By Hugh Price
In New Haven, W.Va., the Mountaineer Power Plant is using a complicated chemical process to capture about 1.5 percent of the carbon dioxide it produces. The gas is cooled to a liquid at a pressure of about 95 atmospheres and pumped 2,375 meters down to a sandstone formation, where it is meant to remain indefinitely. The objective is to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide being added to the atmosphere from the coal burning at the plant.
This certainly seems to be doing it the hard way. Extracting just this 1.5 percent of the CO2 from the plant’s flue requires a $100 million investment, and whether the gas will remain underground or bubble to the surface is in question.
Fortunately, there is a way to capture and store excess carbon from the atmosphere that is cheap, efficient and environmentally friendly. It relies on two technologies that have been in use for more than 8,000 years: agriculture and the garbage heap.
The biggest problem with this approach may be that it’s so low-tech. No green-technology subsidies are required, so there may not be a natural constituency for it. On the other hand, environmentalists should love it. What could be greener than growing plants? And for those concerned about the economy, this approach provides a low-cost method of reducing the country’s carbon footprint without increasing the cost of energy. It is also reversible. If current concerns about CO2 concentrations turn out to be unwarranted, the stockpiled material will be readily available for use. What could be simpler?
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