March 6, 2019 Read More →

In Wyoming, a contest to capture carbon and save coal

Wyoming Public Radio (KCRW):

Hundreds of train cars extend alongside a road outside of Gillette, Wyo., overflowing with coal. Trucks haul the same energy resource from a large pit on the other side of the road. Gillette is commonly called the coal capital of the U.S.

“Nobody is here in this part of the world. It is so empty. So empty,” laughs Sebastian Peter, who traveled to be here from Bangalore, India. His team, Breathe, is one of the finalists in the NRG COSIA Carbon XPRIZE competition.

Four of the five finalists, including Peter, huddle together on an empty gravel lot next to the massive Dry Fork Station coal-fired power plant. A pipe reaches across the front of the lot.

Moving our energy sources away from fossil fuels to renewables is the most common go-to in mitigating climate change, but climate experts say more is needed. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report says keeping global temperatures within a livable range would be too expensive without carbon capture. The International Energy Agency also says carbon capture is “one of the only technology solutions that can significantly reduce emissions from coal and gas power generation and deliver the deep emissions reductions needed across key industrial processes.”

But time is running out — coal has become increasingly uneconomic and coal plants are shutting down across the country. Right now, according to the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, adding carbon capture to the average coal plant would triple the cost of electricity.

“It’s a very expensive technology and very little evidence the expense of the technology can be cut significantly especially given the competition,” says Dennis Wamsted of the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis.

Right now, carbon capture sequesters only 0.1% percent of total global emissions. The timeline to improve that number is short. Coal consumption is already historically low — the Energy Information Administration predicts another decline of 23 percent by 2050.

“In my opinion, perhaps the race is already over,” Wamsted says.

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