putting it underground
Carnegie Mellon University Professor Edward S. Rubin is urging Congress to approve newly proposed legislation designed to fund pioneering technologies that can trap and store carbon dioxide emissions deep underground – a vital measure needed to control global climate change.
Rubin, a lead author of the special study on carbon dioxide capture and storage by the Nobel Prize-winning United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, praised the bipartisan legislation introduced June 12 by U.S. Rep. Rick Boucher (D-VA) and 14 co-sponsors to establish a non-governmental fund to support the full-scale demonstration of leading edge carbon capture and sequestration technologies – widely known as CCS. Rubin also is credited with first proposing the CCS Trust Fund concept on which the Boucher bill is modeled in a study developed for the Pew Center On Global Climate Change.
“Creating this fund would be a critical step in achieving truly ‘clean coal’ technologies that are urgently needed,” said Rubin, the Alumni Professor of Environmental Engineering and Science in the Department of Engineering and Public Policy.
His clarion call comes at a time when half of all electricity generated in the U.S. comes from coal, a major source of the planet’s carbon dioxide emissions. Because of these emissions, construction of new coal plants in the U.S. has become increasingly difficult, and many projects proposed as recently as a year ago have now been cancelled. Wall Street also is increasingly unwilling to provide the financing model needed for new coal projects that do not control carbon emissions.
Rubin reports that carbon sequestration is a simple-sounding idea that’s exciting energy analysts, governments and energy companies around the world as a way to cut emissions without disrupting energy supplies.
“All the basic technology is already here,” Rubin said. “But there are still major challenges associated with carbon sequestration.”
A major factor is cost. Rubin estimates the additional cost of building and operating CCS at large commercial power plants to be nearly $1 billion over the next five years. These costs are projected to drop significantly once the technology is successful and utilities are given incentives not to spew out carbon dioxide. But the trick is to get started.
“We need significant funding to help set up several large-scale demonstrations to show with confidence that this technology can play a major role in mitigating climate change,” Rubin said. “By imposing a small fee, and creating an independent quasi-public entity to manage projects, we avoid the annual federal appropriations process and get results that will benefit all generators and users of electricity.”
The Boucher legislation would establish a $1 billion annual fund, derived from fees on the generation of electricity from coal, oil and natural gas. Grants from the fund would be awarded to large-scale projects advancing the commercial availability of carbon sequestration technology. Rubin estimates the cost of funding this program would add just one or two cents a day to the average residential electricity bill. He believes that “the benefits from the program will far outweigh this small cost.”