MIT Writes Positively About Scaling Carbon Capture and Storage and Nuclear Power to Address CO2 Problem

Between 11,000 and 23,000 miles of dedicated CO2 pipeline would need to be laid in the United States before 2050, according to PNNL’s estimates, in addition to the 3,900 miles already in place (which carry mostly naturally occurring CO2 used to stimulate production from aging oil wells).

The MIT Future of Coal 2007 report estimated that capturing all of the roughly 1.5 billion tons per year of CO2 generated by coal-burning power plants in the United States would generate a CO2 flow with just one-third of the volume of the natural gas flowing in the U.S. gas pipeline system.

There has been identified capacity to store 3.9 trillion tons of CO2, mostly in saline formations in the USA. There are about 1700 large source of CO2 generation which produce 2.9 billion tons of CO2. In comparison the human CO2 generation for the world is estimated at 26 billion tons per year. Currently only a few million tons per year of CO2 are being captured and stored. The current world nuclear power of 372 GW (producing 2608 billion kwh) is preventing 2 billion tons of CO2 per year if that same power was provided by coal plants.

A recent MIT article and the MIT’s Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change indicates that based on an assessment of currently available technology and pricing (2007 prices and expected cap and trade or carbon taxes) that the two top methods out to 2050 are nuclear power and carbon sequestering for reducing human generated CO2 to 80% of 1990 levels. So the 2100 disaster would be avoided by 2050 even using a combo of existing technology and policy. The pricing policies mainly hit coal prices.

The MIT/PNNL studies aer saying make a massive carbon sequestering effort on the order of 100-500 billion tons over 40 years. There is perhaps 0.1% leakage of CO2 which would be a 500 million ton leak (in the 500 billion ton case) at that point but you would be shoving 15 billion tons per year [worldwide] into the ground or someplace else (a 3% penalty to overcome at that point, for the leak versus annual amount stored). It would be a constant effort while the time is taken to shift to a de-carbonized energy infrastructure. In 2100, there would be about a 1.5 trillion tons in the ground with a 1.5 billion ton leak. You could store 15 trillion tons before the 15 billion tons per year would only be adequate to offset the leak. In the meantime 500-1000 years would have gone by. I don’t see how any society that had gone that far had not taken care of total energy source de-carbonization by
2100 at the latest.

I think it is something that works now but which is a stopgap effort until the better stuff is spun up, but worst case the stuff we have now will at least prevent the worst case scenario.

Building analogy
So a worst case scenario is that we can’t get better stuff working and have to scale up what we got. And patch our problem with an expensive and relative bonehead solution but a solution that would work. The worst case scenario is not that we fail completely and all die, which is the equivalent of if you cannot get out of your multi-story apartment in 90 years which has a layer of dirt constantly falling on
it now it will fall on you and your neighbors will all die in 90 years because the roof the building will collapse. Carbon sequestering is the tenants shoveling off the dirt for a few hundred or thousand years. The CO2 that is in the air stays there for 3000 years.

So CCS is not the best hope. It is a hope and if you don’t get something better then we just sweep it under the ground. It is just better than renewables like solar and wind in their current condition and projecting that condition forward unchanged for forty years.

Carbon sequestering is more a solution that results from economics and carbon taxes than from best science. Economics and policy are real things in our civilization though. It is also more of a peak oil delaying thing.

A better plan which is very different.

80% of money [energy infrastructure spending] and effort on technology that is ready now and deploying it.
20% of money and effort on developing better technology. Spreading it around on as many bets as efficiently as possible. A DARPA of energy looking to prove out home run technology.

The 100% of money is 2-4 trillion per year that will be going into energy infrastructure worldwide.
200-600 billion per year from and for the USA.

A significant portion of the 20% on factory mass produced deep burn fission. $20-40 billion seems certainly enough to develop it and to initiate build-out. Design and prove out a factory mass preducible variant on the liquid fluoride thorium reactor (like the Fuji MSR). Not even all of one year of what would be the US portion of 20% of energy infrastructure spend. Plenty left to fund many different approaches to nuclear fusion and other technology bets.