The need to prove CCS is safe if it’s ever going to be viable

Until the EPA’s recent announcement that it would limit carbon emissions on all new power plants even as it tested the political waters for limiting emissions on existing plants, all had been fairly quiet about carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) technology. But the proposed emissions limits would effectively be the death knell of coal as a source of power generation, unless of course CCS technology could be proven safe, effective, and price competitive.

CCS requires carbon to be compressed, liquefied and pumped one to two kilometers underground. Exhausted oil and gas fields are likely candidates for CCS sequestration sites. But ensuring that the CO2 remains trapped and doesn’t leak is one important part of verifying CCS as a feasible technology.  Monitoring CCS repositories is very costly and limited right now.

A British team is working on using cosmic rays to help image CCS repositories to check if there is leakage. The cosmic bombardment of so-called muons, subatomic particles 200 times heavier than electrons, travels underground and sensors can be placed underground to image them. Their signature lets scientists know what’s underground, similar to how an x-ray works.

Bringing down the cost of CCS is a major hurdle in terms of making the technology viable for the fossil fuel industry. It’s also on a collision course with cheap natural gas. But who knows, if CCS really can be proven safe and cost-effective, it could allow the EPA to push emissions limits even further, perhaps even down the line asking natural gas power plants to sequester some of their emissions.

Today in Cleantech

Bryan Walsh at Time accurately points out this morning that the big winner in today’s EPA rules capping carbon emissions from power plants is natural gas. Coal has been on the way out with only one new coal plant, which has carbon capture technology, being built during the Obama administration. The new rules limit CO2 emissions for power plants to no more than 1000 lbs of CO2 per megawatt hour produced (coal averages around 1800 lbs, way outside that limit). Natural gas typically comes in at a bit under the 1000 lb limit.  And so, in line with Obama’s endorsement of natural gas during his state of the union speech in January, the U.S. goes down the road of a slightly less greenhouse gas emitting power source. As my weekly update points out, the price of natural gas is just so low that it carries the risk of slowing investment in renewables. Which is why as much as everyone hates regulation, the only way to truly push power generation towards low CO2 emissions is to tax carbon. And the only way to do that is to get people to understand that, much like cigarettes have costs to our health care system far beyond what smokers pay at the register, carbon emissions cost everyone a lot more than the spot price for natural gas.

What the new fuel standard really means

Federal regulators on Wednesday released a proposed rule for hiking the fuel economy for cars to be sold from 2017 to 2025, and it’s full of incentives for encouraging automakers to use battery-powered and other alternative-fuel technologies.

Research: Using smartphones for frugal driving

Smartphones are increasingly becoming the remote controls of our lives. Car owners can use theirs to check on the battery level and driving range and adjust the climate control system. An MIT project explores new ways to use smartphones to help drivers cut fuel costs.

Do-gooder apps, brought to you by the EPA

Do-gooder developers are the new superstars of the programming world, and Uncle Sam wants in on the innovation action. I chatted with the EPA team recently to hear about what’s behind their app-contest plan.

Biodiesel maker Renewable Energy Group files for $100M IPO

Biofuel companies may not get as much venture capital investments, but they sure are attracting a good number of investors in the public markets. Renewable Energy Group is turning to the public market route and on Monday said it will go public to raise up to $100 million.