversely impact global climate.
James Hansen, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies has stated that there should be a moratorium on building any more coal-fired power plants until the technology to capture and sequester the CO2 emissions is available.” said Mr Wright.
What a typically ” all care no responsibility ” type reaction.
Imagine a sceptic trying to get away with a statement as silly as that?
What is Hansesn’s proposed alternative energy solution then – we’re too conservative/anti-progressive to seriously consider nuclear , solar and wind are not currently feasible , hot rocks is still away off ( but looking promising)?
How do we generate elctricity in the future if we don’t build power stations.
No wonder we’ll never put Hansen in charge of finding solutions….
Fringe and Mathew, converting coal to methane underground for power generation is very different to ‘clean coal’. It is not clean, but cleaner than coal and is available now.
Fringe, if you don’t think wind farms give a positive enegry payback you are not reading widely enough.
Jim, some estimates for energy efficiency suggest it can meet about 50% of enegry needs up till 2050. There are many ways of obtaining useful energy without coal.
As for solar and wind not being viable? The humble rooftop PV provides a positive return on investment (albeit admittedly a low one) and with recent water shortages, the cost of coal has matched and increased the cost of wind. Solar and wind are VERY viable, and we still don’t have a price for carbon.
Our problem is that we would rather speculate on property and indulge on drugs, sex and rock’n’roll than address climate change. The issue is our priorities, not technical or economic limitations.
I’m more optimistic about clean coal technology. New developments are occurring all the time. See this in the latest CSIRO Ecos for instance: http://www.publish.csiro.au/?act=view_file&file_id=EC137p32.pdf
Clean coal may be part of the future energy mix of Australia however it is not a panacea. To fully sequester the CO2 output of Australia’s current coal fired power plants we would have to capture, compress, transport and store 140 million tons per year. This also requires 30% more energy that just burning the coal and emitting the CO2 so the efficiency of coal is reduced meaning that the coal will not last as long as we would have to burn 30% more to generate the same amount of electricity.
The only way I see coal working is in gasifiers. Multi fuel gasifiers could use waste biomass as well as coal to generate fuel for gas turbines as well as supplying heat for industrial processes. Used in this manner is it much easier to capture the CO2. If we only have 30% of our electricity coming from gasified coal then perhaps the management of the CO2 will be possible.
Gas turbines are far more versatile as they can be automatically controlled to interact with a renewable grid. Baseload power such as thermal coal and nuclear cannot do this.
It will be a long time before CO2 sequestration becomes a viable technology and it will be even longer before so-called ‘renewable’ energy sources can provide more than a small fraction of the power we have become accustomed to and developing countries have a right to and will demand.
My bet is that before ‘clean coal’ or any of the mooted alternatives to fossil fuels is perfected, the CO2 hysteria will have evaporated and be forgotten.
In the mean time, I’m hedging with nuclear.
Matthew Wright says
Nasa’s solution, would be something like…
1. Energy Efficiency – There is 20-50% savings to be had across all sectors of the economy, so even if energy use was growing at 2% per annum, we could cut 2% or more per annum across all sectors, for the forseeable future.
2. Wind Power, fully backed up by existing gas or hydro and some new gas (Later to be substituted with concentrating solar thermal with storage).. 1000MW of fast ramping gas plant backs up 3000MW of wind power to deliver roughly 90% of 1000MW over an annual basis from wind.
This is already achieved in Denmark, instead of having 1000MW of parallel fast ramping gas to backup the wind, they’ve got an interconnection to Nordic Hydro, which can start as fast as the gas. (latest 100MW gas turbines can go from 0-100MW in under 10 minutes and they’ve very efficient)
On Mawson base in Antarctica they’ve got 2 turbines (no geographical diversity which makes it a lot less reliable) giving about 35% of their annual power from wind.
There are planning applications and approvals (and lots of construction) in Texas with 28000MW planned or under constructions. A conservative estimate of Victorian wind power regime with this much capacity would generate us almost 2x Victoria’s annual electricity needs.