A New Green Idea for Dirty Coal Emissions

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Using state of the art technology AEP has found a way to bury its pollution problem - literally.
CBS

At a coal burning power plant in rural West Virginia, it's not just steam rising from the smokestacks, it's the invisible greenhouse gas carbon dioxide as well.

The 77 million tons of coal American Electric Power burns each year pumps well over a hundred million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, making it the nation's biggest polluter, reports CBS News correspondent Cynthia Bowers.

"There is no doubt that coal is under siege in this country," says American Electric VP Nick Akins.

As world leaders are talking about how to cut down on greenhouse emissions, American Electric is already experimenting with how to do that.

Using state of the art technology AEP has found a way to bury its pollution problem - literally.

It's called carbon capture. Simply put carbon emissions are grabbed in pipes before they can escape into the atmosphere and injected two miles into the ground into a giant holding cell where AEP says it can sit safely for years.

"I think this says technology exists and we are able to commercially develop results that produce a benefit for the environment relative to CO2 at our power plants," Akins says.

Right now there is only a prototype of this carbon caption device, but this month federal government has awarded the company $334 million to build a much bigger version.

Even after expansion AEP admits it will be able to capture only about 17 percent of the carbon dioxide emissions from this coal. But with tough new regulations almost certainly on the horizon, doing nothing could spell the beginning of the end for the coal-fired power industry.

"It is our survival, if coal is going to be a part of this country's energy future, we are going to have to be successful with this type of conversion," Akins says.

None of these green technologies are cheap and costs will ultimately be passed on to consumers. But big business knows it must clean up its act.