NEW YORK, Nov 17 (Reuters) - Coal-fired power plants might adopt technology with potential to help fight climate change faster if they used it to capture about half of their greenhouse gas pollution instead of almost all of it, experts at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology said on Monday.
U.S. power utilities have balked at calls for them to add carbon dioxide capturing equipment to their coal-fired power plants for storage underground because it is costly, unproven, and makes the plants less efficient.
So far most of the effort in convincing power plants to invest in the technology has concentrated on “full” carbon capture from power plants, or levels of about 90 percent, according to an MIT report to be released on Tuesday.
But it would be cheaper for utilities to add equipment that captures about 45 percent to 65 percent of their carbon dioxide emissions, and that could speed adoption along.
“By reducing disincentives for first movers, partial capture can serve as an important near-term strategy that can achieve greater overall emissions reductions sooner,” a draft of the report said.
The call for full carbon capture is a “policy of inaction, a policy that won’t move forward either new coal plants or the carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology,” Howard Herzog, a principal research engineer at the MIT Energy Initiative and co-author of the report, said in a release.
As an example of the difficulties in getting a CCS plant up, early this year the U.S. Department of Energy pulled its funding from the nearly $2 billion FutureGen Alliance that sought to build a near-zero emission coal plant due to rising costs and other reasons.
The MIT report found that pulverized coal-fired power plants would need less water for partially capturing carbon dioxide than capturing all of their carbon, which could ease the permitting process for new plants.
Plans for about 70 new U.S. coal-fired power plants have been scrapped since early last year on worries about rising costs, especially from potential regulations to limit emissions of gases blamed for warming the planet.
But some new coal-fired generation may be needed as power demand rises, the report said. And it would be risky to depend on natural gas, which emits about half of the carbon dioxide as coal does, for all of the new generation, as climate regulation could spike prices for that fuel.
Embracing a policy for partial carbon capture, “would ease some of the difficulties that are creating coal paralysis and allow growing electrical demand to be met,” said the draft of the report, also written by lead author Ashleigh Hildebrand, a chemical engineering graduate student at MIT.
Some environmental groups such as the Environmental Defense Fund, have said they support carbon capture and storage because it might be a way to use coal until alternative sources like wind and solar power develop fully. (Reporting by Timothy Gardner, editing by Marguerita Choy)