The Reality of Clean Coal [video]

Mon, 2008-12-08 20:23Kevin Grandia
Kevin Grandia's picture

The Reality of Clean Coal [video]

A new campaign has been launched taking straight aim at the multi-million dollar effort by the coal industry and their front groups to convince us all that somehow the dirtiest energy source in the world is somehow clean.

The reality is that coal is dirty and the industry knows it. Why else would the coal companies funnel tens of millions to a group called Americans Coalition Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE)?

As this new campaign points out, there’s simply no such thing as clean coal technology:

Check out writer Adam Seigel for a comprehensive look at coal: “This is Reality”: “Clean Coal” Vaporware


Is there a study anywhere that compares the coal industry’s expenditures:

a) To advertise clean coal, or the lack  of need for it


b) R&D to actually do it.

I haven’t seen a study, but it wouldbe very interesting wouldn’t it.

When the DOE pulled out of FutureGen, it killed the project.  DOE funding was going to be around 75% of the entire cost.  Roughly, it looks like the industry was prepared to pay what it would cost to build a regular big emitting type of plant, and they were going to let the government pick up all the additional costs.  At their share one part, government three parts, it sounds like they were even getting a subsidy compared to building an ordinary plant. 

Hence, I think it is safe to say that the coal industry doesn’t want to pay one dime for CCS.  They don’t care if they kill the planet, they aren’t going to lift one finger to do the slightest thing about it. If anyone wonders why, consider this:  Big Coal doesn’t want the price of coal fired power to increase in any way, or their share of the market for electricity will go down.  Hence their lobby to stop carbon taxes or a price on carbon of any kind.

Gore is correct to point this out, i.e. that its all a PR campaign.  But he’s way off base saying the technology itself is bogus. 

The German project, the Schwarze Pumpe station in Brandenburg is 30 MW, compared to the two 800 MW standard generators present at the same location.  A Swedish company, Vattenfall,  put up $100 million for it.  It is undergoing operational testing right now.  It is this type of advanced design the IPCC thought could produce power for 7.5 cents a kw/hr when built at full scale.  I haven’t seen any report that this plant is a government subsidized operation, although there is a small carbon price in the EU

When the problem was smog in the Los Angeles basin, activists didn’t whine that industry hasn’t come up with smog limiting technology therefore anyone who calls for implementing a tech fix is suffering from some kind of “illusion” and all cars should be banned from L.A.  The car industry was forced, kicking and screaming, to implement technology which is said today to be 97% less smog producing than the cars of the 1960s.  A computer is in each car, the exhaust is analysed each engine revolution and the amount of gas injected each cycle is calculated, and all the exhaust is run by expensive platinum catalysts.  Tell someone that is how the problem would be addressed back in the sixties and they would say you were smoking something. 

Why support Gore as he ignores history and throws in the towel on tech development?  He’s saying the tech doesn’t exist when it does.  He’s using words calculated to mislead when he knows exactly what I’m talking about in terms of where the technological development is.

As your self described mandate says a “well funded and highly organized PR campaign is poisoning the climate change debate….  trying to confuse the public.”  And you, supposedly are here “to cry foul”.

This is not your finest post. Think about your mandate if you read what I have to say.

The “This is reality”: “Clean coal” Vaporware” link you’ve supplied for a “comprehensive look” at coal is lacking the elementary detail that is present in an unbiased report. 

Examples of what I call unbiased reports are: the I.P.C.C. Special Report on Carbon Capture and Storage, or the M.I.T. The Future of Coal report, or the more recent McKinsey Carbon Capture and Storage:  Assessing the Economics report.  I suppose those would be too bogged down in facts for you.  In case anyone is wondering , this is the same IPCC that got their Nobels for their very highly regarded work assessing what is known about climate change for civilization.  I guess they are just lying to us on this one, eh, Kevin? 

According to the IPCC Special Report on Carbon Capture and Storage, the technology is “well understood” and ready to go right now.  It is already “economically feasible under specific conditions” which according to them means if there is a tax on carbon, such as in Norway, you’ll see the technology in use.  Or where there is a “niche market”, again, according to the IPCC, you’ll see parts of this technology in commercial use, i.e. in North America where 50,000,000 tonnes of CO2 are injected into old oil fields every year as part of enhanced oil recovery schemes.  But we wouldn’t want to know anything like this, what we’d rather know is what Adam Seigel says on the webpage you’ve pointed us to:

“the costs of doing it will be quite high”.  According to the IPCC, instead of 5 cents a kw/hr which is about what it costs, wholesale, in many places to generate electricity from coal now, it would cost from 6 - 7.5 cents a kw/hr if carbon capture was employed.  I know, when you’re dealing with an organization as disreputable and with the track record of pumping out lies and distortions that the IPCC has what is the point of citing anything they do, however I point to them because Gore and you would take them as authoritative.  More accessible information than hundreds of IPCC pages are The Economist Special Report on Energy for instance, or Mark Jaccard’s book “Sustainable Fossil Fuels” bot of which seem to basically interpret the IPCC data in a more simplified and easily understood form.  All the reports I’ve citied already also contain very detailed cost estimates. Now if coal increased in cost from 5 cents wholesale to 7.5 cents or even 8 cents as The Economist published, it would be a 60% increase in cost, which is a fantastic amount.  Compare 8 cents a kw/hr  to the 74 cent a kw/hr solar power subsidy put in in Germany. 

I’ve seen Guy Dauncey stand on a stage telling us all we must put in a subsidy in British Columbia of 50 cents a kw/hr for solar, I asked him about carbon capture and all he could say was it would be expensive. 

This is a religion of solar and wind power advocates you’ve signed on with Kevin.  It appears you’ve forgotten or never understood that the problem is greenhouse gas emissions to the atmosphere.

“it won’t be available and working at a mass scale for decades”.  Now if you read any of the reports I have cited, what will stirke you, if you have an open mind, is that the delay in mass implementation is simply a prediction about political barriers rather than technical.  The technology is already in commercial use where there is a carbon tax high enough.   There is no price on carbon now in the US, and funny thing, there is no full scale plant using CCS under construction.  If you look into the history of FutureGen, which was supposed to be the first full scale plant at 350 MW, it took them two years to simply agree on a site. Imagine if something the civilization took seriously was put on a schedule like that.  We shouldn’t bail out the banks, we’d tell ourselves, because it will take decades to transport the money from the US Congress to the vaults of the banks. Complaints in Illinois where FutureGen was sited, when the project was cancelled, were that once Texas was rejected as the site in favour of Illinois, Bush’s Department of Energy killed the entire project.  The coal industry according to one report I read, was “stunned”.  And why not?  They’ve been touting the technology and Bush pulled the plug on them.

Obama campaigned saying he was going to facilitate the construction of five full scale coal fired CCS plants to kick start this technology.  He ran into so much resistance from religious zealots who believe coal cannot be used by the time he became the Democratic Party candidate all the platform said was they were going to “clean” up the coal industry, and show some “American leadership” to the world.  Now, as Obama considers his exact agenda, Gore signs on to the dump on “clean coal” campaign.  Gore’s position is that there are no full scale plants therefore the technology is bogus, just as the guy who wants to put them in is here.

There’s nothing wrong with the technology for carbon capture, what people are saying is that its ready to test out at the level of a number of full scale plants, to finally prove it out, and anyone could do this at any time.  If Gore is successful with his campaign it won’t be the US that will do it.  Germany has just installed one, 30 MW, what they do is purify the combusion air into almost pure oxygen, burn coal at high efficiency, and basically just cool and compress the almost pure CO2 exhaust for underground storage. They are aiming for higher than 95% capture.

In today’s political environment the leading jurisdiction in the world on climate i.e the EU, can’t put in a carbon price sufficient to force Germany to take its 26 new coal plants off the drawing board or fit them with carbon capture.  So people who study the feasibility of CCS, i.e. the IPCC, MIT, or McKinsey, take this into consideration.  They state well then grub up a few million for a pilot plant here or there now, study it for a few years, see if anyone will cough up some more money for a larger scale plant and do that, study that for a few years, etc, and by 2030 no doubt enough will have hit the fan on the climate front the population would have approved a price on carbon and it will be full speed ahead on CCS

The US has the world’s largest reserves of coal.  American leadership could prove out this CCS technology for the world a lot more quickly than this.  In case you haven’t noticed, China is putting in a new coal plant every week.  They have coal and they are going to use it.  India is going with coal, Germany is phasing out its nuclear and going with coal, and the UK is building new nonCCS coal plants. 

Any time I see a critic of CCS, the first thing I look for is any meaningful cost figure they’ll cite when they claim its “too expensive” and there never is one.  Read Goodell’s Rolling Stone article, check out Gore’s campaign material, and read your own recommended Clean Coal Vaporware article.  They make sure to say things like “billions” of dollars, or “too expensive” or whatever, but you don’t see cents per kw/hr or cost per tonne CO2 sequestered.  This is because it is the critics who are putting out the vaporware. 

Gore calls for an entirely new electric grid in the US as a part of his call for renewable power, so a more efficient transport network would be available to move the solar from where it is most feasible to produce it, i..e the US SouthWest, to where the big markets are.  With carbon capture, baseload power could continue to be produced and distributed with today’s grid.  Who cares?  We all better line up and dump on coal, after all it is a fossil fuel, and those are all evil, right?  We want to make sure not to let facts get in our way, that’s for sure. 

You might want to consider a name change for this site.  You’re in danger of becoming a propaganda organ for a religion.  What is wrong with serious examination of facts, as opposed to parroting the gibberish others hand you?  What I think people should think about is letting the market decide:  put in a price on carbon high enough to force emissions to zero, and encourage any and all technology that can help solve the problem.


If the coal industry is set for commericial scale carbon capture and sequestration then get on with it already. They can stop fighting a price on carbon to begin with and they can start deploying the technology right now then if they’re ready.

Problem is, it’s not ready. And even the CEO’s of the largest coal-fired elctricity companies can’t even tell us when it will be ready. In fact, the CEO of Southern Company David Ratcliffe recently stated that: “I think the truth is, is that we don’t know where we have storage capability in this nation at this time. We haven’t even come close to defining what will be required in storage, what are the legal liabilities and what are the permitting requirements, much less the infrastructure needed to develop that storage and move the carbon, the C02, into that storage, pipelines or trucks or whatever that is.”

Doesn’t sound so encouraging.

You can cost out the price of CCS all you want, but the problem remains that we are still 15 to 20 years before we see any CCS technology that can be deployed on a commercial scale. Too little, too late.


Don’t read any of the material I cited.  The IPCC must be lying when they say the technology is ready to go to be proved out at full scale now, any time anyone wants to pay for the extra costs involved in bringing a new technology onstream.  Make sure not to read any cost estimates, and dismiss anyone who cites them.  Suddenly the CEO of Southern Company knows more than MIT or the IPCC

The NAS funds research into CCS as well:  they identified 100 years worth of storage for the entire US CO2 output off the NW US coast under the sea floor. 

You write like someone who doesn’t want to know whatever facts there are in this debate. 

FutureGen was a fullscale commercial plant announced in 2003 and it could have been built.  Bush cancelled it.  Does that say anything to you?  Oh that’s right, Bush must have carefully assessed the technology and realized that it wasn’t ready for a full scale plant to be built so he cancelled it.  Bush is such a reasonable man there couldn’t possibly be any other explanation for this.  It wouldn’t have anything to do with what the people in Illinois thought, i.e. that Texas wasn’t chosen as the site so Bush killed it.  It couldn’t possibly have anything to do with Bush, the guy who punched his fist into the air when he was leaving Japan at this year’s G8, with a grin on his face proclaiming to the President of France, and the PM of the UK “goodbye from the world’s biggest polluter!”.  A guy like that wouldn’t have cancelled a full scale demonstration of CCS on any other grounds other than it is what you say it is, not technically feasible for another 15 to 20 years. 

Thanks for straightening me out.  Heil Gore!


 You’re quoting a CEO of a company involved in the PR campaign Gore is saying is complete lies as a source of information about what is known about carbon capture, specifically the transport and storage of CO2.  The guy doesn’t even know no one is thinking trucks at any level other than tiny demo plants.  His website plays up the big contribution his company is making towards the conservation of the few Whooping Cranes that are left.  Oh they’re busy working on CCS alright but as Gore says along with every other company in the US, not at anywhere near full scale. 

Great guy to go to for definitive info to counter what must be the lies put out by the IPCC and MIT.

Let’s see, if the CEO of one of the companies that has been fighting implementation of this technology all along the way can’t tell us exactly when it would be ready to go into full scale use, no one else in the world could have any information that would be meaningful.  Have I got your point correctly?   

Sorry to bother your website with actual facts on carbon capture.  I didn’t realize how deeply you are involved in the propaganda.  I ran across the Junxion website where they describe that

“the people behind the award-winning came to us in March to partner on an initiative to turn the coal industry’s $40 million “clean coal” PR/lobby/advertising campaign on its head, we jumped in with both feet.”

Did you do the slightest bit of research into what carbon capture and storage is before you decided to get into this? 

“, Greenpeace, and Rainforest Action Network have helped to seed this project together with Junxion’s web design efforts.  This is the first step in a plan to raise $150,000 before the U.S. Presidential election in November, to discredit the coal industry’s misinformation around “clean coal”.

Industry is conducting a PR campaign that would have people believe they are serious about implementing carbon capture and storage when what they in fact are doing is as little as they possibly can.  Industry continues to lobby as hard as it can to stop a price going onto carbon.  It is a price on carbon that will cause CCS to be implemented and the industry wants to stop that. 

But you go further.  You go right off the deep end into the same kind of lies the global warming deniers and the coal industry use.  You are lying about the technology itself.  It doesn’t exist you say, when it does.  Read the IPCC Special Report on Carbon Capture and Storage.  Or, the M.I.T. The Future of Coal study.  Or, the McKinsey Carbon Capture and Storage:  Assessing the Economics.  Or, “Sustainable Fossil Fuels” by Mark Jaccard.

Looks like you guys touched a nerve, seeing that David Lewis is out in full force in spin mode.  Does he own shares in coal companies or does he work for the coal industry?  Is this why he’s so upset about this one?

Just took a look on google and it seems David is quite the prolific blog commentator. Thing is on some of his points I actually agree, but if he’s going to act like a tough guy I prefer to ignore him. Funny thing is, he assumes I haven’t read the reports he cites. Of course I have but my interpretation of what they say is somewhat different, as are the views of many others who I have discussed these things with.

Funny too on the Gore stuff - up until very recently Gore was actually very much in favor of CCS. So, I really don’t know what the heck David is talking about.

I’m sorry Kevin.  I believe you are doing great work.  For instance when Harper first discovered he’d blown it so badly the House was actually going to vote non-confidence in him and throw him out and he was trumpeting his line about how evil it was that the opposition was allied with the Bloc, I saw your post pointing out exactly what Harper had done in the past in his relations with the Bloc and I appreciated it.

If you’re going to put statements up saying CCS doesn’t exist, I thought I’d post references to the reports that say it does.  I think Gore is making a mistake on this aspect of his campaign, and I think you make a mistake to use the words you do to describe your assessment of CCS technology.  I’m sorry for my tone. 

I don’t see baseload solar thermal electric power at commercial full scale either, but I wouldn’t describe that technology as that it doesn’t exist.  I’d say put in a carbon tax and let solar thermal bloom.  I’d like to see a solar powered North America, but I don’t see the way to accomplish that as including denying that other technologies exist.

I wonder what Gore is doing.

Why doesn’t he attack the coal industry for their campaign that is basically all PR and no build  instead of leaving people with the impression that the technology is the problem?  I read any critic of CCS I can find, and I have yet to see one actually deal with the cost projections contained in the IPCC, MIT or McKinsey reports,  They just dismiss carbon capture as far too expensive.  I don’t understand people who claim to be making an argument who willfully avoid the strongest argument of the side they wish to counter. 

CCS is held to be attractive by people who want economical baseload power that can be utilized on the existing electric grid that uses an existing industry to get its fuel, that is coming from the world’s largest reserves that are in North America.  Coal presents less national security problems, and if it was developed could be transferred to China and India and anywhere else they are committed to the use of this fuel.  The strongest argument against it I’ve heard is that unless it was to achieve very close to 100% reduction the projected expansion of the global generating capacity will leave global emissions too high.  If it is accepted that the highest practical achievement would be 90% I’d say there is no point to proceeding with CCS as a solution, but when I think of China putting in a full sized coal plant every week I keep thinking that even 90% reduction would be better than nothing.  But it seems quite possible to achieve very close to 100% capture:  the German pilot plant is aiming for higher than 95%.  All they do is feed pure oxygen into the coal fire, which results in almost pure CO2 exhaust which they just cool and compress and store.  They don’t have to somehow capture all the CO2 from a very low mostly nitrogen exhaust stream.

Obama is just about to take power and he’s in the process of making decisions about what to do about his various campaign promises.  One promise was to facilitate the construction of five full scale coal fired CCS plants as the full scale demonstration of carbon capture and storage MIT and others have called for. Suddenly Gore is seeking out the spotlight dumping on CCS technology itself leaving people with the impression the technology just doesn’t exist.

Gore’s vision of a new electric grid for the US wouldn’t be necessary if carbon capture was implemented, perhaps.  “Repower America’ is a plan to produce 100% of US electricity without carbon emissions within 10 years.  A new grid would be most necessary if the plan was to generate the electricity from solar in the US SouthWest whereas if carbon capture was implemented on a similar time scale the old grid might be enough, or less of a new one would be necessary. Its a lot of money. 

I don’t see where the political will is to implement “Repower America” either all solar or with some CCS. Polls show a lot of other things on voter’s minds.  I think people who claim to be trying to bring facts to a debate poisoned by lobbyists and the ignorant should not appear to be poisoning the debate themselves.

Citizens of Lafayette, Colo., have filed a class action lawsuit against the State of Colorado, the Colorado Oil and Gas Association (COGA) and Governor John Hickenlooper requesting immediate enforcement of Lafayette's Community Rights Charter Amendment to ban fracking. 
In November 2013, 60 percent of Lafayette voters approved the Community Rights Amendment, which allows citizens to prohibit harmful activities, such as fracking. Following the passage of the Lafayette...
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