Two Reasons Why "Clean Coal" Has Moved Off Stage

stage of dreams photo

"The Stage Of Dreams" Image credit:Flickr, spiritz

There are two main reasons clean coal has moved offstage and they have little to do with engineering feasibility or environmental impact potential.

The promise of 'clean coal' for power production has faded from public discourse mainly because, to prove it works at commercial scale, the technology requires government support (citing high costs, privately sponsored tests have been scaled down or halted). Mustering more billions of government support now would contradict one of the ascendant US political narratives, which holds that climate change is a made up liberal plot to take away corporate and personal freedoms and that all government expenditures must be cut severely, not added to. The fade-away factor could hardly be more powerful.Cost and it's twin: regulatory uncertainty.
Some US electric utilities have announced the closure of older coal-fired power plants, citing high prospective costs of upgrading to meet pending non-CO2 air emission standards promulgated by USEPA.

If they can't meet that bar, how could they be expected to allocate capital for coal gasification and carbon sequestration equipment, not knowing what the final emission limits for climate protection may be? The market needs regulatory certainty, and the higher the cost, the more of it they need.

The capital costs of CCS heads it more in the cost direction of nuclear and away from the lower cost range for renewable- or natural gas-fired power. Meeting EPA standards for the latter two is easy.

Both clean coal-based power and nuclear power have in common relatively high long term costs for waste management. Both may face serious NIMBY resistance. (CO2 pipelines for the sequestration effort widen the NIMBY audience significantly.)

That banks and private investors might prefer lending for natural gas fired and large scale renewable power schemes should come as no surprise.