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Earth The Almighty Buck Science

DOE Pumps $126.6 Million Into Carbon Sequestration 489

Posted by samzenpus
from the out-of-sight-out-of-mind dept.
RickRussellTX writes "The DOE awarded $126.6 million in grants today to projects that will pump 1 million tons of CO2 into underground caverns at sites in California and Ohio. Environmental groups call carbon sequestration "a scam", claiming that it is too expensive and uncertain to be competitive with non-coal alternatives like wind and solar. I just hope nobody drops a Mentos down the wrong pipe."
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DOE Pumps $126.6 Million Into Carbon Sequestration

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  • Re:So... (Score:3, Informative)

    by TubeSteak (669689) on Wednesday May 07, 2008 @10:21PM (#23332794) Journal

    Why can't we do both? Damn environmentalists meddling again. Never wanting to compromise or find some benefits in alternatives.
    Because the people pushing CCS want to burn coal & then shove carbon into the ground.

    Greenpeace wants alternatives, not technology that might arrive in 10+ years, only to prolong the existing energy production system.

    I personally agree with you, even though Greenpeace sees the funding as a zero sum game.
    You never know how or when knowledge & science, for its own sake, will pay off.
  • 1986 Disaster (Score:2, Informative)

    by Tuqui (96668) on Wednesday May 07, 2008 @10:23PM (#23332810) Homepage
    Hope you don't live near or at least this type of disaster [wikipedia.org] doesn't happen there.
  • Re:Safety? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 07, 2008 @10:27PM (#23332844)
    This brought up Lake Nyos [wikipedia.org] in my mind... What if all that CO2 escapes, indeed.
  • Re:Safety? (Score:2, Informative)

    by penn00 (1224820) on Wednesday May 07, 2008 @10:32PM (#23332876)
    I thought of this at first, but Lake Nyos was a crater lake that flooded an adjacent valley with CO2. I doubt that these caverns have the same possibility to allow the CO2 to flow down hill and "pool" in to an area below sea level.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 07, 2008 @10:47PM (#23332994)
    Quick chemistry lesson - splitting the C from the O2 would take as much energy as was gained by putting them together, and that's in an ideal, 100% efficient world.

    A much more practical solution is to find a way to get the CO2 to combine with something to form an insoluble carbonate.
  • by jmv (93421) on Wednesday May 07, 2008 @11:00PM (#23333116) Homepage
    that's why all the plans involve putting it down somewhere.

    If it was stored in gas form at atmospheric pressure, it wouldn't be a problem (it would just be silly). The problem is that if it's stored in highly compressed or solid form, then if something goes wrong and it goes back to gas, it *will* go up and escape, potentially killing anyone in the area.
  • Re:Safety? (Score:3, Informative)

    by jmv (93421) on Wednesday May 07, 2008 @11:03PM (#23333140) Homepage
    Just to make it clear, this [wikipedia.org] is what I'm talking about.
  • Re:So... (Score:3, Informative)

    by Wrath0fb0b (302444) on Wednesday May 07, 2008 @11:44PM (#23333398)
    You are mixing up my supply and demand side arguments.

    On the demand side, I'm pretty certain that Americans will not tolerate any changes that reduce their perceived standard of living. Efficiencies like better cars, appliances and houses are a fantastic idea but take a long time to materialize due to slow turnover in those areas. Grander plans like better urban design so you don't have to drive ****ing everywhere and creating situations where you can live near where you work will take even longer. Support for these policies must come with a firm grasp of their realistic benefits, otherwise you aren't supporting any real policy you are just imagining things. I support them but I realize that they aren't the magic bullet some seem to claim.

    Given that demand is likely to rise for the time being just due to population growth (even as the efficiencies that I support kick in), we need to be realistic about the supply side. Wind and solar are just not going to cut it as baseload power (solar is fantastic as a 'peak' power boost since it correlates with AC use) for the time being. We should invest in making them more efficient and economical, no doubt, but again, we have to be clear about what is realistic.

    Despite /.ers insistence that it is dying, coal will be around in the US (and certainly in China) for a long time (your children will be dead before we generate less than 1% of our energy from fossil fuels). There is absolutely no reason for the DOE not to investigate safe and affordable ways to mitigate the environmental impact. Perhaps Greenpeace is right that sequestration is unrealistic, unsafe and unaffordable -- it certainly is now. On the other hand, so are wind and solar right now. Why should we foreclose options?
  • Re:WTF? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Boycott BMG (1147385) on Wednesday May 07, 2008 @11:49PM (#23333436) Journal

    On a less sarcastic note if you have figured out that plants need CO2 to live, then there is probably hope that once you start looking at the so-called science of manmade global warming, you'll discover that it's not science at all.

    To put the project in perspective Kiluea pumps out around 700,000 tons a year, and Pinatubo put out more CO2 in '91 than the entire output of all mankinds exisistence. As it turns out nature responds by (suprise suprise) increasing plantlife. So we are going to offset Kiluea for 1.5 ( to be generous) years by pumping it underground.

    I'm no scientist, but I do know BS when I smell it. Concerning volcanoes in particular, http://volcanoes.usgs.gov/Hazards/What/VolGas/volgas.html [usgs.gov]

    Comparison of CO2 emissions from volcanoes vs. human activities.
    Scientists have calculated that volcanoes emit between about 130-230 million tonnes (145-255 million tons) of CO2 into the atmosphere every year (Gerlach, 1999, 1991). This estimate includes both subaerial and submarine volcanoes, about in equal amounts. Emissions of CO2 by human activities, including fossil fuel burning, cement production, and gas flaring, amount to about 27 billion tonnes per year (30 billion tons) [ ( Marland, et al., 2006) - The reference gives the amount of released carbon (C), rather than CO2, through 2003.]. Human activities release more than 130 times the amount of CO2 emitted by volcanoes--the equivalent of more than 8,000 additional volcanoes like Kilauea (Kilauea emits about 3.3 million tonnes/year)! (Gerlach et. al., 2002)
    also, concerning Mt. Pinatubo itself, http://pubs.usgs.gov/pinatubo/wolfe/ [usgs.gov]

    Gerlach and others estimate that, in addition to the measured 17 Mt of SO2, the eruption of approximately 5 km3 of magma was accompanied by release of at least 491 to 921 Mt of H2O, 3 to 16 Mt of Cl, and 42 to 234 Mt of CO2.
    So Mt. Pinatubo let off 42 to 234 Mt of CO2, which is more than 100 times less than what man released in 2006.
  • Re:So... (Score:2, Informative)

    by Iamthecheese (1264298) on Thursday May 08, 2008 @12:06AM (#23333564)
    We have to reduce consumption regardless.

    No, we do not have to reduce consumption. I see this fallacious argument everywhere. What we have to do is either reduce consumption or develop sustainable energy. There is no need to reduce consumption if:
    fusion [bbc.co.uk]
    non-food biofuel [unh.edu]
    Thermal depolymerization [wikipedia.org]
    molten salt [inventorspot.com]
    or any other of several technologies, or any combination of the above come to fruiction. Are you seriously proposing that there will never be a source of energy sufficient to maintain the world at first-country usage levels? Wear your mortification [newadvent.org]-colored glasses if you want, but I say again, we do not need to reduce consumption.
  • Re:So... (Score:2, Informative)

    by The Grim Reefer2 (1195989) on Thursday May 08, 2008 @12:24AM (#23333694)
    "I would imagine there could potentially be geysers of the crap escaping during an earthquake or volcano smothering/killing any animal/plants in the area..."

    OK, I can see the animal smothering argument, but the plants? Really?

  • by Raul654 (453029) on Thursday May 08, 2008 @12:47AM (#23333852) Homepage
    "It's not going to leak into the atmosphere" - right, and the Titanic was unsinkable.

    First, to point out the blindingly obvious -- there are really only two places to inject carbon - into used-up coal mines and into the deep ocean. And as any fifth grader knowns, the warmer a liquid gets, the less gas it can dissolve. (If you don't believe me, go pour some pepsi in a pot, boil it, and see what happens to all the fizz). So if you inject into the ocean, global warming is going to bring it right back out again.

    As for injecting it back into coal-mines - who is to say it will stay that way? Are we supposed to take coal companies at their word that it won't?
  • Re:So... (Score:5, Informative)

    by Gibbs-Duhem (1058152) on Thursday May 08, 2008 @01:00AM (#23333940)

    If we run off of U235 plants, we'll run out of cheap uranium poste haste. The only way we know of to extend our nuclear fuel supply is to reprocess the U238 transmuted to plutonium (or thorium to U233) into additional fuel. However, this is readily achievable.

    Conveniently, this sort of breeder reactor also has the ready potential to result in much more *complete* burning of nuclear fuel, resulting in much further reacted, and generally much shorter half-life products. The half life of breeder reactor waste can be as low as 100 years, and as the 95% of the enriched uranium that is U238 becomes viable fuel instead of being discarded as plutonium, the amount of waste per unit power drops by many orders of magnitude

    Right now, India is the only country I am aware of that does extensive breeding (they're not in the Non-proliferation treaty, and don't have natively mined uranium, so they transmute thorium into fissile material) although France does some as well. The US doesn't do it because of proliferation concerns (which makes no sense to me, but whatever). However, since switching to a full nuclear power system requires going to breeder reactors anyway, it will also result in massively less waste (probably way less than coal power, and better contained), and shorter-lived waste.

  • Re:So... (Score:5, Informative)

    by Jesus_666 (702802) on Thursday May 08, 2008 @02:32AM (#23334404)
    You do know that plutonium can be used as a nuclear fuel? If it couldn't it would be useless for nuclear weapons.

    Breeder reactors, reprocessing facilities and smart management can be used to dramatically reduce the amount of nuclear waste you have to dispose of - the figures I usually hear are somewhere between 95 and 98%. Also, nuclear plants don't constantly release radioactive particles like coal plants do. And they generate a lot of power. And the more modern designs are very safe; even Chernobyl required a risky test in an old reactor design conducted by a night shift crew that was unsufficiently trained.

    Green power doesn't quite deliver as of yet. Photovoltaics still has a rather low efficiency and creates toxic waste during production of the panels. Hydro doesn't scale well, apart from dramatically changing the river you're working with. Geothermal only works in certain places. Wind also only works in certain places, doesn't generate that much power and is suspected to disturb bird populations and people living downwind.


    The big question is: What do we do now? We can't go nuclear because that would mean we generate a few tons of nuclear waste per year that we have to bury for a few decades, apart from theoretically enabling teh nukes. We can't go coal because apart from CO2 emissions coal generates some nuclear waste as well. We can't go solar because solar doesn't generate enough power for most places and is toxic. We can't go wind and water either because they can't keep up with demand. We can't scale back our energy consumption either because that would be just as unacceptable as nuclear waste to most people.

    At some point we do need to make an unpopular choice because there aren't any popular ones. I think that nuclear is one of the better choices we can make.
  • Citation please. Heck, I'll provide one. MIT's "Tech Review" [technologyreview.com] says "Solar power cost about $4 a watt in the early 2000s". That's less than half of what you say.

    Falcon
  • by Ace905 (163071) on Thursday May 08, 2008 @03:14AM (#23334560) Homepage
    Man, I would not want to live anywhere near one of these storage facilities.

    On the other hand, from wikipedia [wikipedia.org] "To further investigate the safety of CO2 sequestration, we can look into Norway's Sleipner gas field, as it is the oldest plant that stores CO2 on an industrial scale. According to an environmental assessment of the gas field which was conducted after ten years of operation, the author affirmed that geosequestration of CO2 was the most definite way to store CO2 permanently. [4]

            "Available geological information shows absence of major tectonic events after the deposition of the Utsira formation [saline reservoir]. This implies that the geological environment is tectonically stable and a site suitable for carbon dioxide storage. The solubility trapping [is] the most permanent and secure form of geological storage." [4]
    "

    This sounds pretty exact-opposite of what the greenpeace hippy terro... activists are saying.

  • Re:So... (Score:3, Informative)

    by Rei (128717) on Thursday May 08, 2008 @03:22AM (#23334594) Homepage
    Nuclear waste just sits there in a small space, becoming slowly less harmful as time goes on. If we reprocessed it, we could get rid of most of it anyways, plus get ourselves more fuel. And, while nuclear accidents are far more common than most of the Slashdot proponents like to pretend -- even serious or potentially serious ones -- containment structures have saved our collective arses many times over. So long as we don't start lining up behind containment-structure-free reactors, such as PBMRs, there's not really a problem.

    The problem is economic. Nuclear power is currently very expensive, even with subsidy. The companies seeking to profit off of a "nuclear rennaisance" claim to be cost competitive this time around. We'll have to see if they can pull it off.

    Meanwhile, wind and solar thermal are making steady progress toward coal parity. Photovoltaics looks to be on the verge of blowing coal away with its Moore's Law-style advancement. The problem is that these aren't baseload. And while you can use various types of pumped storage, there's another problem: long-term reductions in input. For example, take solar. Twice in the 1800s there were volcanic events that led to "years without a summer". In history, some of these events have been so powerful that they led to worldwide crop failures and the sun as just a dim glow. Imagine a world reliant on solar power in such an event. Not good. These things should simply be to supplement baseload, not to provide it -- even with pumped or battery storage (unless someone has a way to store about half all of our power needs for a couple years...).

    No, what I'm really hopeful for -- and again, we'll have to see how the economics plays out, because you never know on things like this -- is enhanced geothermal. Depending on where you are, it involves drilling several wells between one and half a dozen miles down. You use pressure, water, solvents, etc to open up fractures at the base, like when working with a difficult oil reservoir. Then, you just inject water into one well and get hot, pressurized steam out of the others. Baseload power, and there's literally tens of thousands of times more geothermal electricity potential in the US than all of the electricity we currently consume.

    But we need to see if it can be done affordably. Just like next-gen nuclear.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 08, 2008 @03:38AM (#23334674)
    If you dissolve more CO2 in the water it will become more acidic, because CO2 in the water is just carbon acid. Acidified water would kill a lot plants and other organisms. It's a very sensitive environment...
  • Re:So... (Score:2, Informative)

    by Iamthecheese (1264298) on Thursday May 08, 2008 @04:06AM (#23334794)
    I never said it would be a bad idea to improve efficiency. I'm just saying that in the end, no form of reduced consumption will be required. A good idea where it doesn't impact our quality of life, but not necessary.
  • Re:So... (Score:4, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 08, 2008 @05:49AM (#23335220)

    The half life of breeder reactor waste can be as low as 100 years

    Not quite, but you were on the right track. Basically in spent nuclear fuel you have three component groups. Leftover uranium, fission fragments and transuranics (heavy nuclei like plutonium formed when uranium absorbs neutrons ).

    In a breeder reactor you constantly recycle the uranium and the actinides, so that the only waste product is fission fragments and activated reactor components. It is a lucky coincidence that virtually all the fission fragments that cannot be easily destroyed through recycling have either very short halflives ( less than 30 years ) or VERY long ones ( hundreds and thousands of years ).

    The short lived ones decay to bellow uranium ore levels of radioactivity within about 300 years, while the long lived ones decay so slowly that they are less radioactive than the uranium from which they were made.

    In spent fuel from traditional reactors you also have to worry about the actinides, and these cause trouble because they have half lives that are somewhere in between. This makes them radioactive enough to be much more toxic than uranium ore, but still long lived enough that they would have to be stored for hundreds of thousands of years. Breeder reactors split these into fission fragments that have characteristics very similar to the ones mentioned above, and therefore the waste decays to uranium levels within a few hundred years.

    Also, in general it is worth noticing that if something has a halflife of X years then half of it will still be left after that time ( that is the definition of the radioactive halflife ). This is why it takes up to 300 years for the Cesium and Strontium components of fission fragments to decay bellow uranium radioactivity even tho their respective half lives are just a few decades.
  • Re:So... (Score:3, Informative)

    by budgenator (254554) on Thursday May 08, 2008 @07:28AM (#23335576) Journal
    I agree with you, Cali has had rolling-blackout for no good reasons other than lack of infra-structure and greed. If they can't install the infrastructure to power their own state mainly due to NIMBY Soccer-moms and obstructionist greens, how are they going to export to the whole country?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 08, 2008 @08:07AM (#23335734)
    Yeah dump co2 in the oceans. I'm sure slowly turning the oceans acidic will solve all our environmental woes.

    btw, plants only store carbon, they don't get rid of it. So plants will never be able to offset carbon production unless they grow in a previously barren area, and never die.
  • Why? (Score:1, Informative)

    by hassanchop (1261914) on Thursday May 08, 2008 @08:21AM (#23335830)
    You made the following unsupported statement

    We have to reduce consumption regardless.


    Why? The problems we are experiencing have nothing to do with the amount of energy we use, but with where the energy comes from. If we were 100% solar for instance, what would be your argument for reducing consumption?

    Reducing our consumption is nice, and will benefit in the short term, but the idea that the entire human population should be on an energy diet forever makes no sense.
  • Re:So... (Score:2, Informative)

    by R2.0 (532027) on Thursday May 08, 2008 @09:27AM (#23336494)
    Bullshit. They are NOT self sufficient in any way shape or form. The electrical generation of the plant located within the town's borders produces more electricity IN AGGREGATE than the town uses IN AGGREGATE.

    Does the town own the wind towers? No
    Does the town own a local utility that the towers feed? No.
    Are there any direct connections between the towers and any energy users in the town? No.
    If the wind isn't blowing, does the town go dark? No.

    The towers are connected to the grid, and fed into the general pool. The individuals in the town draws off that pool. How on Earth is that "self sufficiency". Sure, they COULD be - with a lot more investment in infrastructure, which they haven't made yet.
  • by blueg3 (192743) on Thursday May 08, 2008 @09:53AM (#23336784)
    Unless they die stacked up in an area somewhere, become buried, and turn into some kind of condensed sequestered-carbon solid or liquid.

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