Clean Coal Gets a Boost: DOE Dishes out $67M for Carbon Capture Research

By Joseph Calamia | July 8, 2010 4:53 pm

coalpwrThis week it’s green for green: On Tuesday, we mentioned that the Department of Energy was giving out loans totaling $2 billion for two big solar panel projects. Now, the DOE has offered $67 million for research on carbon capture, in hopes of propelling nascent carbon capture and storage projects.

Carbon capture, as its name suggests, requires trapping carbon dioxide from fossil fuel-burners like coal power plants before it enters the air. It isn’t easy. For one, you have to figure out what to do with all the CO2 once you capture it. The first power plant to try out carbon sequestration has found that its neighbors aren’t keen on having CO2 pumped deep into the earth below their town.

Also, capturing the greenhouse gas requires energy, adding 80 percent to the cost of electricity for a new pulverized coal plant and around 35 percent for a high-tech coal gasification plant. The goal, the DOE says in the award announcement, is to reduce these costs to less than 30 percent and 10 percent, respectively.

The funded projects look at ways to improve membranes and solvents to capture the gas after the plant burns the coal.

Although current technologies address the problem using separating membranes or chemical solvents at all stages of combustion — including before, during and after the fuel is burned — the money here is aimed at postcombustion projects. The government is providing about $52 million, with an additional $15 million in cost-sharing funds coming from non-federal sources. [New York Times]

Secretary of Energy Steven Chu said that the research is in line with the Obama administration’s goal to have 5 to 10 commercial demonstration carbon capture projects online by 2016.

“Charting a path toward clean coal is essential to achieving our goals of providing clean energy, creating American jobs, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. It will also help position the United States as a leader in the global clean energy race,” Chu said. [DOE]

Despite this funding, some remain skeptical that carbon capture will ever make coal clean enough, cheaply enough to compete with developing renewable energy sources like wind and solar, which they expect to grow increasingly efficient.

Related content:
80beats: Obama & Chu Push Ahead With Clean Coal Projects Despite the Cost
80beats: World’s First Really Clean Coal Plant Gets a Try-Out in Germany
DISCOVER: Can Clean Coal Actually Work? Time to Find Out.
DISCOVER: Can Coal Come Clean?
DISCOVER: The Key to Safe and Effective Carbon Sequestration

Image: flickr / Rennett Stowe

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment
  • Bruce Lebo

    …ain’t no such thing as clean coal…

  • James Harman

    This is another $67 MILLION that should have gone directly to solar. Also, reading the article, it isn’t stated explicitly, but the money for the coal research suggests to be given directly away. The money for solar is a loan. What the heck?

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/80beats/ Eliza Strickland

    James: That’s an interesting point, and it looks to me like the DOE is indeed giving grants for these carbon capture research projects.

    It might be worth noting, though, that 7 out of 10 of these grants are for fairly early-stage research, and the remaining 3 are for companies that are willing to try out pilot plants or pilot units. I’m guessing that because carbon capture isn’t economically viable yet, it would be hard to get companies to invest in the R&D if the government was only offering loan guarantees.

    — Eliza, DISCOVER online news editor

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