With all the believers in the face of the best facts still pushing for global warming doomsdays, coal is having a difficult time as a fuel for the exploding need for electrical power generation. Now I fully agree that burning coal and sending clouds of effluents rich in nasty metals, sulfur compounds and an array of other nasties isn’t a good idea, there remain some hard realities that could be considered.

But the environmentalists, climate change and other pressure groups in the special interest and cultish business of recruiting believers might want to consider the harsh facts should prognosticators be only partially right about the dramatic damages that would occur to the whole of the economy, people’s ability to support themselves and the consequences to the remaining productive working people, investor class including pensioners and government planners and policy wonks. Climate managed through CO2 is a prescription for the developed world to sink into despair. You think the financial/credit crisis is a disaster? Try to reduce carbon out of the life of the planet.

Ideology is a great way to recruit people to your goal. It’s the road that recruited the whole of post WWI Germany to follow Hitler into WWII. It’s been used and used over and over again throughout history to get a few power over the many. Purity is a good sign it’s a fraud, no wiggle room, negotiating space, or other signs of compromise wrap an ideology into dangerous pathology. The near mob psychology like suggestions from Al Gore that civil disobedience is valid just makes the point that they know that war it is – against everyone else.

When I saw the Science Daily report on MIT graduate student in chemical engineering and the Technology and Policy Program Ashleigh Hildebrand’s study on “Partial Capture” with co-author Howard J. Herzog, principal research engineer at the MIT Energy Initiative, I have to wonder what kind of reception these honorable people will receive in an attempt to show what a compromise might mean.

Ashleigh Hildebrand and Howard Herzog

Ashleigh Hildebrand and Howard Herzog

Construction of new coal powered generation is about stopped in the U.S. with the expectation that essentially total emission capture is or will be a requirement. The team’s study suggests that a “significant fraction” in an intermediate step of partial capture would keep the power on, jobs on the payrolls and life moving forward. Coal is simply the U.S.’s largest store of energy and to cancel it out is a marvel in self-destructive choices.

Herzog’s view, the call for full carbon capture is “a policy of inaction, a policy that won’t move forward either new coal plants or the CCS (clean coal and storage) technology.” Partial capture could be a viable intermediate step. The push for full capture (defined as 90 percent of the total) is in part economic: everyone assumed (emphasis added) that 90 percent capture would — due to economies of scale — yield the lowest cost per ton of CO2 removed. Anything less than 90 percent would mean a higher per-ton cost.

So Hildebrand and Herzog modeled the technology changes and the costs in capturing from zero to 90%. The model accounts for technological breakpoints such as carbon capture with a series of devices that absorb CO2, release it and compress it. Full capture may require two or more systems running in series.

What the model shows is that the cost per ton of CO2 removal drops as the number of tons increases. And to no surprise, when the addition of a second unit in a series is added the cost per ton goes up and then levels off when the ton throughput gets to the cost per unit equilibrium. Hildebrand and Herzog can say that per ton cost is about the same at 60 percent capture as 90 percent capture. The assertion is, if the press release writer got the meaning correct, that there are no economies of scale in going from 60 to 90%, but that the initial capital investment is significantly reduced. Or more on point – I suspect that the team is illustrating that there is a big capital cost in getting from 60 to 90%. Compared to zero percent as across most of the world, 60% is a great goal if you’re into limiting CO2 while 90% “clean coal” may be unaffordable as the rates customers pay would include the increased capital costs.

All this stands to reason if not fully obvious to interested technology and investment people. Academics being academic, drawing up a model and running assorted parameters could go a long way to making the intellectual case seem real. But the issue is something entirely different. What will the response be to the modeling of the obvious?

The players in the CO2 game are after something bigger than a minor to insignificant atmospheric gas. Something bigger is at stake. Reading the motives of those who manipulate emotions of the masses and seek to sway the popular opinion through endlessly reinforcing false facts with sensible seeming yet unfounded science is a puzzle wrapped in a media frenzy. “The sky is warming!” is too close to the sky is falling as discredited in a child’s fable starring a certain smallish chicken character to be serious, but it is taken as such by many.

So millions of people do take all of this seriously. The MIT team’s effort is of high drama, hysteria rules; civil disobedience is to be taken as a proper course of conduct. The bets by the promoters of CO2 global warming are becoming very high stakes indeed.

To me the raw courage of Ashleigh Hildebrand and Howard J. Herzog, who incidentally is chair of the conference organizing committee for the 9th International Conference on Greenhouse Gas Control Technologies in Washington where Hildebrand presented her findings, yesterday Nov. 18th 2008, is of merit in recognizing that not all of academia is lost to the global warming cult. The stakes are high and may well get higher, for some the globe damn well better warm up or there will be a terrible price to pay. And some are beginning to realize it.

On the other hand, coal is a marvelous resource that begs a better end than just burning it up and losing the ingredients to the atmosphere. There is also the matter of burning which sends much of the other components of coal such as the metals, sulfur and other combustion products into the air, a not environmentally friendly thing to be doing as well as simply toxic and dangerous to the biosphere.

The MIT team has done a great service, a worthy first step. Perhaps it will open up an intellectual discussion, leading to making the best possible use of a superb resource instead of the absolutes of ideological drama and tunnel vision about powering a modern economy.

Three Cheers for Hildebrand and Herzog. Lets hope a few more intellectual and academic people find even more courage from their example.


6 Comments so far

  1. Alan on November 20, 2008 8:10 AM

    Too polemical. Your ideology — right or
    wrong — is too much in evidence for me
    to take you seriously. Thanks, anyway.

  2. Al Fin on November 20, 2008 9:51 AM

    Very interesting, Brian. I considered posting on the same topic. Hildebrand and Herzog are performing an enormous service for the US–and the incoming Obama administration. If only they were intelligent enough and prudent enough to listen.

    As far as global warming hysteria, it is currently an enormously profitable enterprise, and enjoys the backing of many governments and the UN’s IPCC. As long as people such as Al Gore can grow rich on stoking people’s fears, they will continue to do so.

    Too bad for the US if Obama’s EPA takes the hysteria seriously.

  3. Chauncy Grosvernor on November 20, 2008 8:30 PM

    I for one find it refreshing to find an energy analyst who is willing to say what is what, without fear of political oppression. Leftists are too eager to silence critics of all types and from all directions. Bravo, sir, for expressing the truth despite the looming threat of censorship!

  4. Matt in NC on November 24, 2008 7:49 AM

    Stick with picking the low hanging fruit. Why wreck our economy when anything we do is going to be cancelled out by China and India anyway.

  5. J C Dhall on January 31, 2009 9:16 PM

    Coal, oil, gas and nuclear are the main energy sources. Hydroelectric is the only worthwhile renewable source and needs to be supplemented.
    I am an Indian and admit that Asia needs a chance with its coal now. Cleaning and sequestration is feasible about sulfur and particulate matter only which harm human and machinery health. Atmospheric CO2 has always varied and plant life has always managed it. Modified varieties of plants and algae are being researched to capture CO2 and heat from atmosphere to convert them to more food and fuel. This needs to be encouraged.
    For better management of sulfur and suspended particulate matter, the way is gasification. Gas can be more easily cleaned. To offset costs, it could be done underground as cost of extraction of gas is less. It could be extended to high ash coal seams and tars also. Gas and downstream products like methanol are also more versatile fuels. Raising scares is not going to help, M/s Al Gore and Pachauri’s views not withstanding.

  6. Gabriella Boydstun on May 27, 2011 9:50 AM

    Thanks for posting. Good to see that not everyone is using RSS feeds to build their blogs 😉

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