Monday, November 10, 2008

Toronto Star: Clean coal is no quick fix

A good piece on "clean" coal in the Toronto Star today. Clean coal is no quick fix

Alberta and Saskatchewan are determined to clean up coal and pump carbon dioxide back into the ground, two achievements that would turn the world's dirtiest fossil fuels – coal and tar-sands oil – into a climate-friendly source of energy.

That's the theory.


The fossil-fuel folks often like to poke fun at wind, solar and conservation efforts by dismissing them as "playing at the edges." It also appears clear the federal government is putting disproportionate weight on the ability of clean coal and carbon-capture technologies to reduce Canada's greenhouse-gas emissions.

Not everyone in the industry is convinced, including Alex Pourbaix, president of energy at TransCanada Corp., a natural gas pipeline and power generation company headquartered in Calgary.

"The cost of these types of technologies are very, very uncertain," Pourbaix told investors in Toronto last week, explaining that they don't stack up well when compared to natural gas. Natural gas is costlier than coal, but emits half the CO2 and very little sulphur dioxide.


Their electrical demand, or what's often called parasitic losses, can range from between 10 per cent and 50 per cent of power being generated. In the United States, that means if all existing coal plants were converted to clean coal and their emissions were captured and sequestered, it would require 320,000 megawatts of new electrical generation to compensate for the parasitic losses – that is, for the extra power required to capture the CO2, compress it, and pipe it safely into permanent underground storage.

Yikes. That's about 10 Ontario electricity systems. Or about 600 more coal plants. Certainly a good way to keep a dinosaur industry from going extinct, isn't it?

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