New EPA Standards Could Help Promote Carbon Capture Technology

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 [1].   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 [2].  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 [3].

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 [4].”

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 [5].  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.

[1] http://news.investors.com/article/605833/201203271916/epa-war-on-energy-continues-draconian-rules.htm

[2] http://www.statejournal.com/story/17293337/carbon-capture-a-technology-always-on-the-verge

[3] http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/95c83fa8-71ec-11e1-90b5-00144feab49a.html#axzz1qpgBeqVG

[4] http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/health-science/carbon-capture-can-help-industry-csiro/story-e6frg8y6-1226314021755

[5] http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-03-27/china-shows-u-s-how-to-push-for-carbon-capture.html

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “New EPA Standards Could Help Promote Carbon Capture Technology

  1. sevengroove

    This is a great summary of the implementation of CCT across the globe. Although I generally agree with your post, there are potential hurdles in the adoption of large-scale carbon capture technology here in the US.

    One of the primary factors is the cost of alternative fuels – if the price of natural gas is anything to go by, we could be seeing fewer and fewer coal plants being built in general [1].

    The other issue is political – stakeholders in the coal industry will obviously do everything in their power to portray this progressive ruling as unfair. Hal Quinn, chief executive of the National Mining Association, has this to say: “This proposal is the latest convoy in EPA’s regulatory train wreck that is rolling across America, crushing jobs and arresting our economic recovery at every stop. It is not an ‘all of the above’ energy strategy.” [2]

    Advocates of coal like him will have opportunities to halt this “train wreck” because this ruling isn’t final and can be overturned by a future Republican administration.[1]

    It remains to be seen whether the noise that is being made will eventually settle down and consequently allow for carbon capture technology to develop and advance.

    1. http://articles.latimes.com/2012/mar/27/nation/la-na-epa-emissions-20120328
    2. http://opinion.latimes.com/opinionla/2012/03/obama-epa-rules-power-plants.html

  2. ksberns

    I agree with you that the new EPA standards could allow for an opportunity for CCS to grow in production. It is also true that the success derives partially from the price of competing energy sources such as natural gas.

    Stuart Cohen, a UT graduate student who has been studying the economics of CCS technologies and their viability, mentioned that even if natural gas remains inexpensive enough to be the victor over coal-fired power plants, it is still reasonable to say that the CCS technologies could be used for gas power plants. Cohen also mentioned that many companies, such as the boiler manufacturers that were mentioned in the original post, continue to be interested in furthering the CCS technologies for if and when the standards to finally pass – whether it happens now or many years in the future (personal conversation, 4/2/12).

    Overall, these EPA actions are said to be a very small step in the direction of CO2 emissions standards. According to the washington post, “the rule essentially bans construction of traditional coal-fired power plants” [2]. This means that the rule would not inhibit the current power plants to change their ways, ie: they would not have much incentive to start using CCS technology if they have not already. No one cares enough to be the first company to test the technologies in large scale power plants unless there are restrictions forcing them or huge cash incentives.

    1. Conversation with Stuart Cohen, 4.2.12
    2. http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/the-epas-very-small-step-on-carbon-emissions/2012/03/31/gIQAm6hpnS_story.html

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