Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Underground coal gasification may provide cheaper alternative to capturing carbon dioxide

Researchers say investing $1 billion over three years in promising underground coal-gasification technology could reduce the cost of capturing carbon dioxide by almost 50 percent. A report released by the Clean Air Task Force, a non-profit clean-air advocacy and research group, "provides a policy road map for bringing coal technologies in four research areas, including complex retrofits of old power plants and permanent storage of greenhouse gases, from the experimental stage to mass production," reports Christa Marshall of Environment & Energy Daily.

Researchers call for $305 million in initial investment from public and private sectors for constructing next-generation power plants and adapting current plants to accommodate the new technology. "Underground coal gasification envisions using the heat of the Earth's crust to turn coal trapped in deep underground seams to a gas that could power electricity generators," Marshall reports. The study says producing and cleaning gas from such seams is cheaper and could increase American coal reserves 300 to 400 percent.

The Soviet Union first used underground coal gasification to reduce mining labor in the 1930s, Marshall reports, but since then the U.S. government has tested the process with mixed success. A 1970s project in Hoe Creek, Wyo., caused groundwater contamination, leading to the decrease of federal funding for the process in the 1970s and 1980s. The authors of the study say early attempts at coal gasification were conducted without extraction of carbon dioxide in mind and suffered from poor planning and a lack of technical knowledge. "It remains to be seen whether the political will exists on the U.S. Senate side to pass a bill at all," Marshall writes, "much less pump large amounts of additional money toward cleaning up the fossil fuel." (Read more; subscription required)

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