Geological sequestration

Thinking aloud…

Centrica announced today that they were planning a new build coal-fired power station in the north east of England. If it goes ahead it will be the first coal fired power station built in the UK for thirty years. Addressing fears that it will only add more ‘fuel’ to the pace of greenhouse gas induced climate change, Centrica have stated their aim of geological sequestration – that is, extracting the carbon dioxide released by the burning coal and piping it into under-sea storage caverns which themselves once contained oil and gas.

It sounds a simple solution to the problem of carbon dioxide emissions. But I was thinking… if the CO2 were to be released, it would dramatically affect the global climate. Imagine if the caverns were to suffer catastrophic failure (ie collapse) which vented the gas to atmosphere in one massive eruption. Given the time-scale of global warming, we are talking about the storage of these gases for hundreds, even thousands of years. In fact, we’re talking about the same time-scales for this waste as for nuclear waste.

Going further, in a thousand years the nuclear waste, although still active, would be less harmful than when it was first stored. The CO2 would still have the same destructive effects (or at least, greenhouse potential) as when it was locked away. Hmm.

There are other problems inherent in geological sequestration; a science yet to be fully validated. The reservoirs which once contained oil and gas will have to be very well sealed (despite their being multiply punctured over the decades by drilling rigs) otherwise the – highly pressurised – gas will escape. CO2 Gas release will acidify the local ocean, possibly making it uninhabitable, and will physically weaken the geology around the leak by local acidic reaction.

I’m no chemist, and I’m only thinking aloud in a rambling stream of consciousness, feel free to correct me (please)… but everyone ‘knows’ about nuclear storage issues, while carbon sequestration seems to be a palliative used by the media as a solution to all our ills. I fear the only solution is to use less power (says he typing away at his ‘pooter.)

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One response to “Geological sequestration”

  1. The problem as I see it is that energy companies and generators somehow thing that by storing the CO2, they believe they’ll somehwo get approval from environmentalists who will support the fact that rthere are no carbon emissions… I’d go as far as to say that storing gas which might well all escape at some point in the future is worse than releasing it into the atmosphere… I mean if the gas is having a slowly changing effect on the earth, that’s surely better than releasing a lot of gas at once which would make for a profound change… go figure.

    CO2 doesnt degrade into another (and potentially less damaging) product like nuclear fuels go, so I’d say it’s worse… nuclear fuels might be around for many thousands of years, but this carbon will be around indefinitely…

    I think it’s akin to bribing the environmentalists into approving on energy and emissions policy while not tackling the fields that need to be tackled… changing consumption habbits, making cleaner generators and domestic and industrial appliances.

    I’d rather go nuclear… imagine, you could have terrorists and rogue states threatening to disrupt the carbon storage with explosives or drilling – and holding everyone else to environmental ranson!


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