Thursday, June 25, 2009

MIT Conference Concludes "No Credible Pathway" Towards Reducing Carbon Emissions Without Retooling Coal-Fired Power Plants

Authors of an MIT Energy Initiative report based on a major symposium have concluded that, "There is today no credible pathway towards stringent greenhouse gas stabilization targets without carbon dioxide emissions reduction from existing coal power plants."

The "Retrofitting of Coal-Fired Power Plants for CO2 Emissions Reductions" symposium included stakeholder representatives from academia, government, industry, public interest groups, and utilities.

The report's summary for federal policy makers says:
"The United States and China account for about 40 percent of global anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions and for over half of global coal use. Both countries have immense reserves of relatively low cost coal. In the United States, almost half of all electricity is supplied by coal power plants that average 35 years of age and produce about a third of U.S. carbon dioxide emissions. China has brought on line in the last five years a coal electricity production capacity equal to the total U.S. installed capacity."
Among the observations of symposium participants related to reducing carbon dioxide emissions included:
  • For existing coal plants, post-combustion capture followed by long-term, large-scale, sequestration is the most direct pathway to avoiding nearly all carbon dioxide emissions.

  • Efficiency retrofits of existing coal plants can result in modest reductions of emissions per unit of electricity produced.

  • Major rebuilds of existing coal plants should be considered.
"Time is of the essence," the report said, adding:
"The retrofit, rebuild, or re-powering of the existing coal fleet, in the U.S. and in China, to reduce carbon dioxide emissions dramatically is a necessary step towards achieving GHG stabilization targets. Practical options that will justify the vast investments needed over the next decades require validation from demonstration, development and research. Failure to do so will both drive up carbon dioxide prices (and the cost of electricity) and leave us with a continuing dearth of appropriate technology options."

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