Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Split CO2 – and Solve Climate Change – for a Profit

I found this website recently that's proposing a revolutionary new technology... But most likely, it is not. At least not like the fossil fuel industry wants you to think.

This new technology has been promoted as the “best hope for solving Climate Change.” It is CO2 Reduction Technology.

A company called Integrated Environmental Services, Inc. claims to have a process that “converts CO2 emissions into graphite and carbon” (and oxygen).

On the surface, this sounds amazing. But the ability to split CO2 into it's component elements has been what plants have been doing for millions of years.

Nonetheless, at this point in time, plants need all the help they can get. So let's consider just what this company has to offer. They claim that they can break the CO2 molecular bond energy with one third the bond energy.

O.K. This is the part where everybody's brain goes numb. One third! That sounds too good to be true! Well guess what? We need to do the math. Don't panic.

Let's consider just what one third really means:

If a coal-fired power plant were a small one and burnt only a million tons of coal a year, then it would have to burn another 333,333 tons of coal to generate the energy to reduce the CO2 to carbon and oxygen of the original million tons of coal. Of course, another 111,111 tons of coal would have to be burnt to reduce the CO2 from the 333,333 tons – and on and on. It looks like this:

1 + 1/3 + 1/9 + 1/27 + 1/81 + ….

which an infinite series that adds up to 1.5


Just the energy costs to reduce this CO2 to graphite and carbon will be 50% higher than now. Just the energy costs.

How much Integrated Environmental Services will change for their services is an unknown. They didn't mention it on their website. That's usually a very bad sign. If something is going to be cheap, they usually advertise that in BIG letters.

But for this example, let's give these guys the benefit of the doubt. (Yes, I'm willing to bet they don't deserve it.) But let's say that the costs of reducing CO2 are negligible (ha ha).

Wind generated energy is almost as cheap as coal generated energy now. If coal power were to incorporate CO2 Reduction Technology, costs would rise at least 50%. Then, wind power would be consistently cheaper. In other words, no coal-fired energy company is going to invest in CO2 Reduction Technology. They won't be able to compete.

And thermal solar generated power would be very competitive if the price of coal-fired power were to jump at least 50%. So, why invest in a coal-fired power plant that depends upon the fluctuating cost of coal, when solar energy costs are far more reliable? Investors wouldn't do it.

By the way, solar power just keeps getting cheaper and is predicted get much cheaper. Solar power prices are predicted to be cheaper than coal by 2016, and as much as 30% cheaper than coal or nuclear by 2025.

This isn't the first time some pie-in-the-sky technology has been paraded by us to convince us that coal is still a viable option. Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) is one of those “someday” in the future concepts. Is any power company doing CCS now? No. Does any power company have CCS scheduled into their future plans? No. Will CCS cause coal power to become more expensive than renewable? Yes. CCS is not going to happen unless we, the taxpayers and ratepayers cover the expenses. And that's just what the coal industry hopes we'll do. Pay more to clean up what we could have avoided messing up (if we just did it right to begin with).

How about Coal Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle (IGCC)? To do Carbon Capture (and maybe CO2 Reduction), coal-fired power plants will need to separate the CO2 . Are the power companies rushing out to build IGCC coal-fired power plants? No. And estimates suggest that IGCC is far less than 50% more expensive.

The coal industry has been trying to sell us the same old dirty, dangerous, climate changing coal – with a different marketing plan. Yes, the same old pig – with lipstick.

A good indicator of where the power companies really stand is in the recent decision to decommission the Mojave Generating Station near Laughlin. It was a coal-fired power plant that was forced to shut down after running for six years without required pollution control equipment. Essentially, they would rather shut this coal-fired power plant down and dismantle it than upgrade it to existing pollution standards. Actions speak far louder than words.

Coal has lost it's appeal. And “Clean Coal” was never anything more than a bait-and-switch marketing ploy.

Oh, and by the way; if we were to get suckered into CO2 Reduction Technology on fossil fuel fired power plants, we would end up burning 50% more fossil fuels. Which means we would run out that much sooner. Which means the price of fossil fuels would skyrocket. This all sounds like pretty bad news – unless, of course, you sell fossil fuels.

Now, before we give up on CO2 Reduction Technology, let's consider the possibility of using solar or wind energy to run it – and everything else. With this different paradigm, CO2 Reduction Technology starts to make sense. If we could use this technology to actually reduce atmospheric levels of CO2, we might actually be able to reverse Climate Change.

In the very near future, reversing Climate Change might start to sound like our only reasonable option. But don't rejoice just yet. They haven't discovered the magic bullet. It won't be cheap to reduce billions of tons of CO2 to carbon and oxygen with Integrated Environmental Services' artificial trees.


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