Expert Insight: Professor Kyle Meng Comments on Carbon Capture and Storage

Article by Henry Fountain from the NY Times on how a technology called carbon capture and storage can help reduce carbon dioxide gas emissions.


Crane work on the carbon capture section of a power plant in Kemper County, Miss. Photo credit: Aaron Phillips


So much soot belched from the old power plant here that Mike Zeleny would personally warn the neighbors.

“If the wind was blowing in a certain direction,” Mr. Zeleny said, “we’d call Mrs. Robinson down the street and tell her not to put out her laundry.”

That coal plant is long gone, replaced by a much larger and cleaner one along the vast Saskatchewan prairie. Sooty shirts and socks are a thing of the past.

But as with even the most modern coal plants, its smokestacks still emit enormous amounts of carbon dioxide, the invisible heat-trapping gas that is the main contributor to global warming. So this fall, a gleaming new maze of pipes and tanks — topped with what looks like the Tin Man’s hat — will suck up 90 percent of the carbon dioxide from one of the boilers so it can be shipped out for burial, deep underground.

If there is any hope of staving off the worst effects of climate change, many scientists say, this must be part of it — capturing the carbon that spews from power plants and locking it away, permanently. For now, they contend, the world is too dependent on fossil fuels to do anything less.

If all goes as planned, the effort in Saskatchewan will be the first major one of its kind at a power plant, the equivalent of taking about 250,000 cars off the road. And at least in theory, that carbon dioxide will be kept out of the atmosphere forever.

“Think about how far we’ve come,” said Mr. Zeleny, who recently retired after four decades here, most recently as plant manager.

Despite President Obama’s push to rein in emissions from power plants across the United States, coal is not going away anytime soon. The administration expects coal will still produce nearly a third of the nation’s electricity in 2030, down from about 40 percent today, even if Mr. Obama’s plan survives the political onslaught against it.

The challenge is even more stark overseas. China already burns almost as much coal as all other nations combined, and its appetite keeps expanding. Worldwide, coal consumption in 2020 will be about twice what it was in 2000, according to the United States Energy Information Administration, and will continue to grow for decades.

Even the abundant natural gas unleashed by fracking, while cleaner than coal, is a major source of greenhouse gases. Ultimately, many scientists say, those emissions will need to be trapped and stored, too.

“If you want to carry on using those fossil hydrocarbons, that means cleaning up their emissions,” said Stuart Haszeldine, a geologist at the University of Edinburgh. Capturing carbon, he said, “is the single best way of doing that.”

Yet it is no magic bullet. Because it requires so much energy, sucking up carbon reduces a plant’s ability to make electricity — the whole point of its existence. There are basic questions of whether carbon dioxide can be safely stored underground. And the technology is expensive. Updating the Saskatchewan plant alone cost $1.2 billion — two-thirds of which went for the equipment to remove the gas.

Read the full article here.


Expert Insight Video: Kyle Meng, Bren’s newest professor, offers his commentary on carbon capture and storage:

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