Can We Just Hide Our CO2?
Although discovering green methods for generating power is a worldwide priority, many people are worried that these cures won't come soon enough. To try to reduce carbon dioxide emissions in the meantime, some countries are looking at ways to hide our enormous CO2 footprint by burying the gas deep in the earth.
The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that there is enough space underground in the US and Canada to store up to 3.6 trillion metric tons of CO2 - a few hundred years' worth of today's US emissions.
Currently one of the biggest challenges in this endeavor is figuring out how to separate CO2 from other gases. Scientists have designed filters that can pull CO2 from power plant exhaust. After capturing the gas, the second part of the method is storage. While no one knows for sure how best to store CO2, it will undoubtedly be a costly process.
Norway is one of the leaders in "carbon capture and storage" (CCS) technology. Inspired by the world's first carbon tax in 1992, the Norwegian energy company StatoilHydro has developed a system to capture CO2 from an offshore natural gas field and inject it below the seabed.
In the US, researchers are building a project called FutureGen, which will be a zero-emissions coal-fueled power plant located in Mattoon, Illinois. The project, which is expected to be completed around 2017, would use coal to produce a synthetic fuel containing hydrogen in order to generate electricity. The CO2 emissions from the coal would also be captured and buried.
Australia is also investing heavily in CCS research, with more than a dozen projects in mind.
While most people agree that reducing CO2 emissions would be helpful, some people wonder if CCS is truly reducing CO2, or is simply a temporary quick-fix. Some environmentalists argue that the billions spent on CSS research should be targeted at developing renewable energy sources instead.
Perhaps most significantly, no one knows for sure how long CO2 will stay hidden. If the gas seeps out from its underground storage areas, it could contaminate groundwater or poison the air in dense quantities. Or, if stored at the bottom of the ocean, CO2 could have far-reaching consequences on marine ecosystems.
To make an informed decision about the value of CCS, it seems one factor that needs to be considered is time - unfortunately, no one knows how much is left.