U.S. official says technology to reduce carbon easier than politics

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Developing the technology to reduce carbon emissions from the use of coal may be easier than persuading the public that fossil fuels remain a viable and environmentally friendly energy source, a Department of Energy official said Tuesday.

Speaking at the ninth annual conference on carbon capture and sequestration, James R. Markowsky, assistant secretary for fossil fuels, said "developing the technology will be much less difficult than developing the kind of confidence" needed to win public support for the idea.

Carbon capture and sequestration -- also referred to as carbon capture and storage or CCS -- is the process of capturing carbon dioxide emissions and storing them a mile or more underground so that they do not escape into the atmosphere.

The Obama administration is committed to the approach, Mr. Markowsky said, with $4 billion earmarked for making the process commercially viable. The money is helping to fund a series of projects to demonstrate techniques for capturing, storing and even reusing carbon dioxide.

Three projects -- in North Dakota, West Virginia and Texas -- are designed to demonstrate "post-combustion" technologies for diverting a portion of a power plant's emissions.

In two others -- in California and Texas -- power plants will gasify coal, separate out hydrogen and use it in a combustion turbine to produce electricity, then use the heat to make steam that drives a second turbine to produce more electricity. In these "integrated gasification combined cycle" plants, a portion of the captured emissions may be injected into oil fields that are no longer productive to force the remaining oil out.

All five projects are in "the very preliminary engineering-design stage," Mr. Markowsky said.

And the FutureGen Alliance, a $1 billion public-private partnership, is moving forward with its mission to design, build and operate the world's first coal-fired, zero emissions power plant.

All of the projects are expected to be fully operational between 2014 and 2016.

"We are moving the ball of CCS down the field to full deployment," Mr. Markowsky said. But he acknowledged that the concept of carbon capture and storage has not yet caught on with the public.

In an interview following his keynote address, he said, "Our whole thing is to make sure people understand what carbon capture and storage is, that we thoroughly understand how to store this material in various [geological] formations, and it's going to be there for eternity."

That work, he said, is primarily being done by seven regional partnerships that link the Energy Department with the private sector, universities and citizenry. Pennsylvania is part of the Midwest Regional Carbon Sequestration Partnership, which also includes Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Ohio and West Virginia.

Mr. Markowsky's address kicked off three days of presentations by government officials, scholars and energy industry executives at the Hilton Pittsburgh, Downtown, and the David L. Lawrence Convention Center.

One of the other presenters will be Robert G. Hilton, a vice president with French power and transportation conglomerate Alstom. Alstom is preparing to build and operate a carbon capture and storage facility that will divert a portion of the flue gas generated by Columbus, Ohio-based American Electric Power's Mountaineer power plant in New Haven, W.Va.

Through a process of chilling the gas, adding carbon to it, then heating it again, the facility will extract carbon in a liquefied form that can be injected underground. Alstom expects to capture and store 1 million to 1.5 million tons of carbon dioxide annually.

The conference is presented by Washington, D.C., trade journal publisher Exchange Monitor Publications & Forums. The first conference, held in Washington in 2002, was "a tech meeting about a small resource area that was not getting a lot of attention," said Martin Schneider, Exchange Monitor vice president.

This year's gathering, with 850-plus registrations, is triple the size of that first one, he said.

Elwin Green: 412-263-1969.


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