Carbon capture and storage at coal plants may yet become a common sight. International calls for CCS development are escalating, and Nature reports that both energy ministers and the International Energy Agency are calling for rapid deployment of the technology, starting now.
The IEA's roadmap, released this week, asks for $2.5 to $3 trillion of investment between 2010 and 2050, including a $3.5 to $4 billion yearly commitment from some governments over the next ten years to fund demonstration projects.
The problem with moving ahead is revealed by those numbers: any long-term plan for CCS must be prefaced with a decade or more of testing, as well as working out regulatory kinks to encourage private sector involvement. But where to start? Given the scale, no single government or company has seemed ready to take on the task.
Instead, technology development has remained piecemeal, while only political rhetoric has escalated: where the IEA says that there's an "urgent need to advance the state of global knowledge of CO2 storage prospectivity," Department of Energy secretary Steven Chu, somewhat more poetically, extols a "fierce sense of urgency".
It may be China, with its high coal usage and growing economy, that ends up having to take up the torch. The Pacific Northwest National Laboratory has come up with a map (at right, click to make larger) showing that China, contrary to previous studies, actually has excellent potential for underground CO2 storage.
Before plowing into CCS at full tilt, China will certainly conduct plenty of studies to compare the technology to alternatives -- primarily nuclear power, which also bears the distinction of being well understood. But if CCS turns out to be as (relatively) cheap as the IEA hopes, it will be able to take its first real step to commercialization.
Previous coverage of carbon capture on BNET Energy: