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The Emperor's New Hydrogen Economy
Updates: Chapter 7 – Hydrogen from Fossil Fuel Sources

Last updated 2012.04.26


Speaking of Denial ... 2012.04.26

So, in the same week where Alberta voters chose the old guard instead of the party that thinks climate change is somewhere between open to debate and a conspiracy/hoax, a key player in the province's showcase Carbon Capture and Sequestration (CCS) project pulls out because they finally figured out the economics don't work. However, that doesn't stop the Minister from declaring their continued support for spending $2 billion on the technology.

The real issue is that the technology is expensive to implement, and the price of carbon credits on the open world market is too low to justify such investments. Perhaps, if Canada and other nations took climate change seriously and were to buy some of those credits in a private sector regime, Alberta taxpayers would not be on the hook for $2 billion to subsidize the technology. And maybe the private sector could be convinced to get serious about CCS technology without such massive government (taxpayer) handouts.

But probably not. Because if governments and energy companies were to do an honest assessment, they would know that producing electricity from coal and capturing the carbon is going to be more expensive than investing in zero-emissions renewable energy sources (e.g., hydro, wind, biomass, geothermal, solar-thermal or photovoltaics).


First Look at Carbon Capture and Storage in a West Virginia Coal-Fired Power Plant 2009.11.06

According to this Scientific American article, CCS using the ammonia chilling process will roughly double the production cost of coal-fired electrical power (from $0.05 to $0.09 per kWh). And that does not allow for any cost associated with releases of either ammonia or carbon dioxide, either of which could be fatal in production scale volumes. Sadly, this appears to be the 'best' the minds in U.S. government and industry can come up with to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions. Pity they didn't get the memo that power generation can be clean, if you just stop adding coal and oil to the mix.


US Senate panel ponders role of gas in climate-change effort 2009.10.29

In what could be a body blow to the current trend of delivering trainloads of taxpayer's cash to the coal lobby, a power utility reports that it reduced it's carbon footprint by over 40% simply by switching it's thermal plants from coal to natural gas - a commodity that has dropped markedly in price in recent years due to advances in fracturing and extraction technologies. Oil and Gas Journal article that reports on the Xcel project in Minnesota.


How Congress Threatens to Undermine the Clean Energy Future: Protecting Coal 2009.10.28

Proposed U.S. climate legislation actually designed to subsidize the coal industry. SolveClimate article.


Everyone Loves CCS. Does the Hype Exceed the Reality? 2009.10.27

This Energy Tribune article asks will CCS actually work, and if it does, who's really going to pay for it.


Australia’s largest carbon capture project gets underway 2009.10.27

Australian taxpayers have shelled out $10 million (Australian) so far on this pilot project, which doesn't even have a sequestration component. The most interesting aspect of this project is that the captured carbon dioxide is used to treat wastewater from the power plant, transforming the greenhouse gas into calcium carbonate - a stable solid.


Economics prove fatal to carbon capture projects 2009.10.24

The title pretty much covers it. For the detail, Graham Thomson puts it very well in his article, so here it is.


The TOTAL Impossibility Of Cost-Effective “Carbon Capture And Storage” 2009.10.21

I don't have the numbers to work out the actual feasibility, but I have a suspicion that based on the technology currently being funded for CCS, the economics are not going to be pretty. I don't know if this fellow has it right either, but someone needs to do the real math and come up with a credible answer. According to this 2000 EPA report, about 2 pounds of carbon dioxide is produced for each kWh of electricity generated. When we burn coal in a 30% efficient plant, and we have to use energy to power the capture, compression, movement and burial of the carbon dioxide, what is the net benefit? How does that stack up against the consequences of the risks? Let's not forget that burning coal produces more than just carbon dioxide; there are also nitrogen-oxides, sulphur-oxides, radioactive particles and a witch's brew of other nasties that come as part of the package, and that should be taken into account as well.


Clean Coal? Not Here, Thanks 2009.10.20

William Tucker comments at Planet Gore on the Linden, N.J. PurGen CCS farce.


Carbon Capture Is "Essential" for Developing World, And Still a Pipe Dream 2009.10.19

Tree Hugger comments on the International Energy Agency's report that suggests a massive 'clean-coal' build-out is required to provide energy for the developing world. As usual, lower-tech, off-the-shelf, ready-for-use options that are more appropriate for the non-industrialized world are not being considered.


Let’s Call The Bluff On Carbon Capture And Storage 2009.10.18

This blog entry came to our attention today. Provides a bit of a summary of the key points countering the current stampede to shower money on the CCS fantasy.


EU and UK agree to fund £2.4 Billion CCS project 2009.10.17

It appears the winners in the CCS lottery just keep coming.
Guardian article.


Experimental CCS Used to Justify New $5 Billion Coal Plant 2009.10.15

NJ.com article.
If the environment is the justification for this plant, wouldn't it be better to leave the carbon sequestered in the ground where it already is? Sorry, the environmental rationalization doesn't work. If environmental coal use weren't an oxymoron to begin with, wouldn't it still make more sense to build the plant in West Virginia, beside the coal source and transmit the power instead of transporting the coal? Nope, this is just plain old-fashioned pork-barrel politics, pandering to some New Jersy voters and the shareholders of the companies that will collect most of the $5 billion from taxpayers.


What's $1.4 Billion Between Friends? 2009.10.14

Especially when your friends are Transalta, Capital Power Corp. and Alstom. Seems Canada needed its own pilot test project of the chilled ammonia technology, so the Alberta and federal governments are ponying up about $700,000,000 of taxpayers money to get the party started. Imagine what they would have been willing to spend if we weren't in a recession and both those governments in deficit that is causing them to cut-back on social program funding commitments.
Reuters story: "Canada governments to fund second carbon project"


Get Ready for the Carbon Capture Boom: 100 Projects, $56B In A Decade 2009.10.13

$56 Billion Dollars! Is this really our best bang for the buck when it comes to mitigating climate change? Why is there so little interest in low-tech, but proven, means of reducing carbon emissions and capturing those already in the atmosphere, and so much being spent on research of pilot-scale plants of unproven approaches? Are we really trying to solve the problem, or just paper over it for PR purposes? Here's another take on it.


Carbon Capture and Storage Still a Pipe Dream? 2009.10.13

Solve Climate article


Costs for First-Generation Carbon Capture Plants Will Soar 2009.10.09

This article reports on a study by Harvard University that suggests CCS will double the price of electricity at plants that implement it.


Pulling CO2 from the Air: Promising Idea, Big Price Tag 2009.10.08

Artificial 'trees' are one approach proposed for pulling carbon dioxide from the air as a greenhouse gas solution. This article by David Biello examines the potential and issues for the proposed technology.


UNEP to Release Report on how the ocean's carbon capture and storage systems are being undermined by human activity 2009.10.07

The United Nations Environmental Program assembled a Blue Ribbon panel to study the natural carbon capture mechanisms of the world's oceans, and how they are being impacted by human activity. That report is due to be released a week from today.
The UNEP Press Release


Science Magazine CCS Issue 2009.10.05

Last week, Science Magazine devoted their issue to the scientific problems surrounding carbon capture and sequestration. That's correct - a whole edition filled with articles about the technical and science issues about what still has to be fixed, developed and solved before CCS is even remotely to be considered as technically feasible, let alone financially viable. Taxpayers, consumers, politicians and energy industry executives take note - it's not a done deal.

Right now, the price tag associated with CCS for greenhouse gas reduction is $300/tonne. The price of carbon credits on the open market: $0.10/tonne. Factor of 3,000 disconnect. Anyone else think we should be spending our billions on options that cost $0.10/tonne of effectiveness rather than dreams of $300/tonne?


Burying CO2: Fix or folly? 2009.10.04

Graham Thomson in the Edmonton Sunday Reader


More Cash for CCS 2009.10.02

But no worries, it's only taxpayers' money. Corporate America is still managing to avoid spending their own money or accept liability for the CCS pipedream.
Secretary Chu Announces First Awards from $1.4 Billion for Industrial Carbon Capture and Storage Projects

Of course, all this money is for research and evaluation, not actual long-term sequestration activity.


Cash Sequestration 2009.10.01

Please read this article from the Financial Post that brings a bottom-line viewpoint to the subject. (It does refer to the Lake Nyos issue that I mention in my book.)


Ohio carbon dioxide underground project abandoned 2009.09.29

The Midwest Regional Carbon Sequestration Partnership announced cancellation of their carbon capture and sequestration project. The partnership said the project was abandoned for economic reasons, but there were also concerns by local residents about potential seismic activity related to the pumping high pressure gas underground.
News article
Additional article


Carbon capture project in California abandoned 2009.09.27

After project cost estimates had doubled, and a local public campaign gathered widespread support, BP and Occidental Petroleum abandoned their planned carbon capture operation in Carson, California three years after announcing the project. The U.S. DOE had put $90 million toward the project.

News article


Carbon capture called 'sheer folly' 2009.09.23

The Munk Centre in Toronto released a paper today by Graham Thomson titled Burying Carbon Dioxide in Underground Saline Aquifers: Political Folly or Climate Change Fix?. Mr. Thomson says carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) is a political solution, not an actual solution. He posits that we cannot handle the volume required on an economic basis, even if the technology is eventually developed that works on a scale beyond pilot projects, which is in doubt.

Given that the government of Alberta has already decided to proceed on the assumption that CCS does work, and workable CCS is the linch-pin for the Canadian government's strategy to move ahead full speed in the tar sands, this sounds like one more piece of evidence that CCS needs to be put on hold as a political solution until the scientific evidence is in and shown to support CCS as viable, on a long-term, cost-effective, technically viable basis.

Mr. Thomson also raises my major concern - what if the CO2 gets out? However, he does not explicitly treat the issue of the likely outcome of that event, just that it is a probable consequence of CCS.

CBC.ca story
CBC Radio As It Happens story (first 6 minutes 50 seconds)
Webcast of the presentation (includes slides from presentaton)
The paper


If Carbon Capture and Sequestration Works, Why Won't Big Oil Accept Responsibility? 2009.09.17

Big energy companies are lobbying hard for CCS as a climate change mitigation strategy that allows them to continue with business as usual, so long as taxpayers pick up the tab for the research, development, implementation, and now apparently all liability for failures. That means the last motivation for Big Energy to do CCS right (assuming that's even a physical possibility) has now been thrown to the winds - perhaps literally. Chevron, Exxon, Shell Sidestep Long-Term CO2 Storage Liability in Gorgon Deal


Carbon Capture and Sequestration - More smoke than reality 2008.07.09

Lot's of announcements of projects, but the cancellations don't make the front page.

BP pulls out of carbon capture plans 2007.05.24 Chemistry World

SaskPower cancels CCS project

Due to ballooning costs, 2003 FutureGen project delayed again for "restructuring"

Greenpeace synopsis on CCS projects that get announced but never built 2008.02.13


Natural Gas 2008.02.18

An update on natural gas availability for North America.
The Oil Sands Technology Roadmap offers some interesting tidbits.

"Oil sands projects are heavily dependent on natural gas use for energy and power (co-generation) and hydrogen production for upgrading. In-situ energy demand with today’s technology requires 1000 cubic feet of natural gas per barrel recovered. ...

"In this scenario, natural gas usage would rise from 10% of combined WCSB, Coal Bed Methane (CBM) and Mackenzie supply by 2012, to an unthinkable 60% or more by 2030. Such a demand level, combined with competition from other markets in the face of dwindling reserves, will only drive price increases. LNG imports into North America may begin to set price levels. The 'business as usual' case is clearly unsustainable and uneconomical." (p.14)




The brown section represents only the demand by the tar sands extraction, not total demand in North America.

For a more complete picture of the story, see J. David Hughes on the subject, e.g., this ASPO presentation.

Another perspective on falling production at the Energy Bulletin.

In short, North American natural gas production peaked about 2002, and is falling. Demand continues to rise in a number of sectors (oil sands, residential, industrial, commercial and institutional space heating, electrical generation, oil refinery upgrading, hydrogen production), and prices will continue to rise. If you heat with natural gas, you may want to start looking at other options, such as more insulation, solar, ground-source heat pumps, or pellet stoves.


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