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Scratching the Head: Wondering about ACES provisions …

May 19th, 2009 · No Comments

The American Clean Energy and Security (ACES) act is going through Congressional mark-up right now. The 932 page draft is filled with good elements, weak items, and bad — plus plenty of confusion and difficulty for understanding.

One of the main “winners” in this bill is the whole Clean Coal movement, with literally billions of dollars (more like, $10s of billions) headed into pursuit of uncertain technology that might not (actually, I would assert is not, but let’s stay with might not) be the best path forward in tackling our intertwined economic, energy, environmental, and climate challenges and opportunities. Within this there is one particular element that confuses me. When it comes to (potential illusion of large-scale) carbon capture and sequestration, the bill seems to dfine sequestration solely within the domain of “geologic sequestration”. That we will capture CO2 at the smokestack, liquify it, and pump it into the ground. While this is a huge potential revenue stream for the oil and natural gas industries (after all, who specializes in drilling and pumping and understanding geologic formations?) and the “leading” path toward sequestration, I’m left wondering where other “S” routes or, even better, “R” (reuse, recycling) routes might fall in this bill and all its revenue stream toward CCS.

Let’s take two examples.

1. Right now, already, carbon is a valued part of the industrial processes. Carbon-fiber bicycles, aircraft, car part, etc. Okay, so we’re talking about a value stream of perhaps $25 per pound, right now, so a few cents per pound of value won’t ‘change the game’ for composites. And, the global total volume of (I believe) well under a million tons per year, but is it irrational to suggest that we might be able to find paths toward “sequestering” at least some carbon in useful paths that add value to modern society other than simply cleaning up the pollution?

2. One of the “recycle” routes that excites many is the potential for large-scale production of algae fuels, thriving on the CO2 coming out the smokestack (and the warmed waters from the smokestack). In an optimal cycle, some of that algae could actually be dried and fed back into the combustion process (while other parts become liquid fuel, food, etc …), creating a near carbon-neutral cycle. Additionally, some of that algae could be made into charcoal for enriching soil and sequestering the carbon via a Bio-Char or Agro-Char process.

Now, perhaps these are fully within the legislative concept and the legislative reality. But the language seems heavily biased toward a “geologic sequestration is the answer” view of the future. Should we truly be closing the door to keeping the playing field level for other, more valuable, approaches to emerge?

UPDATE. Perhaps the door is open. Page 77:  “(2) permanently sequester carbon dioxide at a site that meets all applicable permitting and certification requirements for geologic sequestration, or,  pursuant to such requirements as the Administrator  may prescribe by regulation, convert captured carbon dioxide to a stable form that will safely and permanently sequester such carbon dioxide”

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Tags: Energy