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An independent scientist’s observations on society, technology, energy, science and the environment. “Modern science has been a voyage into the unknown, with a lesson in humility waiting at every stop. Many passengers would rather have stayed home.” – Carl Sagan

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A roundup of some interesting things.

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A few interesting things I’ve come across this week:

i) In pure water, (and in particular in ice, which has a much greater density of hydrogen bonds) electric charge is primarily carried not by electrons, but by a flow of mobile protons. (Or deuterons, in D2O.)

Further reading here and here.

ii) A compendium of water-related pseudoscience and quackery. From magical quantum water purification, to “water memory”, to converting your car to run on water, it’s all discussed here.

iii) Neodymium-iron-boron magnets are dangerous!

Super-strong neodymium-iron-boron permanent magnets are very cool. They’re fun to play with, and they’re also extremely useful for many technological applications.

But they should be treated with a great deal of respect, and not toyed around with, especially not if they’re large – anything bigger than a few cubic centimetres.
A pair of these magnets the size of cigarette packets are not novelties and they’re not toys – they will take off your hand quite easily if they’re not treated with respect.

Do not want! 😦 😮

Finally:
To Mars by A-bomb: The Secret History of Project Orion.
I think I’ve posted little bits from this before, but I was delighted to find that someone’s posted the entire one-hour series on YouTube. Very, very cool.

Here’s the first part, the next five parts are at the above page.

Watching the start of this program, I was actually a little surprised to see that there actually exists video footage (indeed, colour video footage) of the assembly of the Gadget for the Trinity test in 1945.

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Written by Luke Weston

February 27, 2009 at 8:03 am

Posted in Uncategorized

‘Dirty bomb’ parts found in slain man’s home?

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The Bangor Daily News reports that one James G. Cummings, who police say was shot to death by his wife two months ago, “allegedly had a cache of radioactive materials in his home suitable for building a “dirty bomb.””

According to an FBI field intelligence report from the Washington Regional Threat and Analysis Center posted online by WikiLeaks, an organization that posts leaked documents, an investigation into the case revealed that radioactive materials were removed from Cummings’ home after his shooting death on Dec. 9.

The report posted on the WikiLeaks Web site states that “On 9 December 2008, radiological dispersal device components and literature, and radioactive materials, were discovered at the Maine residence of an identified deceased [person] James Cummings.”

It says that four 1-gallon containers of 35 percent hydrogen peroxide, uranium, thorium, lithium metal, thermite, aluminum powder, beryllium, boron, black iron oxide and magnesium ribbon were found in the home.

Also found was literature on how to build “dirty bombs” and information about cesium-137, strontium-90 and cobalt-60, radioactive materials. The FBI report also stated there was evidence linking James Cummings to white supremacist groups. This would seem to confirm observations by local tradesmen who worked at the Cummings home that he was an ardent admirer of Adolf Hitler and had a collection of Nazi memorabilia around the house, including a prominently displayed flag with swastika. Cummings claimed to have pieces of Hitler’s personal silverware and place settings, painter Mike Robbins said a few days after the shooting.

Now, of course, this seems like a bit of a beat-up – but I’m not sure who’s to blame here, the newspaper, or the perhaps overly dramatic (internal) FBI report.

The memo leaked on WikiLeaks reports that:

“State authorities detected radiation emissions in four small jars in the residence labelled ‘uranium metal’, as well as one jar labelled ‘thorium’. The four jars of uranium carried the label of an identified US company.”

“Further preliminary analysis on 30 december 2008 indicated an unlabeled jar to be a second jar of thorium. Each bottle of uranium contained depleted uranium-238. Analysis also indicated the two jars of thorium held thorium-232.”

Now, regarding this US company. I have a pretty good suspicion who this company is – there aren’t too many companies that sell small samples of depleted uranium to the public – but I’m not going to mention the company by name, simply because they do not deserve to be unfairly tarnished or persecuted in relation to this incident.

This company provides quite a few products which are very interesting and very useful in scientific teaching, education and research, including some items which are extremely difficult to find on the market anywhere else, and they already cop enough persecution and flak as it is. Nothing they sell poses any special danger to the community at large, and small samples of uranium metal are, personally, one of the least dangerous things they sell.

The company in question, from what I recall, sells (depleted) uranium metal samples in 5 gram bottles, and used to sell thorium as one-gram samples.

If these samples were what these bottles possessed by this person were, then you’re talking about approximately 20 g of depleted uranium metal, and approximately 2 g of thorium metal. That’s about 10 microcuries of uranium, and about 0.22 microcuries of thorium.

There’s nothing that constitutes any radiological hazard to anybody. A bucket full of uranium-bearing rock picked up out of the ground would contain more radioactivity than this. Uranium-238 and thorium-232 are some of the least radioactive substances you can find that can still actually be called radioactive. They’re completely, utterly irrelevant to any threat of a radiological weapon, at all.

That said, however, I’m sure it is within the limits plausibility that this person was intent on trying to build a radiological weapon, he simply didn’t go about it in a particularly effective fashion.

Written by Luke Weston

February 27, 2009 at 7:25 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Clean coal project ‘will fail’ under emissions trading scheme.

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http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2009/01/19/2468820.htm

Opposition environment spokesman Greg Hunt says a major clean coal project in central Queensland will fail unless the Federal Government changes its emissions trading scheme.

ZeroGen is working to develop a low emissions plant but says under the proposed carbon pollution reduction scheme it may be forced to buy permits.

If this “clean coal” is so clean, and actually does not have any significant emission of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, why are GHG emissions permits any significant issue at all? Any and all technologies which are truly “clean” obviously have a competitive advantage under the emissions trading scheme – so how exactly is the coal industry able to complain about a financial disadvantage faced by “clean coal”?

Of course they should be forced to buy permits – as should every power station – corresponding to their quantitative greenhouse gas emissions. If you don’t want to sink money into GHG permits, then you deploy low-emissions or zero-emissions technologies.

Even after what is basically an admission that “clean coal” is still associated with very high emissions of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, more than natural gas and more than essentially any other energy generation technology with the exception of conventional coal-firing, the coal industry is still expecting even more handouts for the government for purported “clean coal” – and the government will probably give in, since “clean coal” is the only example the Australian Government has that they can try and meaningfully show as evidence of their supposed commitment to the management of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. If Big Coal threatens to walk away on the “clean coal” projects if they don’t get the additional taxpayer-funded pork they demand, the government is left with nothing to show off.

In a letter to Resources and Energy Minister Martin Ferguson the company said it should be exempted from buying carbon permits as it is a research and development project.

It has warned that if it has to buy permits the project may become unviable.

The Queensland Government has provided $100 million for the project and Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has voiced his support for it.
Mr Hunt has accused the Commonwealth of “turning its back” on clean energy.

“The project will fail under Mr Rudd’s regime,” he said.

“Very clearly ZeroGen, clean coal, the future of Australian clean energy will fail under Mr Rudd’s regime.”

What a bunch of ridiculous rhetoric.
Given that we’re seeing so much government money being handed out to the coal-fired generation industry in relation to coal and emissions trading, and so many exemptions from emissions trading and the issuing of free permits, it might almost come as a surprise that there is interest in “clean coal”, when there is no real significant economic disincentive to the use of conventional coal-fired technology. The answer does indeed seem to be that these mendaciously small-scale “clean coal” projects seem to be an attractive source of easy government handouts for Big Coal.

Mr Hunt says the Government’s stance on emissions trading has already hurt the company.

“We’ve learnt that there are already job losses at ZeroGen,” he said.

The entire business development and corporate affairs section has been sacked in the last few days, the company is already winding down.”

A spokesperson for Mr Ferguson says the minister will address the issues raised in ZeroGen’s letter in “due course”.

Last year the Government allocated $100 million to the formation of the Carbon Capture and Storage Institute.

About 80 per cent of Australia’s electricity is created by coal-fired power generators.

Under the proposed carbon pollution reduction scheme, all revenue from the sale of permits will be used to compensate households for rising costs.

The Government’s climate change adviser, Professor Ross Garnaut, had urged the Government to allocate about a third of collected revenue to clean energy research and development.

A Question, dear readers…

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I’m currently interested in trying to find an example of any kind of scholarly paper or article published by Helen Caldicott, which has been published in a peer-reviewed journal, which is not just the usual “nuclear power bad” stuff we’ve all heard before. For example, any example of an article dealing with research into or treatment of cystic fibrosis, which was her area of professional expertise. Given that Caldicott was “Researcher in Cystic Fibrosis, Boston Clinic; formerly Director of Cystic Fibrosis Research, Adelaide Children’s Hospital, Adelaide. Australia.”, or at least so I’m reading, I’m surprised to find that despite running a few search queries through Elsevier, Medline, Web of Science and so forth, I’ve not been able to find any such example of any published works. I’d like to see a kind of baseline example of what her grasp of critical thinking, science and scholarly research was like, before it was swamped by this fervent dogma and drowned out.

That seems strange. Can anybody else find any such articles, or published works?

Written by Luke Weston

December 8, 2008 at 7:24 am

Posted in Uncategorized

The footprints of coal and nuclear fuels.

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In 2007, coal consumption in the United States – just for electric power generation – was 1.046 billion tons (1,046 million tons).

That’s a lot of coal.

Crushed bituminous coal has a bulk density of about 833 kg/m3, so therefore, that coal occupies a total volume of one cubic kilometer.
(1.046 billion tons / 833 kg/m3)1/3 = 1.04 km.)

Combustion of coal produces carbon dioxide at a rate of about 1.83 kg CO2 per kg coal.
Of course, CO2 is just one particular component of the stream of dangerous waste output from coal combustion – there’s the particulate matter, the SO2, the NO2, the fly ash, the polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, and so forth.

So, each year, the use of coal for electricity generation in the United States generates 1.91 billion tons of CO2 output to the atmosphere.

Applying the ideal gas equation, we can find the volume that this CO2 occupies, assuming that it’s at a temperature of 300 K and a pressure of one atmosphere.

(T = 300 K is very frequently used as the value of “room temperature” or “ambient temperature” when performing scientific or engineering calculations in the Kelvin scale, since it’s a nice round number.)

(1.91 x 109 tons * R * 300 K / (44 g/mol * 1 atm))(1/3) = 9.90 km.)

The volume of CO2 produced each year from coal-fired generators in the United States corresponds to a cube of CO2 with a dimension of just under 10 kilometers on a side. Over the course of a decade, that adds up to a column of CO2 which is 9.90 km on a side and occupies the entire thickness of Earth’s atmosphere.

But what about nuclear fuels?

Coal yields an output of thermal energy when it is combusted of about 24 MJ/kg – therefore, 1.046 gigatons of coal corresponds to about 2.28 x 1019 J of energy.

One atom of fissile nuclear fuel like uranium-235 generates about 200 MeV of energy in a nuclear fission – and of course, that atom of 235U has a mass of 235 u (atomic mass units).

So, to generate 2.28 x 1019 J of thermal energy, we need to fission about 277.7 tonnes of 235U.

((2.28 x 1019 J / 200 MeV) x 235 u = 277.7 tonnes.)

(By the way, did I ever mention that I really like Google calculator?)

Uranium is quite a dense material – metallic U has a density of 19.1 g/cm3.

Therefore, the amount of uranium required to replace that billion tonnes of coal is only a volume of uranium metal corresponding to a cube measuring about 2.44 meters, eight feet, on a side.

(((2.28 x 1019 J / 200 MeV) x 235 u / 19.1 g/cm3)1/3 = 2.44 m.)

Now, I know what you’re probably thinking. That assumes that we’re using pure 235U as a nuclear fuel, and that it’s consumed in fission with 100% efficiency, and that is not the case with real, practical nuclear fuels in existing nuclear power reactors.

OK, so let’s revise the calculation a little to reflect the characteristics of a typical, existing light-water reactor more realistically.

A light-water reactor typically uses low-enriched uranium dioxide (UO2) fuel, and a modern power reactor typically achieves a burnup of something like 50 GWd (thermal energy) per tonne U.

Therefore, the generation of 2.28 x 1019 J of thermal energy from a conventional, once-through, inefficient LEU fuel cycle in a light-water reactor requires the use of 5987.4 tonnes of low-enriched UO2 fuel.

((2.28 x 1019 J / (50 GW days/tonne)) x (270/238) = 5987.4 tonnes.)

UO2 has a density of 10.97 g/cm3.

Therefore, the amount of LEU uranium oxide fuel required to replace that billion tonnes of coal is a volume corresponding to a cube measuring about 8.17 meters, 27 feet, on a side. The used, irradiated fuel – even before any recycling or recovery of unused uranium and actinides is performed – occupies about the same volume. Yes, you can put it in a garage, or put it in a basement, or something.

(((2.28 x 1019 J / (50 GW days/tonne)) x (270/238) / 10.97 g/cm3)1/3 = 8.17 m.)

Perhaps soon I certainly shall download SketchUp and have a play around with it in order to make some visualisations of these quantities.

Finally, a hat tip to Jason at Pro Nuclear Democrats for an interesting and very educational post which was my inspiration in creating this post.

Written by Luke Weston

December 4, 2008 at 7:27 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Fischer-Tropsch fuels and carbon dioxide mitigation.

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“The good news is that there is no need to build new nuclear power plants to provide for the projected energy needs of the future. Indeed, it would be possible, using other forms of electricity generation, to close down most of the existing nuclear reactors within a decade. Many kinds of alternative solutions are currently on the drawing board because of the extreme urgency of countering global warming. For instance, the conversion of coal to a synthetic fuel, which can be used for transportation and which would contribute much less to global warming than petroleum, is actively being championed by Governor Brian Schweitzer of Montana.”

That’s a quote from the perhaps infamous Nuclear Power is Not the Answer. However, this post isn’t really a criticism directed at Caldicott, specifically. The bold is mine.

The production of synthetic of petroleum-like liquid hydrocarbon fuels through Fischer-Tropsch synthesis using coal as a feedstock is not environmentally sound at all, it is not an efficient use of energy resources and it is not at all a useful technology in the slightest degree to contribute towards the mitigation of anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions from energy systems.

The first step in Fischer-Tropsch synthesis of liquid fuel from coal is the reaction of coal, which is mostly carbon, with steam under elevated temperatures and pressures, to yield a mixture of gaseous carbon monoxide and hydrogen, known as synthesis gas. This requires mining the coal, adding water, and supplying a significant input of thermal energy, intrinsically reducing the efficiency with which the energy content of the coal can be utilised – where does the thermal energy come from?
From burning more coal?

C(s) + H2O(g) –> CO(g) + H2(g)

We may wish to consider the small amount of hydrogen, about 4% by mass in typical bituminous coal, giving the coal an empirical chemical formula of something like C2H. However, the presence of this small amount of hydrogen in the coal makes essentially negligible difference, other than to marginally increase the H2:CO ratio in the synthesis gas mixture.

2 C2H(s) + 4 H2O –> 4 CO(g) + 5 H2(g)

It’s essentially the same as the previous reaction, above.

For the sake of simplicity, we might ignore, for now, the presence of sulfur, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, metals and heavier elements in the coal, and focus on the carbon content. One notable advantage of Fischer-Tropsch fuels, however, is that the sulfur content of the fuel can be removed altogether, resulting in a fuel, such as diesel fuel, with negligible sulfur content, and hence with negligible emissions of sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere when the fuel is burned.

At the heart of the Fischer-Tropsch process is the use of an appropriately engineered catalyst and reaction conditions to convert the synthesis gas mixture back into a mixture of liquid hydrocarbons with an average molecular weight and composition which is usable as a fuel for vehicles. Suppose, for example, that we’re interested in the production of petrol for passenger cars – however, you could apply the same analysis equally to diesel fuel, for example, or any other particular kind of liquid petroleum fuel that you’re interested in.

Typical liquid hydrocarbon fuels, such as petrol or diesel fuel, contain about 13-15% hydrogen by mass – significantly greater than any possible abundance of hydrogen in the coal. As such, the addition of additional hydrogen into the reaction is necessary. Suppose that we’re interested in the production of petrol for passenger cars. For the sake of simplicity we can say that octane, C8H18, is representative of the overall chemical composition of the petrol.

When the coal is reacted with water to form synthesis gas, the synthesis gas is then reacted with more steam in order to increase the H2:CO ratio in the gas mixture, using water as the source of hydrogen, and producing carbon dioxide. This gas mixture can then be used to form the desired heavier hydrocarbons, using a Fischer-Tropsch catalyst.

25 C(s) + 25 H2O(g) –> 25 CO(g) + 25 H2(g)

9 CO(g) + 9 H2O(g) –> 9 CO2(g) + 9 H2(g)

16 CO(g) + 34 H2(g) –> 2 C8H18(g) + 16 H2O(g)

Hence, we have an overall chemical reaction which is equivalent to this:

25 C(s) + 18 H2O(g) –> 2 C8H18(g) + 9 CO2(g)

Traditionally, we extract crude oil from the ground, fractionate and refine the oil into products like petrol, and run our cars on the petrol. If we combust 2 mol of octane in an engine, we’ve emitted 16 mol of fossil-fuel-derived carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. However, if that 2 mol of octane is produced from coal via a Fischer-Tropsch process like we’ve elucidated above, then 25 mol of fossil-fuel-derived carbon dioxide is emitted into the atmosphere, for the same amount of energy output in the car’s engine. Does this “contribute much less to global warming than petroleum”?

Absolutely not – quite the opposite, in fact.

Even if all the carbon dioxide created during the synthesis was captured at the Fischer-Tropsch plant, liquefied, and sent to geological sequestration – which assumes that geological sequestration of the enormous quantities of carbon dioxide associated with fossil fuel energy systems is practical, which is extremely doubtful indeed and is at best completely unproven – then, at best, assuming that none of the additional energy inputs into the process come from fossil fuels, then the combustion of the synthetic fuel is associated with exactly the same quantity of carbon dioxide emissions as the
combustion of fuel derived from petroleum.

Synthetic fuel production, as exemplified by the Fischer-Tropsch process, is not advocated for reasons of the mitigation of anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions – it is advocated by people including but not limited to Brian Schweitzer as a means to contribute to a secure domestic supply of liquid petroleum for the United States – helping to end the United States’ present dependence on foreign oil.

Fischer-Tropsch chemistry provides a particularly attractive means to keep our petroleum-fuelled vehicles in operation, using abundant, ubiquitous and secure domestic supplies of coal, where the security of foreign oil supplies are threatened by strategic or geopolitical considerations – as was the case in Nazi Germany and in South Africa under Apartheid, where Fischer-Tropsch fuel production was first well developed on a large, industrial scale.

Of course, perhaps it’s also possible Schweitzer also wants to see Montana’s abundant lignite coal utilised for the production of these synthetic fuels – bringing income into the state, and perhaps helping to keep the coal extraction industry in business in a society where it is increasingly widely accepted that coal is our number-one environmental enemy. That’s no secret.

Written by Luke Weston

November 25, 2008 at 1:21 am

The fallacy of currently operating “clean coal”: Part 2

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Next up we might look at what the coal industry calls “a world-leading low-emissions coal power plant for Queensland” – the ZeroGen project.

Through a staged deployment program, the project will first develop a demonstration-scale 120 IGCC power plant with CCS, with a gross electrical power output of 120 MW. Again – only a gross electrical output of 120 MW, and a net electricity output to the grid which will be significantly less than that – it’s a tiny demonstration-scale plant, which is feebly small by the standards of most coal-fired power stations.

“The facility is due to begin operations in late 2012 and will capture up to 75% of its carbon dioxide emissions. Some of the CO2 will be transported by road tankers for partial geosequestration in deep underground reservoirs in the Northern Denison Trough, approximately 220 km west of the plant.”

(Quoted straight from the NewGenCoal website.)

Again, only some of the CO2 is captured, and only some of that CO2 which is captured is transported, for partial geosequestration.

To facilitate more rapid uptake of the technology at commercial scale, ZeroGen will concurrently develop a “large-scale” 400 megawatt IGCC power plant with CCS. Due for deployment in 2017, the facility will be “one of the first of its kind in the world” and will capture up to 90% of its CO2 emissions. It will be located at a site in Queensland as yet to be determined by a feasibility study. Of course, capturing 90% of CO2 emissions does not mean geosequestration of 90% of CO2 emissions, and in any case, 400 MW of electrical power output is not really a “large-scale” power station at all.

There’s an interesting paper here which provides a realistic analysis of the implementation of retrofitted CO2 capture for an existing pulverised coal power station. Of course, this is a pulverised-coal system under consideration, and not IGCC as the ZeroGen plant(s) are proposed to use, but it is very interesting material nonetheless.

This paper examines the retrofit of a 400 MWe pulverized-coal fired plant, emitting 368 t/h of CO2, to enable CO2 capture while maintaining 400 MWe output, where 90% of the CO2 emitted from the coal plant is captured and sequestered. To do so, the extra energy input required for capturing CO2 was supplied by natural gas-fired gas turbines.

I’ve quoted the key points from the paper below. I’ve applied some minor editing and collation, but most of the material is straight from the paper cited.

Even when CO2 emitted from the gas turbines is not captured, the overall process still have some impact in reducing CO2 emissions, corresponding to an overall reduction in carbon dioxide output to the atmosphere of between 60-70%, with atmospheric CO2 emissions of between 110 and 138 t/h, compared to 368 t/h for the original coal combustion plant, at the cost of a natural gas requirement of about 1350 GJ/h.

When CO2 from the gas turbines is captured, the reduction in CO2 emission is between 68 and 77%, or CO2 emission to the atmosphere of 86-113 t/h. However, a considerably large amount of natural gas is required (around 3140 GJ/h), which is certainly not reasonable.

The total amount of natural gas required is between 3100 and 3300 GJ/h. To put this number into perspective, this amount of natural gas would generate about 460 MWe when used in a combined-cycle gas turbine plant without CO2 capture. The relative emissions are between 23% and 32% of the original coal power plant, which has a significant impact on the reduction of CO2 emissions.

The current industrial price for natural gas, as of August 2008, is USD $9.95 per thousand cubic feet, according to the EIA’s natural gas market page. One thousand cubic feet of natural gas corresponds to a heating value of about 1.09 GJ.

If a plant consumes 1350 GJ/h of natural gas at full output, then that is a fuel cost of 108 million dollars per year – leading to a significant increase in the operational cost of the plant.

For a nameplate capacity of 400 MW, and a capacity factor which we may assume to be, say, 85%, carbon dioxide emissions of between 86 and 138 t/h correspond to CO2 emissions to the atmosphere of between 253 to 406 gCO2/kWhe generated.

The results from this study certainly paint a less optimistic assessment of the carbon dioxide emissions intensity of “clean coal” than the 80-90% reductions estimated by the IPCC. It is not at all “clean coal”.

Indeed, such levels of carbon dioxide emissions intensity are not much better than existing high efficiency combined-cycle natural gas fired gas turbine power plants. Given that the carbon dioxide emissions aren’t grossly worse, and given that gas turbine plants are already established, mature technology which is likely to remain far more economically competitive with this expensive, immature, unproven future technology, it is easy to envision that natural gas will be the main focus of the fossil fuel combustion energy industry over coming years, as opposed to the development of CCS technology, even where emissions trading is introduced.

The exception to this, of course, is where there is a vested interest in keeping the existing coal-fired power plants, and enormous coal-mining infrastructure, even if it is a less than sensible choice on many different levels. Natural gas turbines are of course, along with nuclear power, by far one of the biggest “threats” to the coal mining and coal-combustion electricity generation industry.

Additionally, that’s only considering greenhouse gas emissions from combustion at the power plant – without any consideration of whole-of-life-cycle analysis of coal mining and natural gas production – the enormous scale on which coal is mined, along with the fugitive emissions of methane associated with the production and handling of coal and natural gas, and so forth.

At the Munmorah Power Station in New South Wales, a research-scale pilot plant will capture up to 3000 tonnes of CO2.

“It is hoped the Munmorah project will provide the foundation for a $150 million post-combustion capture and storage demonstration project in NSW, planned for operation by 2013, capturing up to 100,000 tonnes of CO2 each year.

The CO2CRC (the Cooperative Research Centre for Greenhouse Gas Technologies) Otway Project is Australia’s most advanced carbon dioxide storage project. Launched in April 2008, the project involves the extraction, compression and transport and storage of 100,000 tonnes of naturally occurring CO2. The CO2 is being stored in a depleted natural gas reservoir two kilometres below the earth’s surface.

3000 tonnes of CO2? 100,000 tonnes of CO2? That’s nothing. It is just not enough to make any difference to anything. The Munmorah power station emitted 2.1 million tonnes of CO2 to the atmosphere in 2007. Even if 100,000 tonnes of CO2 was captured and sent to geological sequestration, the remaining 95.24% of the CO2 is still going into the atmosphere as usual. Capture and geological sequestration of this 4.76% of CO2 is probably indistinguishable from normal variance in the plant’s total energy output and total CO2 emissions from year to year. You wouldn’t even notice any quantitative difference in the emissions.

In 2007, Eraring power station in New South Wales emitted 13.8 million tonnes of carbon dioxide, and in 2006, Loy Yang Power in Victoria emitted 19.3 million tonnes of carbon dioxide. For there to be any chance of “clean coal” to become a reality in any honest, meaningful way, these are the kinds of quantities of carbon dioxide which must be practically, safely and economically sent to geological sequestration, in their entirety.

There are at least two Cooperative Research Centers in Australia dealing with coal-based energy technology – the CRC for Coal in Sustainable Development, and the CRC for Greenhouse Gas Technologies (The “CO2CRC”.)

As far as I’m aware, there is not one CRC dealing with solar energy, wind energy, nuclear energy, or geothermal energy. There is not one, dealing with any such technologies. We do have industries who want to invest in these technologies as commercial enterprises in Australia, and we do have plenty of good scientists and academics who believe in all these different technologies, and yet, astonishingly, surprisingly, it is only the coal industry which has a showing in the CRC program.

The large energy requirements of capturing and compressing CO2 significantly raise the fuel costs and operating costs of CCS-equipped fossil fuel power plants, with the fuel requirement of a plant with CCS being increased by about 25% for a coal-fired plant, and about 15% for a gas-fired plant.

Additionally, increasing the overall greenhouse gas emissions intensity is increased well above what it’s claimed to be, since the gas is not captured with 100% efficiency. In addition, there are significant increases in capital costs for the plant.

The IPCC Special Report on Carbon Capture and Storage reports that:

“Available technology captures about 85–95% of the CO2 processed in a capture plant. A power plant equipped with a CCS system (with access to geological or ocean storage) would need roughly 10–40% more energy than a plant of equivalent output without CCS, of which most is for capture and compression. For secure storage, the net result is that a power plant with CCS could reduce CO2 emissions to the atmosphere by approximately 80–90% compared to a plant without CCS.”

Since 1996, the Sleipner gas field in the North Sea, the industry’s poster child for large-scale, established, operational geosequestration, has stored about one million tonnes of CO2 per year. A second project in the Snøhvit gas field in the Barents Sea stores about 700,000 tonnes per year.

The Weyburn project is currently the world’s largest carbon capture and storage project.
Started in 2000, Weyburn is located on an oil reservoir discovered in 1954 in Weyburn, southeastern Saskatchewan, Canada. The CO2 injected at Weyburn is mainly used for enhanced oil recovery with an injection rate of about 1.5 million tonnes per year.

These projects are by far the largest operational CO2 geological injection/geological sequestration projects in the world – and there are only a few such facilities in the world. Each such facility does not have nearly enough capacity for carbon dioxide geosequestration to handle the output from even just one large coal-fired power station.