Maybe you've heard the plans for "clean coal" (aka carbon capture and storage), a technology that collects carbon-dioxide exhaust from formerly high-polluting power plants, condensing and freezing it for storage in depleted natural-gas fields. This month, energy provider Vattenfall fired up the CO2 collection process at a plant in Spremberg ("Call Us 'Spermberg' and Die") Germany. The plant's transition is making green-energy history, but as you can imagine, some kinks still need to be worked out.
The Spremberg plant is tiny by most standards, pumping out just 30 megawatts while many plants can pull off 10 times that output. Even so, compressing and chilling the CO2 can be a real energy drain in and of itself, so the efficiency of the plant is seriously compromised by the green initiative.
Still it is worth tweaking the basic system for enhanced efficiency, as Vattenfall says that the system can theoretically gather up to 98% of the CO2 produced by the plant, making it nearly pollutant free.
Critics say that this is just a diversion from investing resources in truly non-polluting technologies. While I tend to lean with those critics, I am a fan of clean coal because the US uses so much coal to produce electricity for cities. Still, I'm not 100% clear on the whole pumping-greenhouse-gases-into-the-earth thing. I know it gets sealed away in places that previously contained massive amounts of natural gas, but still, isn't anyone concerned that this is just set up for massive CO2 geysers in decades or centuries to come? There, I said it—science nerds, please feel free to bludgeon me with the Stick of Enlightenment. [Technology Review; Vattenfall]