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Carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) is the great hope of the fossil fuel industry. What if, instead of figuring out more efficient wind or solar energy we could just cleanup our existing addiction to coal? The problem is that capturing carbon coming out of coal plants is expensive and at this point, experimental, too. Heres a breakdown of the CCS scene in terms of technology, startups, utilities, and investors all making plays in this sector. What is carbon capture and sequestration? There are two separate parts to CCS the capturing process whereby carbon emissions are prevented from being released into the air, and the sequestration or storage of the captured carbon. Capturing carbon means separating out the carbon dioxide from all of the other gases and particulates often found in fossil fuel exhaust. Once youve gotten a relatively pure carbon stream youve got to find somewhere to store it, permanently. This is the type of permanent we talk about when we look for places to store toxic waste.

What carbon capture technologies exist? The biggest difficulty in carbon capture is getting a pure carbon stream. In traditional coal power plants the exhaust is full of other toxic oxides that make it difficult to safely capture and sequester carbon. There are three ways to capture carbon:
1. Post-Combustion carbon capture attempts to capture CO2 after a fuel has already been burned. This includes the carbon scrubbers systems and could potentially be applied to all existing power plants. 2. Pre-Combustion carbon capture is part of what is being pushed as clean coal. Some proposed new coal power plants are Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle plants (IGCC) which uses pre-combustion carbon capture. The idea of a IGCC plant involves oxidizing the fuel in a gasifier before combustion. This process produces syngas which is made of carbon oxides and hydrogen. The resulting carbon emissions can be pulled off in a relatively pure stream while the hydrogen is burned as fuel.

Most newly proposed coal plants from power utilities all over the country are IGCC proposals hoping to preempt emission restrictions by creating cleaner, purer effluent streams. However, even these are having difficulty getting approval or proving profitable.
3. Oxyfuel Combustion burns fossil fuels in pure oxygen as opposed to open air. Flue gases are recirculated through the combustion chamber to cool the reaction. The resulting emission stream is almost pure CO2 and water vapor. The water vapor can be separated by condensation leaving just the CO2 to be captured.

What carbon sequestration technologies exist?

Geologic sequestration is the more popular method. It involves injecting carbon back into the fossil reserves from which is was mined, pumped, and piped. Often carbon gases are injected into oil and gas fields to increase fuel yields, called enhanced oil recovery (EOR). Research is being conducted in injecting CO2 into gas and oil reservoirs, coal bed methane recovery, and saline formation sequestration. Terrestrial sequestration looks to capitalize on the fact that the global biosphere absorbs nearly 2 billion tons of CO2 a year. The DoE is focusing efforts in maximizing the carbon uptake of a number of ecosystems including forests, croplands (both agricultural and biomass fuels), deserts, and wetlands. Far more experimental and less concentrated, terrestrial sequestration is unlikely to be an easy way to increase biosphere carbon uptake. Unless, of course, we stop destroying the biosphere

1. ^ Winner: Restoring Coal's Sheen, William Sweet, IEEE Spectrum, January 2008. Available in full at 2. ^ Bryngelsson, M., Westermark, M., "Feasibility study of CO2 removal from pressurized flue gas in a fully fired combined cycle - the Sargas project", KTH - Royal Institute of Technology, Dept. of Chemical Engineering and Technology, SE-100 44 Stockholm, Sweden. 3. ^ Bryngelsson, M., Westermark, M., "CO2 capture pilot test at a pressurized coal fired CHP plant", GHGT-9, Energy Procedia 1 (2009) 1403 - 1409. 4. ^ "News for the Business of Energy"..