M.I.T. engineer Howard Herzog told Biello that most of the cost comes in the capture stage (which can involve pre- or post-combustion processes, or something called oxyfuel combustion). But there is some disagreement about that. For instance, the vice president for R&D at Vattenfall, one of the leading investors in CCS, recently told the International Herald Tribune that, “If the timetable for 2015 is not held, it is probably not due to the capture plant but problems with permission for storage and pipeline transport.” Others think that permission isn’t even the issue, but rather the sheer scale of infrastructure required. Last year, for example, the New York Times’s Andrew Revkin cited calculations by Vaclav Smil at the University of Manitoba, who “estimated that capturing and burying just ten percent of the carbon dioxide emitted over a year from coal-fire plants at current rates would require moving volumes of compressed carbon dioxide greater than the total annual flow of oil worldwide.”
Of course, none of these concerns have stopped governments and companies around the world from moving forward with CCS. In the last month, the press has covered a controversial CCS bill in Montana, which died in the state legislature because of confusion about the ownership of underground storage space; agriculture giant Archer Daniel Midland’s quest to bury carbon dioxide in Illinois; a New York startup’s novel proposal to store the gas underneath the ocean floor; and new CCS projects underway in France and China.
Clearly, then, journalists are a step behind if their goal is to help the public decide whether or not it supports CCS. The recent wave of coverage is better late than never, though. On Monday, Greenwire (via the New York Times) and The Center for Public Integrity published excellent reports about the monumental advertising and lobbying “blitz” surrounding the future of coal. With EPA’s endangerment finding last Friday and Congress debating a cap-and-trade emissions reduction scheme this week, the stakes are high and CCS is not a topic that is going away.