Recent research into capturing and storing carbon, that elusive silver bullet that could cure our coal-powered woes, is inching closer to reality.
On the carbon capture side, researchers at UCLA have developed a new material that can replace the toxic substances used to filter CO2 out of flue gases. And on the sequestration front the research giant Battelle has begun pumping 10,000 tons of carbon dioxide into a well to test the sequestration capabilities of salt-water aquifers.
A lot rests on the technological success of CCS but research thus far has proven to more expensive and far slower than expected. The now scuttled FutureGen Project took so long and was so costly the government ended up pulling its funding. And experts like James Hansen think that clean coal is still over a decade away. However, carbon regulation in the U.S. is closer at hand, making any CCS research significant.
After the FutureGen debacle, there is even more pressure on startups like GreatPoint Energy to prove CCS is not only a viable technology but a profitable industry. While the CCS business model is difficult to estimate since carbon’s lack of regulation means its definite cost is unknown, a future U.S. cap and trade system will surely fuel more money into CCS research.
But until then it’s up to smaller scale projects like these research endeavors to test the science and business of CCS. The work at UCLA was lead by chemistry professor Omar Yaghi, to develop a crystal structure that can selectively remove CO2 and potentially replace the currently-used toxic amine solution. Besides being less toxic, the crystal framework uses less energy, and can withstand high heat and and keep capturing. Kindof like the Energizer Bunny of carbon capture materials.
Meanwhile in the Midwest, sequestration hopes are being rekindled. Pumping has already started outside of Gaylord, Mich. and Battelle is working with enhanced oil recovery company Core Energy to pump 10,000 tons of CO2 from a natural gas processing plant owned by Detroit-based DTE Energy into the earth down some 3,500-feet. The DOE is helping foot most of the $6 million bill while businesses and universities will pick up the remainder.
These research join project underway from startups like PowerSpan, Skyonic, and Blue Source. FutureGen cast a sooty shadow on the hopes of CCS, but we’re hoping that as the private sector aggressively tackles the technical problems of CCS the air might start to clear.