My post about Why Hydrogen Powered Cars Will Never Work has received a record number of comments. Some of them suggested that carbon geo-sequestration (storing carbon-dioxide at high pressure under-ground) is the solution to the climate change problem. The idea is that you can mix natural gas or coal gas with steam at high temperature to give carbon-dioxide and hydrogen. Then the carbon dioxide gets stored under-ground while the hydrogen is used for relatively clean fuel.
Beyond Zero Emissions has produced a media release about the fallacies expressed in the FutureGen document promoting so-called “clean-coal”, the best content is in their PDF document titled FutureGen Conceptual Design Retort. Note that I did some research to support the preparation of the retort, I am not referencing them to support my arguments but as background information.
One overwhealming problem with geo-sequestration for coal based power plants is that it is significantly more expensive than the current coal-fired power plant design. Currently the price difference between coal power and wind power is quite small and there are several technologies that are almost ready for production which will decrease the cost of wind power, it is expected that before so-called “clean coal” becomes viable (they are planning for the first production plants to go live in 2022) the cost of renewable energy will be lower than the current cost of coal power. There is no reasonable possibility of “clean coal” being cheaper than renewable energy.
The underground reservoirs that could be used for storing CO2 currently contain brine, which can contain toxic metals and radioactive substances (according to the Bureau of Land and Water Quality in the US). If toxic and radioactive substances need to be pumped out to make room for CO2 then it’s hardly a clean process!
The US Geological Survey has an interesting page about volcanic gas. Apparently it’s not uncommon for small animals to be killed when CO2 forms pools in low lying areas. If (when?) CO2 escapes from geo-sequestration the same might happen with humans. They also have a page about CO2 killing trees at Mammoth Mountain! Before I read this I never realised that plants could be killed by excessive CO2. Apparently tree roots need oxygen and CO2 in the ground will kill them. The release of 300 tons of CO2 per day killed 100 acres of trees. The FutureGen trial power plant is designed to support sequestration of over 1,000,000 tons of CO2 per year (that is over 2,700 tons per day). If it leaked at 1/9 that rate then damage comparable to Mammoth Mountain would be the result. Note that the FutureGen trial plant will be a fraction of the size of a real coal power station so an escape of significantly less than 1/9 of the CO2 from a real sequestration plant would have such a bad result. It’s interesting to note that tents and basements are documented as CO2 risks, so I guess we have to avoid camping in areas near power plants!
What would happen if a large geo-sequestration project had a sudden failure? IE if the reservoir broke and all the CO2 erupted suddenly? We already have an answer to this question because such things have happened in the past. In 1986 in Cameroon 1.2 cubic kilometers of CO2 gas was released from a volcanic lake, that is 2,400,000 tons (or just over two years of output from the proposed FutureGen plant). It killed over 2000 people. What might happen if 10 years of output from a commercial scale coal power plant was suddenly released into the atmosphere?
As far as I know there has been no research on de-sequestration of CO2. If a reservoir is discovered to be unstable after 20,000,000 tons of CO2 have been stored in it, what will we do?
Geo-sequestration of CO2 makes nuclear power plants seem safe by comparison.