As the EPA moves to limit carbon emission from coal power plants and the IPCC reaffirms that human behavior causes climate change, brave governments and leaders will trudge along in their push to move the world away from fossil fuels.
It’s official: Long-awaited clean-energy manufacturing tax credits are really happening, finally. The U.S. Department of the Treasury and the U.S. Department of Energy on Thursday announced a program awarding $2.3 billion in tax credits for clean-energy equipment manufacturers.
While there are already some tax credits for renewable-energy generation projects, these new credits are focused on the manufacturing equipment that will be used to make gear for such projects and are intended to make the U.S. a manufacturing hub for clean power equipment. That could mean more jobs — always a good thing in the face of hundreds of thousands of layoffs per month, and an unemployment rate near 9.4 percent. That is, as long as these manufacturers also prove sustainable after the credits.
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A recent breakthrough at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory is bringing together two sectors that people love to fixate on: nanotechnology and carbon sequestration. Although the combo may sound unusual, nanotechnology could actually be the only way we’ll figure out if geologic carbon sequestration — stuffing CO2 underground — actually works.
Here’s the deal: The most reliable way to store and secure CO2 is to get it to attach to a solid and form a carbonate. (Think coral covering rocks in the ocean.) That process is thermodynamically stable and also provides a long-term solution to holding onto CO2. The problem is that it takes a very long time for that to happen using current methods — as in, thousands of years.
But Lawrence Berkeley recently managed to produce nanoscale magnesium oxide crystals, which staff scientist Jeff Urban says could help speed up that CO2-solid bonding process. “Magnesium oxide crystals are known to influence processes and rates of reaction,” he said. “And if we can control the size and surface chemistry of the crystals, we may be able to dramatically increase the rate of CO2 being stuck to the surface.”
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Clean energy, cap-and-trade, energy efficiency and green jobs — those are the four policy areas that the House Energy and Commerce Committee aims to work on in the coming months with a new bill unveiled today in draft form. Committee chairman Henry Waxman and Edward Markey, who chairs the Energy and Environment Subcommittee, crafted the bill, dubbing it the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009.
Some of the most heated debates over this bill will likely center on Waxman and Markey’s proposal to mandate a cut in U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent by 2020 and 80 percent by 2050 — a more aggressive timeline than President Barack Obama’s call for a 14 percent emissions reduction by 2020. As expected, today’s draft does not include a scheme for allocating emissions credits — whether through auction or freebies — which means committee members will be hashing that out over the next several weeks. Read More about House Dems Unveil Climate Plan: Carbon Cuts, National RPS and More $$$
Just a few days ago, it looked like carbon recyclers and startups would get the short end of the stimulus stick — doomed to an uneven battle with coal companies and their preferred strategy for carbon capture and sequestration, which involves shoving emissions into geologic formations, and keeping them there. But today the House approved a compromise version of the stimulus bill that includes a key clause in the section on fossil energy R&D (emphasis added):
Funds under this heading include…$1,520,000,000 for a competitive solicitation for a range of industrial carbon capture and energy efficiency improvement projects, including a small allocation for innovative concepts for beneficial CO2 reuse…
Sure, “a small allocation” is wide open to interpretation. But this revision gives startups working with algae bioreactors and other technologies a much better chance of competing for at least a portion of the spending allocated for carbon capture (if the Senate and President also approve it). “For these startups,” said Elizabeth Moeller, public policy group leader for Pillsbury Winthrop in D.C. and a lobbyist for the algae-based carbon recycler Ternion Bio, “even a little bit of $100 million could go a long way.”
For policy wonks, the full conference report can be found in the Congressional Record here.
Carbon capture and storage technology has barely left the trial stage — let alone be proven as safe or effective at commercial scale. But according to a new report from Emerging Energy Research, the industry could be “well-positioned” for commercialization by 2016 if demonstration projects go well and government funds come through. EER reports that countries relying heavily on energy from coal are dumping cash on the cause — ramping up to as much as $70 billion per year by 2030 — in hopes of getting a jump on the learning curve between now and 2014.
Who’s at the front of the line to benefit from this growing investment (much of it through stimulus packages) in the U.S., western Canada, Europe and Australia? None other than the six global supermajors: BP (s BP), Chevron (s CVX), ConocoPhillips (s COP), ExxonMobil (s XOM), Shell (s RDS-B) and Total (s TOT), according to EER. This is not only because carbon regulations, natural gas price volatility and potential capacity shortfalls loom large in their futures and business-as-usual simply won’t cut it. It’s also because they already own the tools of the trade. As EER explains:
[T]he oil and gas industry is uniquely positioned to lead the sequestration industry forward — bringing with them a large number of potential storage assets, reservoir-engineering strengths, and carbon capture capabilities developed through their global natural gas processing and refinery operations.
To be sure, a commercial-scale carbon capture boom is not without barriers. EER identifies a number of them, including the high costs of capture, long-term regulatory uncertainty and liability. But there’s another critical uncertainty: Does it actually work?
At the urging of state officials, Texas oil giant ExxonMobil (s XOM) has undertaken a $70 million project to capture and store 6 million metric tons of emissions annually from its natural gas plant in La Barge, Wyo., an increase of 50 percent from the current 4 million tons per year. Better known for denying humans’ contribution to climate change, the company plans to spend another $100 million testing technology for stripping carbon out of natural gas by 2010, the Wall Street Journal reports.
To be sure, $170 million is little more than pocket change for Exxon, with its record-breaking profits. But while the company now lets about half the La Barge plant’s emissions spit out into the atmosphere, the new project — combined with expertise acquired during decades of dabbling in carbon sequestration (see our FAQ on the technology) — could give Exxon an odd lead in the race to devise emissions-control technologies ahead of carbon pricing schemes supported by President-elect Barack Obama.
“Certainly, Exxon isn’t usually thought of as being in the forefront of environmental progress,” Environmental Defense Fund’s A. Scott Andersonbut told the WSJl, “but the fact is they are deeply involved in carbon capture and storage technology.” Here’s hoping the company’s pledged carbon storage testing will yield more results than the clean coal lobby’s meager R&D.
Coal has been both a major sponsor of and a political weapon during the presidential campaign. And there’s a lot of news from the coal industry this week. A DOE-funded clean coal project began in Colorado, while, the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity said today that coal’s public approval is up near 70 percent which gives the next president “a mandate” to use more coal.
U.S. coal interests aren’t the only ones garnering public support for their lobbying efforts. Vattenfall, a Swedish power company that burns tons of coal, is pushing its climate manifesto with a unique publicity twist – they’re placing a plastic figure for each signature in the middle of Place Luxembourg in Brussels for policy makers and the public to see.
ADA-ES Starts $3.2 Million Carbon Capture Project: ADA Environmental Solutions (s ADES), an emissions controls developer based in Littleton, Colo., said today that it has started work on a project to capture and store carbon dioxide from coal-fired power plants. The project focuses on developing materials to chemically and physically absorb CO2 from flue gases. The DOE’s National Energy Technology Laboratory is providing $2 million while private investors, including AEP (s AEP), Luminant, Southern CO. (s SO) and Xcel Energy (s XEL), have agreed to foot the remaining $1.2 million.
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A new report from the International Energy Agency urges the world’s governments to invest $20 billion in near-term, full-scale carbon capture and storage demonstrations.
One of the world’s first coal-fired power plants equipped with carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology is set to start up in Germany next week. The 30 MW Schwarze Pumpe power station, built and operated by Swedish power company Vattenfall, will produce power along with 10 tons of highly concentrated CO2 an hour. The CO2 will be loaded onto tankers and taken to a nearby gas field for sequestration.
The €70 million ($101 million) pilot plant could prove to be a wise investment for the power company if the technology works. Vattenfall could then license the technology to other energy developers looking to cash in on cheap coal without the polluting emissions. The plant uses a special oxyfuel boiler that burns washed lignite, a low-grade coal, in the presence of pure oxygen, resulting in very clean combustion. The flue gas is then cleaned, cooled and compressed to a liquid state, which can be loaded on to tankers or piped underground.
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