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Clean Coal
February 1, 2006
RFF First Wednesday Seminar

As Congress takes up the debate on how to ensure mine safety in the future, Resources for the Future steps back to examine coal's impact on the domestic and international energy situation. Five panelists address the future of coal, including implications of forecasted higher oil and gas prices, carbon capture and its effects on electricity generation costs, consideration of additional nuclear power as a possible option, the role of government in research and development, and China's coal industry, including environmental issues and worker safety.

Video and commentary on this First Wednesday Seminar follows below.


Phil Sharp
President, Resources for the Future






Joel Darmstadter​
Senior Fellow,
Resources for the Future

Since joining RFF in 1966, Joel Darmstadter has studied energy resources and policy. He has also focused on issues related to climate change, natural resource sustainability, and productivity in natural resource industries.





John M. Deutch
Institute Professor,
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

John Deutch has been a member of the MIT faculty since 1970 and has served as Chairman of the Department of Chemistry, Dean of Science, and Provost. He has published more than 160 technical publications in physical chemistry, as well as numerous publications on technology, energy, international security, and public policy issues.




David Hawkins
(Download Presentation)
Climate Center Director,
National Resource Defense Council

David Hawkins joined NRDC in 1971 and worked on air pollution issues until 1977, when he was appointed assistant administrator for Air, Noise, and Radiation at the Environmental Protection Agency in the Carter administration. He then returned to NRDC and has worked primarily on reauthorizing the Clean Air Act, including developing a national program to combat acid rain.



Mike Mosser
(Download Presentation)
Project and Portfolio Manager,
Mining Industries of the Future Program,
National Energy Technology Laboratory,
Department of Energy

The mining program, which Mike Mosser currently oversees, administers and manages a portfolio of 48 research and development projects focusing on energy efficiency and energy savings. Previously, during his 28 years experience in the coal industry, he developed, operated, and managed 12 surface/underground coal mines.




Edward S. Rubin
(Download Presentation)
Alumni Professor of Environmental Engineering and Science,
Carnegie Mellon University

Ed Rubin's teaching and research are in the areas of environmental
control, energy utilization, and technology-policy interactions, with a
particular focus on issues related to coal utilization. Also holding joint
appointments in the Department of Engineering and Public Policy and the
Department of Mechanical Engineering at CMU, he is the author of over
200 technical papers and reports.


Panel Question & Answer Session




Event Summary

Technology Alone Won't Cut CO2 Emissions, Panelists Warn

Technological innovation alone is unlikely to stop the rise in greenhouse gas emissions, several speakers warned at a Resources for the Future panel on February 1, 2006.

New technologies, they said, will not be developed and put into practice fast enough unless the process is forced forward by government rules that make these emissions expensive to the industries that cause them.

Worldwide coal consumption is rising steadily, and is a major source of carbon dioxide. The rising concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is apparently the principal cause of global warming. In all three of the world's leading consumers of coal -- in order, China, the United States and India -- there are no limits on emitting carbon dioxide into the sky. In economic terms, emissions are free.

John M. Deutch, institute professor at MIT, said that work under way at MIT indicates that the breakpoint at which industrial emitters like electric utilities would find it advantageous to capture and sequester carbon dioxide is around $27 dollars a ton. At that cost, he said, it would be possible to stabilize the carbon dioxide concentration in the world's atmosphere at 550 parts per million (ppm). It is now about 378 ppm.

The MIT researchers believe that there is every scientific reason to say that carbon capture and sequestration is possible but, Deutch added, the world is far from the technological and political conditions necessary to carry it out.

Last year's tremendous increase in the price of oil has increased reliance on coal, Joel Darmstadter, senior fellow at RFF, pointed out. Carbon dioxide emissions worldwide are now rising about 1.5 per cent a year. One consequence, he observed, is to make carbon capture and sequestration increasingly important.

The U.S. government's most prominent project in this field, the Energy Department's FutureGen, was announced by President Bush in early 2003. It is conceived as a coal-fired electric generating plant operating with almost no emissions to the atmosphere and is scheduled to be running by 2013. One plant will not suffice, Deutch suggested, to explore the needed range of technical solutions. There should be perhaps 50 experimental plants around the world, he said, operating under varying conditions and using different types of coal.

Another panelist, David Hawkins of the Natural Resources Defense Council, urged a more conservative goal of 450 ppm of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, to lower the risk of dangerous change in the climate. If governments wait until experimental pilot plants are up and running successfully, he argued, the new technologies will not influence general industrial practice until the late 2020's --- and by then, he emphasized, it will be too late to hold the concentration of carbon dioxide at 450 ppm.

Coal production in China is now twice as high as in the United States, reported Mike Mosser of the U.S. Department of Energy. As recently as 2001, China produced less coal than the United States.

Some carbon sequestration and storage is being done currently, Edward S. Rubin of Carnegie Mellon University observed. But he cited a recent study by the International Panel on Climate Change concluding that, among the barriers to wider use, there were no demonstrations yet of this technique at large coal-fired plants and there was inadequate understanding of underground geological structures.

Actually building and using large systems to sequester and store carbon will be an important source of the innovation necessary to make the technology work successfully, he pointed out. The stringency of the required emissions reduction, he said, will be critical to the speed of innovation.

To achieve reductions in carbon emissions, Rubin recommended a combination of the traditional supports for innovation plus regulation. By penalizing emissions over the limits that they set, regulations in effect put a price on emissions.

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