U.S. Energy Agency Leads Effort To Cut Carbon Dioxide Emissions

By Cheryl Pellerin
USINFO Staff Writer

Pittsburgh – Carbon dioxide (CO2) capture and storage “is the critical enabling technology that would reduce CO2 emissions significantly while also allowing coal to meet the world’s pressing energy needs,” according to Howard Herzog, principal research engineer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Laboratory for Energy and the Environment.

Herzog joined 55 delegates from six countries attending a workshop hosted by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and its Pittsburgh-based National Energy Technology Laboratory. The workshop was organized by the Carbon Sequestration Leadership Forum (CSLF), an international climate-change initiative with 21 member countries.

Delegates from Brazil, China, Colombia, India, Mexico and South Africa attended the workshop, which ran concurrently with the Sixth Annual Conference on Carbon Capture and Sequestration, an international meeting of more than 650 attendees from national governments, state and federal agencies, major research institutions, electric and natural gas utilities, oil and gas companies and public utility commissions. (See related article.)

Both meetings focused on the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide and a booming international effort to sort out and harness the complexities of a technology called carbon sequestration.

Workshop objectives, said Justin “Judd” Swift, deputy assistant secretary for international affairs in DOE's Office of Fossil Energy and chairman of the CSLF Capacity-Building Task Force, are to help “emerging-economy members develop the knowledge, skills, expertise and institutions they need to understand and implement carbon sequestration.”

The technology encompasses capturing CO2 from power plants and fuel-processing facilities, then transporting it and injecting it for long-term storage, for example, into nearby geologic formations of gravel or porous stone.


In September 2005, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released the Special Report on Carbon Dioxide Capture and Storage, covering CO2 sources and the technical specifics of capturing, transporting and storing CO2 in geological formations, in the ocean or in minerals, or using the CO2 in industrial processes.

Carbon capture and storage (CCS), the report said, “has the potential to reduce overall mitigation costs and increase flexibility in achieving greenhouse gas emission reductions. [Its] widespread application … would depend on technical maturity, costs, overall potential, diffusion and transfer of the technology to developing countries and their capacity to apply the technology, regulatory aspects, environmental issues and public perception.”

Brazil, said Joao Marcelo Ketzer, associate professor at the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio Grande do Sul, has an ambitious program for CCS.  “The challenges are very big there and we need lots of capacity building to go on with this.”

The effort has support from Petróleo Brasileiro, a semi-public oil company based in Rio de Janeiro that is leading carbon dioxide capture and storage in Brazil, as well as industry and nongovernmental organizations. The program hopes to gain government backing. A clean coal technology center also is planned, he said.

India has been working to increase its carbon capture and storage capacity, establish a legal framework, engage in research and development and address challenges, said Malti Goel, adviser to India’s Ministry and Science and Technology and vice chair of the CSLF Technical Group.

“Our energy capacity has to grow to meet the basic needs of people,” she said, “There is no option but to accelerate the development of new … technologies for managing carbon.”

Y.S. Pillay, manager of sustainable development at Anglo Coal in South Africa, says technology transfer will be most important to his nation’s ability to develop carbon dioxide capture and storage capacity.

“It actually goes to implementing projects,” he said. “Without physically implementing projects, you don’t develop or sustain capacity.”

Abdulmuhsen Al-Sunaid, environmental adviser to the Ministry of Petroleum and Mineral Resources in Saudi Arabia, praised DOE’s role in driving acceptance of the technology.

Al-Sunaid was a member of the kingdom’s delegation to the Seventh Session of the Conference of the Parties in 2001 that introduced the language requesting the IPCC to produce the special report on carbon capture and sequestration.

“At that time,” he said, “support from countries was weak, almost nonexistent. Not until the Department of Energy expanded its carbon management program and pushed carbon capture and storage at the international level that the carbon sequestration technology began to be widely accepted. Now, carbon capture and storage is being seriously considered by many leading nations.”

More information about the CSLF is available at the organization’s Web site.

The full text of the Special Report on Carbon Dioxide Capture and Storage is available on the IPCC Web site.

For more information about U.S. policies, see Climate Change and Clean Energy.