Friday, August 13, 2010

Carbon dioxide could be used to make 'green cement,' reducing need for underground storage

Conventional wisdom about the future of coal says that in a carbon-regulated political environment, power plants will need to be able to capture and store their carbon emissions. Now more companies and investors are questioning that idea. "They are supporting technologies that will separate and then trap carbon emissions in a series of 'beneficial products' that can be shipped to markets and sold at a profit," John J. Fialka of Environment & Energy Daily reports. "That, they assert, will avoid the need for much of the carbon capture and storage infrastructure now on energy planners' drawing boards."

Brent Constantz, who is among the most outspoken advocates of this approach, "believes that what he calls 'green cement,' which starts as a milky precipitate made from injecting carbon dioxide from power plant emissions into seawater, can be made and sold at a profit," Fialka writes. Constantz' scenario has a second benefit for reducing carbon emissions; he says green cement would then take part of the market share for concrete production from traditional cement makers, which are the nation's third largest source of CO2 emissions.

"Constantz's company, Calera Corp. of Los Gatos, Calif., recently appeared on a list of six winners of $106 million in federal stimulus grants awarded by the Department of Energy to demonstrate the 'beneficial use' of CO2," Fialka writes. Elaine Everitt, a project manager for the National Energy Technology Laboratory, which selected the winners, told Fialka the department still thinks CCS is the future of coal-fired electricity, but Fialka notes agency officials worry that not all areas have the right geology to store CO2.

Constantz told Fialka DOE's current preoccupation with CCS projects is a "big scam" created by lobbyists from the oil industry. "For every dollar set aside for CCS, you will need to set aside $2 to take care of liability issues," Constantz said. He also has criticized the concrete industry, saying it has the "Phillip Morris problem" addressing its carbon emissions, similar to tobacco companies' struggle with acknowledging cigarettes cause cancer. Calera has received "$7 million from Australian authorities to build a pilot plant to make building materials out of emissions from a power plant that uses some of the world's dirtiest coal," Fialka writes. (Read more, subscription required)

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