Lighting the Way: Toward a Sustainable Energy Future

  • AuthorInterAcademies Council
  • Release Date1 October 2007
  • Copyright2007
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5.3 Conclusion
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Technologies for capturing and sequestering carbon from fossil fuels, particularly coal, can play a major role in the cost-effective management of global carbon dioxide emissions.

As the world’s most abundant fossil fuel resource, coal will continue to play a large role in the world’s energy mix. It is also the most carbon-intensive conventional fuel in use today, generating almost twice as much carbon dioxide per unit of energy supplied than natural gas. Today, new coal-fired power plants—most of which can be expected to last more than half a century—are being constructed at an unprecedented rate. Moreover, the carbon contribution from coal could expand further if nations with large coal reserves like the United States, China, and India turn to coal to address energy security concerns and develop alternatives to petroleum.

Recommendations

    Accelerate the development and deployment of advanced coal technologies. Without policy interventions the vast majority of the coal-fired power plants constructed in the next two decades will be ‘conventional’ pulverized coal plants. Present technologies for capturing carbon dioxide emissions from pulverized coal plants on a retrofit basis are expensive and energy-intensive. Where new coal plants without capture must be constructed, the most efficient technologies should be used. In addition, priority should be given to minimize the costs of future retrofits for carbon capture by developing at least some elements of carbon capture technology at every new plant. Active efforts to develop such technologies for different types of base plants are currently underway and should be encouraged by promoting the construction of full-scale plants that utilize the latest technology advances.
    Aggressively pursue efforts to commercialize carbon capture and storage. Moving forward with full-scale demonstration projects is critical, as is continued study and experimentation to reduce costs, improve reliability, and address concerns about leakage, public safety, and other issues. For capture and sequestration to be widely implemented it will be necessary to develop regulations and to introduce price signals for carbon emissions. Based on current cost estimates, the Study Panel believes price signals on the order of US$100–150 per avoided metric ton of carbon equivalent (US$27–41 per ton of carbon dioxide equivalent) will be required to induce the widespread adoption of carbon capture and storage. Price signals at this level would also give impetus to the accelerated deployment of biomass and other renewable energy technologies.
    Explore potential retrofit technologies for post-combustion carbon capture suitable for the large and rapidly growing population of existing pulverized coal plants. In the near-term, efficiency improvements and advanced pollution control technologies should be applied to existing coal plants as a means of mitigating their immediate climate change and public health impacts.
    Pursue carbon capture and storage with systems that co-fire coal and biomass. This technology combination provides an opportunity to achieve net negative greenhouse gas emissions—effectively removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Needed actions

    The private sector and the S&T community should join forces to further investigate the possibilities for carbon capture and sequestration and develop adequate technologies for demonstration.
    Governments should facilitate the development of these technologies by making available funds and opportunities (such as test sites).
    The general public needs to be thoroughly informed about the advantages of carbon sequestration and about the relative manageability of associated risks. The media can assist with this.

Document Date: October 1, 2007
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