Sunday, December 23, 2007

CLEAN COAL TO SAVE WORLD IN ILLINOIS: Revive brokedown economy and shove all greenhouse gas into a deep hole, too

If you read the standard print on clean coal -- that is, the revived Fischer-Tropsch technology of the Third Reich -- the future is always bright. The end to global-warming is just around the corner. When a new pilot plant is slated to go into operation in 2012, it will all become clear. Its energy innovations will spread like wildfire and the coal reserves of the United States will make oil dependence a thing of the past.

All the bad carbon dioxide -- the millions of tons produced per year by any single plant -- will just be pumped into the ground.

Why did no one think of such an elegant solution -- down instead of up -- sooner?

"Illinois won a battle with Texas [last] Tuesday for a showcase clean-coal research project, but within hours the [Department of Energy] waved a caution flag about rising costs and said it wasn't ready to sign off on the $1.8 billion FutureGen power plant," reported the Chicago Tribune here.

"The [Mattoon, Illinois] cutting-edge plant is designed to test whether technology can coax abundant coal into making electricity with little pollution, burying greenhouse gases deep in the earth."

One of bad feature, among several, common to Fischer-Tropsch plants is the regular escalation of estimates of their costs and the fact that virtually all of the corporate entities proposing to build them want the taxpayer to foot all or a substantial part of the bill. In other words, the financial risk to the wealthy in the development of a risky venture is passed off to the middle class and is unrecoverable should such projects become busts or worse than what they propose to cure.

Last week DD blog pointed you to a similar plant proposed for Schuylkill County, PA. It went from $600 million to $1 billion in about the space of a year. Now, a similar plant for Illinois is checking in at $1.8 billion.

The sticking point is an expense thought needed to control carbon dioxide by means not yet in any way ready for the scale of use envisioned. Despite much talk on sequestration, old style coal-burning electrical plants in the United States still pump it into the air. And let's not even get started on China.

For you to go with the clean coal fantasy, you have to get down with the idea that what couldn't be done for years with those plants will now suddenly be done for Fischer-Tropsch plants. We'll just pump our carbon dioxide deep underground and that's where it will stay! Global-warming pretty much cured!

"Calling it zero-emission is a blatant lie, and vastly overselling the benefits," one man, a local expert for an respiratory health association, told the Tribune.

"Over at Mattoon High School, athletic director Gerald Temples was already dreaming about championships he can win with an influx of talented kids that [a Fischer-Tropsch plant] might bring to town with their parents," added the newspaper.

Climate change stiffed! Local high school football explodes! Could Fischer-Tropsch coal-to-oil also make the blind to see and the lame walk?

As in Schuylkill County, with its abundant piles of waste coal and not much else, the economy in Illinois where a Fischer-Tropsch plant is desired is flat.

Its coal reserves cannot be used in the conventional, read "only," manner because they're too polluting.

"Success could have major ramifications for the ailing Illinois coal industry, which sits on large reserves of dirty, high-sulfur coal," wrote another local newspaper on the Illinois plant. "Demand for Illinois coal has been hurt by clean-air laws."

The political trick is to resell Fischer-Tropsch plants as things which don't do the same. One dangles the prospect of jobs and the price of oil from the Middle East in front of audiences, bakes with a few skewed "facts" like coal-to-oil being "pollution free," add a tablespoonful of of pseudo-scientific gobble and the phrase "clean coal" -- and that job becomes doable.

And it is in this way in which a technology which steps on the gas pedal of carbon dioxide production is rebranded as environmentally friendly.

In an article that was largely for Fischer-Tropsch in
Scientific American,
a magazine which does not actually publish peer-reviewed science, it must be conceded that "despite some commercial demonstrations of ... carbon sequestration technology, largely to help recover more oil from depleted fields, none have approached anywhere near the scale necessary to significantly impact the 9.3 billion metric tons of CO2—and rising—emitted every year from burning coal."

Will the clean coil and we'll-bury-all-our-C02-in-the-ground memes flourish in 2008?



A page including links to the various sections of the Department of Energy's Environmental Impact assessment of the Gilberton, PA, Fischer-Tropsch plant is here.

In 2006, the Department of Energy was compelled to undertake a revision of carbon dioxide emissions when commenters uncovered that the original estimate had been simply taken from the waste coal management company that wants to build the plant. The revision resulted in an approximate tripling of the original estimate.

The DoE report also discusses the feasibility of sequestering carbon dioxide in the ground and judges the technology to be not mature at the time of publication, January 2007. DoE estimated sequestration on the scale called for by the plant's production of greenhouse gas to be at least fifteen years off.



Happy days are here again. Think "algae" instead of "clean coal."

This, today from the New York Times magazine, more algae-to-save-the-day tripe, a future Nobel Prize distilled into one paragraph:

"By far ... the largest, most prolific biomass energy resource available to us is aquatic -- namely algae (think gigantic algae blooms, appearing virtually overnight). Furthermore, wild algae, which grows readily on fertilizer runoff and municipal wastewater streams can simply be dried and burned directly in power plants as a carbon neutral substitute for the greatest greenhouse gas offender of all: coal." -- some heevahava from Massachusetts




Update:

World not saved, boo-hoo! Illinois FutureGen clean coal plant shot down. See here.

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