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 March 19, 2007
Advanced Technology Can Give Coal a Future

 Cambridge, USA -- A new study from MIT has found that carbon sequestration technologies can enable future coal-powered energy sources to decrease the threat of climate change.

The study, "The Future of Coal: Options for a Carbon Constrained World," finds that carbon capture and sequestration is the critical enabling technology to help reduce carbon dioxide emissions significantly while also allowing coal to meet the world's pressing energy needs.

The New York Times reported on a new facility announced by the Ohio-based utility American Electric Power, which will use a new technique based on chilled ammonia to capture carbon dioxide from energy generation and inject it 9,000 feet below the surface.

The AEP facility is just one examples of the ways scientists and industry researchers are looking to make coal -- a cheap but highly polluting energy source -- a promising candidate for providing power to future generations.

According to Ernest J. Moniz, one of the MIT professors behind the study, "There are many opportunities for enhancing the performance of coal plants in a carbon-constrained world -- higher efficiency generation, perhaps through new materials; novel approaches to gasification, CO2 capture and oxygen separation; and advanced system concepts, perhaps guided by a new generation of simulation tools."

The use of coal is widely expected to increase in coming years because it is so cheap. But as the world gears up to address the threat of global warming, the researchers say these new technologies are necessary to make the planet cleaner while the developing world's demands for energy increase.

John Deutch, a professor of chemistry at MIT and another member of the panel that created the report, said the United States, as the world's leading energy user and greenhouse gas emitter, should take the lead in pushing these new carbon sequestration technologies forward.

"Demonstration of technical, economic and institutional features of CCS at commercial scale coal combustion and conversion plants will give policymakers and the public confidence that a practical carbon mitigation control option exists," Deutch said. Progress by the United States will reduce cost of sequestration and will keep coal as a low-cost energy option, but one that is increasingly environmentally acceptable.

The report urges the adoption of a global tax on carbon emissions to make these new sequestration technologies more economically practical. Furthermore, the creating new, large-scale sequestration projects, like American Electric Power's two proposed carbon-sequestering plants, are needed to demonstrate the effectiveness of the techniques.

In addition to a $30 per ton tax on carbon emissions, the report's authors urge the U.S. Congress to impose stricter regulations on both new and current coal-fired power plants to start reducing emissions as soon as possible.

The report states, "Congress should remove any expectation that construction of new coal plants without CO2 capture will be 'grandfathered' and granted emission allowances in the event of future regulation. This is a perverse incentive to build coal plants without CO2 capture today."

Deutch told reporters, "We believe it is going to be a very difficult matter to get China, India and other emerging economies to participate in a carbon constrained world," he said. "There is no chance of making progress on this until the United States has a carbon control policy of its own."

The full text of the report is available from MIT's website.