Carbon Sequestration – geological

Biological carbon sequestration, the storing of carbon in plants above and below ground, has not been studied sufficiently that businesses would be willing to buy into this method of storing the carbon they produce. Geological sequestration, on the other hand, has a long history: for 30 years oil companies have been injecting carbon dioxide to help push oil up, and the carbon is staying down. The carbon content of the natural gas in Norway’s Sleipner field is much higher than allowed for export, and encouraged by a $55/ton tax, Norway has been ridding itself of a million tons of carbon dioxide (about 0.3 million tonnes carbon) through sequestration each year for a decade.

Carbon sequstration is not quite ready to go big time, as the behavior of sites with large carbon storage is known to differ, so it awaits this large storage characterization. People in business, however, assume that within ten years, geological carbon sequestration will be required at coal plants and other large sources of carbon.

Geological storage is considered a bridging technology, one of the technologies that can be used for a short time (70 – 100 years in this case) while society makes the transition away from carbon. A major positive: good storage sites include coal mines and oil wells, so power plants and refineries located near these sites are pretty much guaranteed storage.

The energy requirements are intense, so a hefty carbon tax – you’d definitely see it in your electricity bill – will be necessary to encourage it. Prepare for our electric bills to rise, as we do a little more to limit climate change.

You may have heard of Governor Schweitzer’s plan (PDF) to build a synfuel, coal to liquids (gasoline) plant, in Montana. (This document has a number of short stories: the Chinese are going to invest in carbon geological storage, most proposed American coal plants will be built without the more expensive integrated gasification combined cycle (IGCC) – because of the high initial cost. No IGCC, no later sequestration. Will retrofitting in a few years really be a cheaper way to go with coal plants?) Synfuel production depends on carbon sequestration, as transforming coals to liquids is an energy intense process. On the one hand, we will have cleaner oil products, without many of the non-carbon pollutants, and we won’t notice much at the gas pump. On the other hand, we won’t notice much at the gas pump, with all of the costs driving exacts on our society.

We in the US consume 20 million barrels/day, so 150,000 barrels/day would supply less than 1% of our needs.

Um, that’s a pretty large number, 200 million barrels, 850 million gallons, pretty close to 3 gallons/person/day for our cars, airplanes, and heating oil. Um, perhaps “need” overstates the case. What are you and your family/religious group/city doing to reduce our individual and corporate use?

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