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MIT Blueprint for Coal Identifies Carbon Capture and Sequestration as Essential

Process flow diagram for coal-to-liquids production with associated carbon dioxide emissions. Click to enlarge.

Leading academics from an interdisciplinary MIT panel issued a report last week that examines how the world can continue to use coal in a way that mitigates, instead of worsens, the global warming crisis.

Led by co-chairs John Deutch, Institute Professor, Department of Chemistry, and Ernest J. Moniz, Cecil and Ida Green Professor of Physics and Engineering Systems, the report—The Future of Coal—Options for a Carbon Constrained World—states that carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) is the critical enabling technology to help reduce carbon dioxide emissions significantly while also allowing coal to meet the world’s energy needs.

Coal is a low-cost (per BTU) mainstay of both the developed and developing world, and its use is projected to increase. Because of coal’s high carbon content, increasing use will exacerbate the problem of climate change unless coal plants are deployed with very high efficiency and large-scale CCS is implemented.

As the world’s leading energy user and greenhouse gas emitter, the US must take the lead in showing the world CCS can work. 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, will reduce cost of CCS should carbon emission controls be adopted and will maintain the low-cost coal option in an environmentally acceptable manner.

—John Deutch

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. An aggressive R&D effort in the near term will yield significant dividends down the road and should be undertaken immediately to help meet this urgent scientific challenge.

—Ernest Moniz

The study emphasizes the need for a significant charge on carbon emissions is needed in the relatively near term to increase the economic attractiveness of new technologies that avoid carbon emissions and specifically lead to large-scale CCS in the coming decades.

Although the primary focus of the report is on power generation, it also address the use of coal in a Fischer-Tropsch process to produce synthetic fuels and chemicals.

Without carbon capture and sequestration (CCS), we estimate that the Fischer-Tropsch fuels route produces about 150% more CO2 as compared with the use of the petroleum-derived fuel products. For SNG [synthetic natural gas], up to 175% more CO2 is emitted than if regular natural gas is burned. With CCS, the full fuel-cycle CO2 emissions for both liquid fuel and SNG are comparable with traditional production and utilization methods.

Fortunately, CCS does not require major changes to the process, large amounts of additional capital, or significant energy penalties because the CO2 is a relatively pure byproduct of the process at intermediate pressure. CCS requires drying and compressing to supercritical pressure. As a result of this the CO2 avoided cost for CCS in conjunction with fuels and chemicals manufacture from coal is about one third of the CO2 avoided cost for IGCC.

The report did not consider direct liquefaction (Bergius process) due to the cost and the resulting “low-quality liquid products that are expensive to upgrade and do not easily fit current product quality constraints.”

According to the report, the critical technology options for meeting the challenge of CO2 emission reduction are:

  • Ultra-high efficiency coal combustion plants;

  • Gasification technologies, including gas treatment

  • Long-term carbon dioxide sequestration;

  • Improved methods for CO2 capture and for oxygen production;

  • Syngas technologies, such as improved hydrogen-rich turbine generators and technologies to convert syngas to chemicals and fuels

  • Technologies that tolerate variable coal qualities;

  • Integrated systems with CO2 capture and storage (CCS);

  • Novel concepts, such as chemical looping, the transport gasifier, the plug flow gasifier, membrane separation of CO2, and others;

  • Large-scale transport of CO2, captured and pressurized at coal combustion and conversion plants, to injection at storage sites.

According to the authors although the DOE coal RD&D program has had some important successes over the last thirty years, it has also had some significant gaps and needs considerable strengthening and restructuring to meet the current challenges facing coal use. Four primary gaps that need to be addressed are:

  • T ere has been too little emphasis on improvements in pulverized coal (PC) generating efficiency, such as support for ultra-supercritical boiler and steam cycle technology.

  • There is a significant lack of modern analytical and simulation tools for understanding the dynamics of complex integrated coal systems, particularly with CCS.

  • The applied research and technology program has not been robust enough to support the demonstration projects or to explore potential for future innovations.

  • The DOE has been slow to support advanced technology at process development unit (PDU) scale that explores new options for coal conversion, oxygen separation, and for CO2 capture.

The authors call for large-scale demonstration projects of the technical, economic and environmental performance of an integrated CCS system as soon as possible. They argue that a regulatory regime for large-scale commercial sequestration should be developed with a greater sense of urgency, with the Executive Office of the President leading an interagency process.

Other recommendations in the report include:

  • The US government should provide assistance only to coal projects with carbon dioxide capture in order to demonstrate technical, economic and environmental performance.

  • Although today Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle appears to be the economic choice for new coal plants with CCS, this could change with further research development and demonstration. It is not appropriate to pick a single technology winner at this time, especially in light of the variability in coal type, access to sequestration sites and other factors. The government should provide assistance to several first of their kind coal utilization demonstration plants, but only with carbon capture.

  • Congress should remove any expectation that construction of new coal plants without carbon dioxide capture will be grandfathered and granted emission allowances in the event of future regulation. This is a perverse incentive to build coal plants without carbon dioxide capture today.

  • Emissions will be stabilized only through global adherence to carbon dioxide emission constraints. China and India are unlikely to adopt carbon constraints unless the United States does so and leads the way in the development of CCS technology.

  • Key changes must be made to the current Department of Energy research development and demonstration program to successfully promote CCS technologies. The program must provide for demonstration of CCS at scale; a wider range of technologies should be explored; and modeling and simulation of the comparative performance of integrated technology systems should be greatly enhanced.

(A hat-tip to Juniper!)





Link to larger diagram is broken/fyi.

Stan Peterson

The CGCC systems are more efficient than other coal cycles. That alone should be the reason to install these kind of coal plants. The thermal efficiency is just so substantially higher. In a business like a Utility the Plant life is constantly being revised ever upward. The efficiency pays for itself in operational fuel costs.

Sequestration does have its uses is certain cases as in Texas, where it is useful and needful to find CO2 to inject in older oilfields to continue getting the oil out.

But as a general case the Science is becoming ever more clear that CO2 is a trailing effect of a warmer climate not its cause. Sequestering harmfully gases like NOx and SOx is of course must be done. CO2 is not a harmful emission and really a beneficial plant fertilizer.

Mankind's atmospheric flux of CO2 is well under 5% of the total annual flux from all sources; so our impact is a lot less than plant decay, volcanoes or ocean atmospheric evaporation/absorption. Once past the mad power grab by the Socialists sporting their 2000 version of "Science with a capital S" like their earlier brethren quoted Eugenic and Racial genetics "Science with a capital S" in the 1930's to justify their seizing power.

The details change but the same programs remain. Scare'em and let us govern.


Stan - Where did you get all that bushit?

Paul Dietz

But as a general case the Science is becoming ever more clear that CO2 is a trailing effect of a warmer climate not its cause.

Perhaps it's become clear in the crank pseudoscience community.

No one has been able to come up with a global climate model that both fits the known data and predicts a warming from increased CO2 that varies from the consensus by more than a factor of about 2. So your claim appears to be completely at odds with the real scienfitic community's position.

Mankind's atmospheric flux of CO2 is well under 5% of the total annual flux from all sources; so our impact is a lot less than plant decay, volcanoes or ocean atmospheric evaporation/absorption

You're parroting denialist talking points without stopping to think critically about them.

Yes, the total CO2 fluxes in the environment are larger than the human emissions. But those natural fluxes largely cancel out! CO2 is absorbed by plants, then released by respiration and decay. CO2 gets absorbed in the oceans in some places and released elsewhere (not as much of a cancellation there; without this the human effect would be even worse, since there's net flow of CO2 into ocean surface waters). The net increase of CO2 in the atmosphere from year to year is overwhelmingly anthropogenic (volcanic CO2 emissions, for example, are just 1% of fossil fuel-related CO2 emissions).

Your socialist/eugenic/etc. comments come across as paranoid schizophrenic ravings.


MIT gets kudos for recognizing that coal will be a critical energy source for the foreseeable future. But I strongly doubt that China and India would adopt sequestration technologies even if we do.


Its pretty clear that the most cost effective method of carbon sequestration is banning future coal plants. Nuclear can compete well.


This report just reinforces the idea that no new coal plants should be permitted unless they sequester co2 or otherwise prohibit from entering the atmosphere. There is no guarantee, of course, that China and India would follow suit. However, it is virtually certain that if the U.S. does nothing, China and India will do virtually nothing.

We cannot afford to wait until everyone is onboard with the idea that carbon capture is both technically and financially viable. By the time, that occurs,we will have already reached tipping point.


This is saying after some tinkering clean coal has to work or we're in serious trouble. But so far none of the world's demonstration plants (some 29 I believe) is commercially viable even with moderate carbon caps. As the years go by waiting for clean coal to deliver, easily recovered coal may peak by mid century and the 450 ppm red line for atmospheric CO2 draws nearer. Additionally many see CTL as an oil replacement.

I think the coal problem will be 'solved' by economic upheaval, not technology.

Bill Young

I particularly appreciate MIT's comment that grandfathering potential must be avoided. This is the major problem with cap and trade. There is no way politics and loopholes can be avoided.

A carbon tax on all fossil fuels is the way to go. I would suggest a tax rising over a couple of decades to about $50/ton of contained carbon. That would effectively double the cost of coal. Payments equal to the carbon tax for sequestered CO2 should be part of the package. Nothing drives innovation better than a profit motive.


Coal mining claimed 6027 deaths in China in 2004, and 28 in US. Two days ago explosion in Russian coal mine claimed more than 100 lives, and body count is climbing. I do not think carbon sequestration will fix this problem. May be nuclear is the right thing to do.


The fact that CO2 concentrations rise 500-1000 years after temperature rise in interglacial cycle is well accepted by top AGW proponents, for example by James Hansen, and by scientists contributing to :

Their explanation is as follows:
“Some (currently unknown) process causes Antarctica and the surrounding ocean to warm. This process also causes CO2 to start rising, about 800 years later. Then CO2 further warms the whole planet, because of its heat-trapping properties. “

At the end of interglacial “some process” overpowers warming effect of high concentration of CO2 in atmosphere and forces climate back to ice age.

Thought, rank-and-file AGW believers still continue to fight task-and-claw that CO2 is “the first and the only”.

Harvey D.


Is it possible (acceptable) that mankind will affect the next natural cycle and make it less and probably more pronounced?

If not, we may as well build 10 000 more coal fired power plants, drive inefficient ICE V-12, 4-Ton gas guzzlers, transform all remaining coal into liquid fuel, extract oil from tar sands + shales and flush all residues into our rivers and lakes and let the natural cycle take care of earth destiny.

Paul Dietz

The fact that CO2 concentrations rise 500-1000 years after temperature rise in interglacial cycle is well accepted by top AGW proponents, for example by James Hansen,

Yes. This does not mean that an increase in CO2 will not cause warming, it only means that part of the warming at the end of the last ice age was not caused by CO2 (and we can only say part of it was not caused by increased CO2, since the time over which warming occured was much longer than this initial period in which CO2 was not increasing).

Thought, rank-and-file AGW believers still continue to fight task-and-claw that CO2 is “the first and the only”.

CO2 increases are almost certainly the primary cause of the current warming, and nothing you have written contradicts this. I know of no AGW proponents who say that no warming episode in the Earth's history could have been caused by anything other than changes in CO2. This is a strawman of your own invention.



No. With all due respect to humankind we are not able to affect enormous powers defying glacial cycles. As for CO2, its IR adsorbtion bands almost identical to much more abundant in atmosphere water vapor, that’s why CO2 is minor player in GHG balance. Moreover, GH effect from both water vapor and CO2 is logarithmic and subject to saturation, that’s means that for any DOUBLING of CO2 Earth temperature increases by constant amount, IPCC putting it around 3 C, some other sources to 1 C. So, according to theoretical calculations we will get 1 C for 560 ppm CO2, then 1 C for 1120 ppm, than 1 C for 2240 ppm (or 3+3+3 according to IPCC; but their number of 3 C requires tripling of CO2 effect by water vapors). All it without negative feed-back effects, which are definitely present. In long Earth history concentrations of CO2 were much higher, and still Earth did not cooked and still got ice ages.

Energy efficiency, fuel efficiency, and problems of “the dirtiest fuel” – coal, call for all possible measures to conserve and use energy efficiently no matter GW or not.


Take a look in Wiki at Milankovitch cycles. This theory is universally accepted. For smaller climate driving factors there are theories of solar magnetic and ocean currents cycling.

Bill Young


You don't speak to the positive feedbacks such as the albedo effect of the loss of arctic ice or the loss of permafrost and the possible massive release of methane.

These are real.

Many of the positive feedbacks are not included in the models because they cannot as yet be quantified. The sloughing off of Greenland and Antarctic ice has not been included in the climate models.

Stan Peterson

The developing science is becoming quite clear.

For a long time all paleoclimactic studies of Temperature and Atmospheric CO2 shows that there is about a 800 year lag. The temperature goes up or down (for some reason, only now becoming understood) and 800 years later the atmospheric CO2 levels rise or fall in correspondence.

If you watch Mr. Gore's Inconvenient Truth, and hardly a "denialist" he displays this paleoclimactic graph and correspondence but never points out that CO2 lags Temperature change by several hundred (about 800) years, on the graph that stands behind him with a scale of thousands of years per increment. He does admit that there are "certain problems" with his exposition, and statement that "...when its warmer there is more CO2..." Fundamental things like cause and effect. What comes first the chicken or the egg? CO2 change comes after temperature change, not before with a lag of 800 years.

Until recently there was no scientific theory that produced the cause of the temperature change.

The theory of that has now just been published. By scientists including those on the IPCC committees.

The Solar Constant ...isn't. The Sun is variable in the amount of heat it produces, not by a lot but by a little. Astronomers have been recording sunspot activity for hundreds of years and low activity correlates very well with lower temperatures and high activity with higher temperatures going back for a 1000 years of historical data or more. The so called medieval Little Ice Age occurred during the Astronomer's' Maunder records of very low sunspot activity, This period of several hundred years in which the Vikings had to abandon the colonization of Greenland because of the cold. The so called Maunder Minimum.

So now we have the correct cause and effect. Global temperature follows solar change. The correlation is correct and tracks decade by decade for several hundred years and even on the yearly cycle, as the latest refined data tracks reveal. It even explains why most of the 20th century warming took place in the period from 1900 to 1940 before CO2, rose substantially, and got colder until 1975,when CO2 was rising rapidly; before turning upward again until 1999.

The problem was there was no scientific methodology or theory to tie that to the Earth. Now there is, finally.

It has been a well known phenomenon that charged particles traveling through humid air create cloud tracks of their passage. Scientists have used this analysis for their experiments of atomic phenomenon for a hundred years. In "cloud chambers" where cloud tracks are created that duplicate the path of particles, as they serve as nucleation sites for water cloud droplets to form. Cosmic ray flux acts to formate clouds in the troposphere; but sun spots boost both the Suns magnetic field and the solar wind diverting some portion of Cosmic ray particles from entering the Earth's atmosphere and precipitating Cloud formation. The tops of cloud formations are highly reflective and increase th Albedo or percentage of radiation that is reflected back into space. Increased Albedo has a cooling effect, obviously. The less heat in the less the temperature rise.

Finally science now has the heretofore missing cause and the effect of "global warming". It tracks thoroughly with historical record. The inverse measurements of cosmic ray records showing higher cosmic ray data reaching earth correspond inversely with not global warming, but rather global cooling. Just as you would expect.

Water vapor, the ultimate GHG gas, and Cloud formation turns out to control "global warming" and "global cooling". Greater proportions of cloud cover cools the planet. Lesser amounts of cloud cover heats the planet.

Is that so surprising? On a sunny day, You can feel on your skin the cooler it feels when the Sun is obscured by a passing cloud. And all the computer models of the Earth's climate are too crude to include something as fundamental as Clouds. Not a one does it other, than fudging the answer by putting in an "estimate of average cloud cover", as the "fudge" factor. Garbage In, Garbage Out.

Incidentally this works as well on Mars, where ewe have some records of temperature history. Mars inexplicably is under going a "global warming episode" and it can't be correlated with Mankind's increasing the martian CO2. GM isn't selling SUVs there yet.

Other planetary data seems to show warming on other bodies as well.

What do they all have in common. That enormous thermonuclear fusion power plant in the sky, that glowing ball of hot gas the SUN.

So much of the information that Science provided to us has to be unlearned when found out to be flat wrong.

Is this so surprising? No. It has only been in the past few years that we discovered Dark Matter and even more recently Dark Energy. Now we don't even know what makes up the majority of the Universe.

We still need to electrify the auto fleets because there are side effects of using fossil fuels in pollution and expense. It is STUPID to take good polymer and medicinal feedstock and just BURN it.

CO2 turns out to be essentially irrelevant. CO2 is not a cause but a rather mildly beneficial side effect of Solar Energy not under control. How long will it be before some dolt of a politician tries to pass laws to regulate the sun.



Apparently there are dozens of positive and negative feedbacks for temperature forcing. As any complex system, Earth climate in any moment is oscillating around some equilibrium point. What are the limits of such equilibrium? Very wide: during Earth history both temperature and CO2 have changed dramatically, and (luckily) no runaway effect occurred. What intensive scientific researches point out, that CO2 is minor player, and antropogenic part of it is even lesser. Moreover, all changes are very slow compared to human life scale. Ergo, no reason to panic, no reason to drastic measures. At worst we have a flu (and there is no medicine against flu); no need for chemotherapy.


Stan & Andrey,

You guys make a lot of sense IMO. No need to panic, or destroy the national or global economies. But, yes, reduce the use of fossil fuels and consequently our dependence on imported petroleum.

I know it's not popular, but I'd like to see a higher gasoline tax. That would change buying patterns and automakers' product plans without major market distortions (such as those caused by ethanol subsidies).


I agree that Stan and Andrey make a lot of sense. They are also very civilized. I admire their restraint.
Now. There are some big problems with taxing energy consumers. Useing force against peaceful people is wrong. Forceing your will upon others is wrong. It is like raape. It is like imposeing democracy by force. There is too much it already, forceing people to submit.
The biggest problem on this planet is injustice. Human beings being pushed around and worse in the name of the law. Government agents, "clad in iron and armed with death"
Fortunately, there is an alternative to all this government viloence and theft. Peaceful persuasion.

Paul Dietz

Stan: the warming we are observing is not consistent with solar forcing from a change in the solar constant. This would cause warming in the stratosphere and not cause the observed stronger warming at higher latitudes.

In any case, the argument that the beginning of the warming at the end of the last ice age was not caused by a rise in CO2, therefore the current CO2 rise cannot cause warming, is akin to arguing that because your grandmother died of cancer, then decapitation isn't fatal (after all, grandma's death wasn't caused by decapitation!) The non sequitur should have been as obvious in the first case as it is in the second.

Andrey wrote:

Take a look in Wiki at Milankovitch cycles. This theory is universally accepted.

It's also widely agreed that the forcing from these cycles is insufficient to explain ice ages. Feedback, for example from CO2, is also needed, although the details of that aren't well understood.

In any case, so what? It's not the case that having something other than CO2 affect global climate in the past means CO2 doesn't affect climate, or that the consensus predictions of warming in IPCC are wrong.


There is a thoughtful response by Václav Klaus to Al Gore and everyone else who wants to use government power in order to address potential problems of climate change.

Jeff R


In An Inconvenient Truth, Al Gore had me convinced on the 600,000 year ice core data slide. He noted that in all that time, 600,000 years of ice ages and warm periods come and gone, CO2 levels had never risen past a certain point. It was very clear on the graph. And now, suddenly, in our lifetimes, we're way way up over that line. Well that scared the bejesus out of me. Because all cause and effect aside, if we're putting something, anything, into the atmosphere up to levels never before seen, at least since humans were still swinging from trees, I don't care if we know it to be harmful or not, we just shouldn't mess with the planet that way. I don't want to be running such a grand experiment, not just on ourselves but on all life on earth, with something as fundamental as CO2, no matter whether it turns out to be a factor or not. This is not a lab class, where if something goes wrong you can still go home to dinner. Seems kinda reckless, as well as unecessary.

Anyway, I'm at least curious what your take was on that particular slide. If CO2 is an effect, not a cause, how do you explain such unprecedented CO2 levels as we have now? That the sun is hotter than any time in the last 600,000 years?


It seems like it will always cost more to do this than not do this, as long as the externalities are not accounted for. As soon as we account for the total costs, then we can start making the right decisions based on economic principles.

Paul Dietz

If CO2 is an effect, not a cause, how do you explain such unprecedented CO2 levels as we have now?

And where is all the CO2 from fossil fuel combustion going? He seems to be claiming that whether we emitted it or not, atmospheric CO2 levels would be no different. Amazingly magical carbon atoms those fuels must have.

Cheryl Ho

There are DME developments in China:

Currently, the market trend today is such that many Chinese coal chemical companies are moving towards optimising low cost and abundant coal feedstock for expansion into DME production.

If you would like to know more on COAL to Syngas to DME developments, join us at upcoming North Asia DME / Methanol conference in Beijing, 27-28 June 2007, St Regis Hotel. The conference covers key areas which include:

DME productivity can be much higher especially if
country energy policies makes an effort comparable to
that invested in increasing supply.
National Development Reform Commission NDRC
Ministry of Energy for Mongolia

Production of DME/ Methanol through biomass
gasification could potentially be commercialized
Shandong University completed Pilot plant in Jinan and
will be sharing their experience.

Advances in conversion technologies are readily
available and offer exciting potential of DME as a
chemical feedstock
By: Kogas, Lurgi and Haldor Topsoe

Available project finance supports the investments
that DME/ Methanol can play a large energy supply role
By: International Finance Corporation

For more information:,

Arnold Martin

Coal converted to a useable liquid fuel for automobiles is possilbe. When will automobile engines be modified to efficiently burn liquid coal with low CO2 emissions? 150 Years of useable Coal reserves in the USA exist and the technology to provide automobile engines that can burn coal products with low CO2 emissions would remove the need for the United States to be dependent upon Central Asia's natural resources.

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