US energy chief says carbon capture viable in 10 years

12 October 2009 20:05  [Source: ICIS news]

WASHINGTON (ICIS news)--US Energy Secretary Steven Chu said on Monday that he is confident that carbon capture and storage (CCS) can be commercially viable within ten years, but reaching that goal will require major effort by global governments and industry.

In remarks to be delivered at a carbon sequestration conference in London, Chu said he believes "we must make it our goal to advance carbon capture and storage technology to the point where widespread, affordable deployment can begin in eight to 10 years”, or by 2019.

While noting that coal-fired power generation produces 40% of global carbon emissions, Chu acknowledged that coal “is likely to be a major and growing source of electricity generation for the foreseeable future”.

Coal now accounts for 25% of global energy resources, he said.

Referring to what he termed “overwhelming scientific evidence” that carbon emissions from fossil fuels are causing climate changes, he said the world is "on a perilous course that poses clear threats to the well-being and economic prosperity of our people”.

However, he added that "prosperity depends on reliable, affordable access to energy” and said that coal would retain a major role in energy production.

To make continued and widespread coal use compatible with climate change goals, he said, “will require an aggressive global effort, harnessing the scientific talent and resources of governments as well as industry”.

“Finding safe, affordable, broadly deployable methods to capture and store carbon dioxide is clearly among the most important issues scientists have ever been asked to solve,” Chu said.

“While the challenge we face is enormous, I believe that scientific innovation can provide the answers we need. This is an aggressive goal, but the climate problem compels us to act with fierce urgency.”

US chemical producers - heavily dependent on natural gas as a feedstock and power fuel - are concerned that climate change policies being advanced in Congress will greatly accelerate an already wide-scale shift from coal-fired utilities to natural gas. 

That, in turn, could trigger significant feedstock and energy cost increases for gas-dependent chemical makers. Successful development of CCS could ease or even reverse the shift from coal to natgas for power generation.

There are doubts, however, that carbon capture and sequestration can be made cost-effective for widespread commercial application.

Chu said that the US government already has committed $4bn (€2.7bn) to the task, “the largest government investment in carbon capture and storage of any nation in history”. That investment will be exceeded by the $7bn expected to be invested in research by US manufacturers, he added.

Those investments, he said, “could bring up to ten commercial [CCS] demonstration projects online by 2016, enabling us to evaluate and improve on the technology to make it commercially deployable” by 2019.

Apparently referring to the new US Advanced Research Projects Agency - Energy (ARPA-E), Chu said that US research investments “will help develop game-changing, revolutionary new technologies that could begin to be deployable after 2020”.

That agency is to announce by the end of October some $150m in first-round research grants meant to stimulate “transformational” energy concepts.

Chu said he was appealing to other energy ministers, scientists and industry leaders worldwide to join the CCS research effort, saying that “success is within reach but not guaranteed”.

He did not specify what such a global undertaking might cost or which entity might coordinate the effort.

($1 = €0.68)

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By: Joe Kamalick
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