With the availability of cheap natural gas and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s recent update to emissions standards, coal as an energy source appears to be on the decline in the U.S. Opponents of the new standards are calling them an attack on coal and in some cases even a war on energy . The response has commonly been that coal plants can meet the emissions standards by implementing carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) technology. The main argument against CCS technology is that it is currently too expensive to be economically viable. However, some companies appear prepared to take on these costs. The Environmental Protection Agency has named 15 plants close enough to construction to be exempted from the new regulations. Of the 15 plants, 6 incorporate CCS technology . This shows that even prior to the new EPA regulations there were companies willing to take on the expense of CCS.
The push for plants with CCS has been improved in North America with government help. Some plants are incentivized, such as plants in Alberta, Canada where both the provincial and Canadian governments have put up large amounts of money spread among several projects and in Kemper County, Mississippi where the U.S. federal government is lending financial support .
In Australia, CCS technology has been excluded from federal clean-energy funding. Testing has continued despite a lack of financial help from the government. Australia’s national science agency, the CSIRO, encourages continued testing arguing that, “The cost of installing and operating a post-combustion carbon dioxide capture system would fall substantially once the technology was established .”
China, a leading nation in carbon emissions, is also working diligently to perfect CCS technology. Their technology has been shown to remove carbon from coal plant exhaust for roughly a third of what it costs in the U.S. Duke Corp. has signed a research agreement with the Chinese group responsible for this technology . In addition to studying the Chinese technology Duke Corp. plans to investigate how much of the savings comes from the technology and how much comes from the lower labor and capital costs. If the technology is a significant source of savings, it could speed the implementation of CCS technology worldwide.
This shows that instead of being the war on coal that some claim it to be, the new EPA standards may instead encourage the development of CCS technology that could help revolutionize the coal industry.