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Asean & Global Updates
POSTED | 10:37 AM | 06-10-2014

“Clean coal” with carbon capture debuts in N.America

A first-of-its-kind coal-fired power plant retrofitted with technology to capture and store most of the carbon dioxide produced at one of its boilers officially began operations this week in Saskatchewan, Canada. Meanwhile, a similar project in Illinois to demonstrate a cleaner way to burn the world's most abundant fossil fuel remains in legal and financial limbo.

Whether the US government-backed project in Meredosia, Illinois, will advance so-called carbon capture and storage, or CCS, technology is an open question, but experts deem the technology itself vital if the world hopes to stand any practical chance at staving off catastrophic climate change.

And CCS is being propelled forward by pollution-control measures such as the Obama administration's proposed rules to limit carbon emissions from new and existing power plants.

“The reason that you want to look at CCS is the math,” John Thompson, the director of the Fossil Transition Project at the Clean Air Task Force, a nonprofit that advocates for low-carbon energy technologies, explained to NBC News.

About two-thirds of the roughly 30 gigatons of carbon dioxide released by human activity each year comes from the power sector and industrial activities such as oil refining and fertilizer production. These activities are all “amenable to carbon capture and storage,” Thompson said. “In fact, you can capture 90 percent of the CO2 from any one of those particular sources.”

While increased use of nuclear, solar and wind power could replace some coal, gas and oil-fired power plants, they are not an option for most industrial sources of carbon dioxide, he added. “Eliminating fossil fuels is a great bumper sticker,” he said. “It is an ineffective climate solution.”

To boot, global greenhouse gas emissions “are higher than they have ever been and we are building more coal plants every year,” Steven Davis, an earth systems scientist at the University of California, Irvine, told NBC News.

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