Cleaning Up Coal

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Each year energy-related carbon dioxide emissions account for more than 80 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. According to the Energy Information Association, that adds up to over 5,814 million metric tons (MMT) of carbon in 2008 alone. The Obama administration recognizes that this is not sustainable and that’s why we’ve actively sought to not only drive innovation in the renewable energy sector but also curb the emissions produced by fossil fuels such as coal, petroleum and natural gas through the development of carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies.

In February 2010, President Obama went so far as to issue a challenge to the federal government: come up with a plan to achieve widespread, cost-effective deployment of carbon capture and storage within 10 years, with a goal of bringing five to 10 commercial demonstration projects online by 2016. This was accompanied by the creation of an Interagency Task Force on Carbon Capture and Storage, co-chaired by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Energy (DOE), which yesterday delivered a series of recommendations to the President.

Their findings, which reflect input from 14 federal agencies and departments as well as hundreds of stakeholders and CCS experts, state that CCS is viable, concluding that there are no insurmountable technical, legal, institutional, or other barriers to the deployment of CCS technology. The report also concludes that CCS can play an important role in domestic greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reductions while preserving the option of using coal and other abundant domestic fossil energy resources.

They also noted that widespread cost-effective deployment of CCS will occur only if the technology is commercially available at economically competitive prices and we have supportive national policy frameworks, such as a cap on carbon. Already, the United States has made the largest government investment in carbon capture and storage of any nation in history and these investments are being matched by private capital. The Department of Energy is currently pursuing multiple demonstration projects using close to $4 billion in federal funds, matched by more than $7 billion in private investments, which will begin to pave the way for widespread deployment of advanced CCS technologies within a decade.

In fact just this week, Secretary Chu announced the selection of 15 projects to develop technologies aimed at safely and economically storing carbon dioxide in geologic formations. Funded with $21.3 million over three years, the 15 projects will complement existing DOE initiatives to help develop the technology and infrastructure to implement large-scale CO2 storage in different geologic formations across the Nation.

This announcement, in tandem with the Task Force’s set of recommendations, marks an important milestone in our efforts to mitigate the growing atmospheric CO2 emissions from human sources. These actions bring us one step closer to achieving a cleaner, greener economy.

The full report and the presidential memorandum establishing the task force can be found on DOE’s site for the Interagency Task Force on Carbon Capture and Storage.

Article by Victor Der, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Fossil Energy

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