James Hansen: Clean Coal Tech Could Be a Decade Away

James Hansen, one of the world’s best-known global warming researchers and a recent vocal advocate of proposed coal plants, says clean coal technology used on a full-scale coal-fired plant could be at least a decade away. He expressed the sentiment in a media briefing organized by clean energy group RE-AMP, arguing against a proposed coal plant in Marshalltown, Iowa.

During the call with the media, Hansen answered a question about how long he thought it would be before we could capture the carbon from a full sized coal plant. His answer expressed frustration with the slow pace with which the Department of Energy has moved to get its FutureGen clean coal plant up and running:

“It is really too bad that the DOE has taken so long to get its demonstration plant going. They said in 2001, they would make this FutureGen, and its taken them several years just to decide where to do it. It looks like it will take several more years. So the practical matter is, given where we are right now, it [clean coal in full-scale operation] could still be a decade away.”

Though he added that in the next decade there is enough potential in energy efficiency and renewable energy to get by until the clean coal technology issue is solved. Hansen also expressed skepticism of the intention of power companies that are proposing coal-plants with plans to implement clean coal technology when it is available:

In most cases where utilities are saying they will have the capability in the future to capture the CO2, they’re really just saying that in order to get approval, without really intending to do that. If they would sign a guarantee that they are going to start capturing it within 5 years that would make it a different story. But they are not offering to do that.

Perhaps Hansen’s smartest argument, at least for the investor community, is that not only do we need to end coal plants to stop global warming, but coal plants without true carbon capture will not be economically viable in the coming years, as they will ultimately be banned or highly regulated. He attributes a lot of plants being cancelled to the fact that it is “beginning to sink in that it is probably not a wise financial move.” Wise sentiments.