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Study to Bury Power Plant Emissions Is Funded

The research is part of the administration's $90-million battle against global warming.

November 22, 2002|From Reuters

WASHINGTON — The Bush administration will spend as much as $90 million on programs to fight global warming, including studying ways to remove power plant carbon dioxide emissions from the air and storing them deep underground, Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham said Thursday.

The process, carbon sequestration, has prompted hopes in the farm sector of a new source of income -- payments for curbing air pollution -- and has been raised at international conferences as a way to deal with so-called greenhouse gases.

The Energy Department said a research team headed by American Electric Power and Battelle could begin studying potential sequestration sites in the Ohio River Valley, where carbon emissions from power plants could be stored underground.

"Theoretically, [underground sites] could hold all of the carbon dioxide emitted by the nation's coal-burning power plants for the next 100 years," Abraham told the National Coal Council. "But we will move deliberately, because we want to go as far and as fast as the science takes us."

The administration currently provides about $50 million annually to develop technologies to reduce or capture power plant emissions.

Abraham said the administration also would fund four to 10 regional sequestration partnerships nationwide. These, formed by the power industry, local governments and universities, would develop technology to trim carbon dioxide emissions in those areas.

Researchers have yet to determine the most effective and least costly method for capturing and storing carbon dioxide.

The United States generates an estimated 5.8 billion tons of carbon dioxide annually, according to the Energy Department.

While the popularity of carbon removal is likely to grow as technology improves, experts believe the near-term focus will be on other methods of trimming pollution, including greater fuel efficiency and alternative fuels.

"Before you do this, if you want to start taking carbon out of the energy system, this is probably not the first thing you are going to do," said Edward Rubin, professor of environmental engineering and science at Carnegie Mellon University.

By 2050, as much as 250 billion tons of carbon could be captured from the atmosphere and stored in soil or underground, officials with the Energy Department have estimated. An average of 3.5 billion tons could be removed annually, up from about 2 billion tons currently.

John McCormick, spokesman for the Citizens Coal Council, which works to protect communities and the environment from coal pollution, said the country is "stuck" with coal, the dominant fuel for power plants. The United States has the world's largest coal reserves.

Pollution from coal has dropped about 30% over the last 30 years as new technology has been introduced.

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