Carbon Sequestration : A U.S – China Collaboration for a Promising World Fate?

China, the world’s largest greenhouse gas producer, may have found the answer to dramatically decreasing their CO2 emissions: geologic carbon sequestration. This form of carbon storage captures CO2 from coal-burning power plants and other CO2 point sources that would have otherwise been emitted into the atmosphere and stores it deep within various geologic formations. Successful carbon sequestration within China would allow the country to continue cheap production and use of coal while addressing the overwhelming concerns of CO2 emissions. However, for a long while it was believed that China didn’t have the geologic means to store the carbon, and thus was not seriously considered as a viable option for reducing emissions. Fortunately, a recent study by the US Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory has countered those beliefs, revealing that China has the capacity to store roughly 3,000 gigatons of CO2 in various onshore and offshore formations across the country, proving storage capabilities for at least a century [1]. Furthermore, the study showed that the potential reservoirs for carbon storage are all within a 100 mile range of 90% of the power plants and industrial facilities of China that are prominent CO2 emission sources. This fact will keep extensive CO2 transport infrastructure from being built, saving the total cost of the project substantially [1].

This research has put in place a first-ever clean energy collaboration between the U.S. and China, which has now expanded to an extensive effort “to create various institutions and programs addressing a wide array of cooperation on clean-energy technologies and capacity building” [2]. This expansive collaboration includes the establishment of the U.S.-China Clean Energy Research Center, in which $150 million US dollars, provided by various public and private sectors, will be available to facilitate further research as mentioned above [2]. With the U.S. being the world’s second largest greenhouse emitter, this collaboration could mean great advances in the global reduction of CO2 emissions and a more promising clean energy future. Both President Jintao of China and President Obama are in agreement of the severity of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions and are committed to taking the essential steps to mitigating the problem.

From this, I feel a sense of encouragement that this dire issue will be addressed in the diligent manner in which it deserves and I look forward to the next several years, as I fully agree with the statement of Steven Chu, U.S. Secretary of Energy, “What the U.S. and China do over the next decade will determine the fate of the world.” Let’s just hope that what is done is something good…





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3 responses to “Carbon Sequestration : A U.S – China Collaboration for a Promising World Fate?

  1. rjk288

    Interesting entry… admittedly I know very little about carbon sequestration, but there are a few things that come to mind that make me feel less optimistic this technique.

    And I’d like to also make note that while China is the number one emitter of green house gases and the US is a very close second in total volume, the United States is far and away the greatest contributor of greenhouse gases per capita (1). So, carbon dioxide emissions is as much of a problem for the US as it is for anyone. However, most of our CO2 emission is from transportation, not power(2). This raises the question, is there any way that carbon sequestration can be used in cars? Is it even possible to store CO2 in vehicles to be buried?

    Further, there is, as always, the issue of price. Economics seems to be a limiting factor in most decisions related to energy, would this technology be cost prohibitive? As we know from oil drilling, digging holes is expensive (3). What kind of cost increase in electric utilities will there be associated with this new expense?

    Finally, and this is more of an observation, people generally have fears of burying wastes. (Read: Yucca Mountain). I can’t imagine carbon sequestration being implemented without a fight. And there might be some validity against introducing concentrated CO2 into the ground. The first objection that comes to mind is the concern with CO2 leaching into ground water. And, it’s been a while since freshman chemistry, but CO2 + H2O is carbonic acid, which, among other things, would irritate fish and be bad for teeth…

    While carbon sequestration seems to address problem of coal power plants releasing greenhouse gases, this technique may ultimately fix one problem by creating several more.

    1- World Resources Institute
    2-“What is climate change?”
    3-“Hearst Energy: Obama budget bad news for oil, gas” Houston Chronicle. February 2, 2010

  2. bhgully

    I love the idea because it seems to adhere into nature’s long term CO2 cycling process. Like rjk mentioned, I would be interested in a geologic analysis of long term effects of this storage process, what types of chemical changes would take place. As far as price, I know there are substantial energy costs for extracting CO2 from plant emissions, but I would imagine the cost of burying wouldn’t be prohibitively high, although I don’t know. Obviously if we talk about a carbon tax or cap and trade this type of thing becomes more attractive. Also, if it proves to be a useful, cost effective method, it would seem to suggest moving towards electrified transportation, thereby concentrating emissions at large utility plants.

  3. joshins

    Kudos on an informative and well-researched post. I have a few thoughts. First, I agree that carbon sequestration is a very promising frontier. I worked for one of the oil & gas supermajors last summer, and one of my fellow interns was given a summer long project researching the economic feasibility of such techniques, so I can assure you that this technology is getting attention. One commenter was right to raise the issue of proximity to CO2 storage to where it is produced – this is a major economic driver, i.e. sequestration does not work right now if we have to truck CO2 across the country to store it.

    Concerns about CO2 leaking out of underground storage are fair, however, most evidence points to the fact that we can store CO2 in spent reservoirs safely. The “$28 million International Energy Agency Weyburn CO2 Monitoring and Storage Project” has done extensive research and found that “The oil companies have seen incremental production close to what they predicted and from the scientists’ point-of-view, we’ve been able to see a response to our techniques and been able to monitor it very, very closely,” said Rostron, the hydrogeology co-ordinator on the project. “Everything we’ve done has shown us this is a good place to store carbon dioxide.

    This comment also touches on a second major point which is the DEMAND side of the equation. E&P companies can used sequestered CO2 for enhanced oil recovery, while storing it in the ground safely at the same time. The PRICE that companies are willing to pay per ton of carbon (or alternatively the cost of carbon which may result from – swallow – a cap & trade system), is another powerful driver of the economics of CCS. For major producers like XOM or COP, the technology already merits substantial investment, and should climate change legislation take center stage again (and assuming that we don’t bankrupt the country with health care legislation first), CCS will be a powerful frontier for companies and governments alike.

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