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The need to prove CCS is safe if it’s ever going to be viable

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Until the EPA’s recent announcement that it would limit carbon emissions on all new power plants even as it tested the political waters for limiting emissions on existing plants, all had been fairly quiet about carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) technology. But the proposed emissions limits would effectively be the death knell of coal as a source of power generation, unless of course CCS technology could be proven safe, effective, and price competitive.

CCS requires carbon to be compressed, liquefied and pumped one to two kilometers underground. Exhausted oil and gas fields are likely candidates for CCS sequestration sites. But ensuring that the CO2 remains trapped and doesn’t leak is one important part of verifying CCS as a feasible technology.  Monitoring CCS repositories is very costly and limited right now.

A British team is working on using cosmic rays to help image CCS repositories to check if there is leakage. The cosmic bombardment of so-called muons, subatomic particles 200 times heavier than electrons, travels underground and sensors can be placed underground to image them. Their signature lets scientists know what’s underground, similar to how an x-ray works.

Bringing down the cost of CCS is a major hurdle in terms of making the technology viable for the fossil fuel industry. It’s also on a collision course with cheap natural gas. But who knows, if CCS really can be proven safe and cost-effective, it could allow the EPA to push emissions limits even further, perhaps even down the line asking natural gas power plants to sequester some of their emissions.