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The Australian’s clean coal magic trick

A day after my post pointing out the failure of CCS, the Oz has a piece by Nathan Vass of the Australian Power Project (which appears to be a solo effort), claiming that it’s finally on the way. My response is in Crikey, with the title above.

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  1. David Allen
    January 10th, 2017 at 12:37 | #1

    I will give Nathan Vass up to $1 million dollars to wear his underpants on his head.

  2. Smith
    January 10th, 2017 at 14:22 | #2

    There was a story on the BBC today about a carbon capture and usage project in India, apparently successful, where the usage is to turn the carbon dioxide into chemicals.

  3. hc
    January 10th, 2017 at 19:21 | #3

    Publication in the Oz of an immediate opposing view almost seems a tick. Not unjustified in this case.

  4. Ian Roberts
    January 10th, 2017 at 19:39 | #4


    The BBC article was about carbon capture and utilization (i.e. not storage or sequestration). See http://cassandralegacy.blogspot.co.uk/2017/01/has-carbon-capture-really-been-cracked.html for more realistic take on this technology breakthrough,

  5. rog
    January 11th, 2017 at 08:29 | #5

    According to reports China has a big problem with pollution and heating seems to be a significant contributing factor. Would replacing all these coal fired home heaters with mains powered heating (electric, gas or other) be a nett gain or saving?

  6. rog
    January 11th, 2017 at 08:30 | #6

    In keeping with CCS thread as the Saskatchewan venture appears to be costing more than renewables.

  7. Ronald Brakels
    January 11th, 2017 at 09:04 | #7

    Rog, burning coal to generate electricity in a standard coal power plant and then using electrical resistance (eg. bar heaters and space heaters) for heating buildings produces about 3 times as much emissions as using coal to directly heat the building. But using electricity to power a heat pump (air conditioner) to warm the building produces about the same emissions or a little less. Using electricity from a grid that is a little over 60% coal powered, as in China, to power heat pumps releases much less CO2.

    Directly burning coal in buildings produces toxic pollution exactly in the area people are. As a result, home coal burning has mostly been banned in Chinese cities. (Not sure of exact details.)

  8. rog
    January 11th, 2017 at 09:53 | #8

    Reading further it appears that China is using a mix of renewable energy sources to totally replace coal for winter heating. It’s a win win as they will reduce pollution and don’t have to bother with expensive CCS process.

  9. Smith
    January 11th, 2017 at 18:04 | #9

    @Ian Roberts

    The blog you link to says that turning carbon dioxide into soda ash is pointless because it all ends up in the atmosphere anyway, but is that true? While industrial processes do release greenhouse gases, what counts is the net effect.

  10. Kfix
    January 11th, 2017 at 18:50 | #10

    JQ please delete if this isn’t welcome, but Crikey’s subscriber email today contained the following response to your article:

    Global Lead Advocacy and Communications at Global CCS Institute Antonios Papaspiropoulos writes: Re. “The Australian’s clean coal magic trick” (yesterday). Claims made by John Quiggin which attempt to disregard carbon capture and storage (CCS) as a global warming mitigation technology contain a number of egregious errors. For the record, the facts are these:

    Mr Quiggin claims that the only version of CCS that is remotely commercial arises when CO₂ is pumped into exhausted oil wells.
    Wrong: CO₂ is not pumped into oil wells. In the process known as Enhanced Oil Recovery (EOR), CO₂ is pumped into dedicated injection wells. This is not the only commercial CCS application. CCS can also be applied to a raft of other CO₂ emission sources, including natural gas processing, gas-fired power generation, iron and steel production, ammonia/ fertiliser production, cement, paper, bio-ethanol, and hydrogen.
    Mr Quiggin claims that CCS works best with a pure source of CO₂, for example, from natural gas processing rather than a “messy mix of gases” from coal-fired power stations.
    Wrong: There are a broad range of industries in which CCS is commercially viable at large scale, all of which require separation and purification of waste CO₂, including natural gas processing.
    Mr Quiggin claims that CCS activity in Australia is now limited to research projects with a trickle of funding.
    Wrong: Australia will shortly boast its own large-scale CCS Project when Gorgon CCS begins operations in Western Australia. This will capture 3 million tonnes of CO₂ per year. Two other Australian projects are in development, one in the State of Victoria (the CarbonNet Project) and another in Western Australia (South West Hub). CarbonNet will provide a large scale transport and storage hub for prospective emission sources in Victoria’s La Trobe Valley, and South-West hub in Western Australia is a similar shared infrastructure project expected to capture around 2.5 million tonnes of CO₂ per year.
    Mr Quiggin claims that our website shows that CCS is not a viable option.
    Wrong: It certainly does not. There are now 15 large-scale CCS facilities operating globally with a further six being deployed this year. This clearly proves the economic viability of CCS
    Mr Quiggin claims that after decades of work, there is only one operational plant using CCS (Boundary Dam, in Canada).
    Wrong: The inference that the low number of coal-fired CCS projects in planning is a sign of CCS failure (or a reason to abandon it), ignores the many other CCS applications that are available. An alternative conclusion, and one aligned with public interest, is that Australia (and indeed the world) faces a substantial challenge in reducing emissions, and that all technologies (including CCS) should be given much more support by governments, industry and consumers. Without the full arsenal of mitigation technologies (the so-called “all of the above” strategy advocated by outgoing US President Obama) climate change targets will simply not be met. For the record, two new coal fired, CCS-retrofitted power plants in the United States are coming on-stream in the next few weeks – (Kemper in Mississippi, and Petra Nova in Texas).
    We thank Mr Quiggin for the opportunity to rectify these inconsistencies. Climate change is a reality and the debate is important.

    CCS technology has been around since the 1970s and is renowned as a proven, safe, and cost-effective technology.

    Best available modelling by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the International Energy Agency (IEA) and a veritable army of global climate change experts, agree that it will be impossible to deliver Paris climate change targets, and at least cost, if CCS is not adopted as a key mitigation option.

  11. Ikonoclast
    January 11th, 2017 at 20:16 | #11


    The subscriber who wrote that is WRONG. Here’s the first point rebutted. How about we do one point each? Nobody should waste too much time on rebutting such nonsense.

    “Mr Quiggin claims that the only version of CCS that is remotely commercial arises when CO₂ is pumped into exhausted oil wells.
    Wrong: CO₂ is not pumped into oil wells. In the process known as Enhanced Oil Recovery (EOR), CO₂ is pumped into dedicated injection wells.”

    This is pure pedantry and technically wrong. The CO2 is indeed pumped into “dedicated injection wells”. These “dedicated injection wells” go into the oil reservoir and the injection of CO2 maintains well pressure and helps push oil up the production well pipe. The entire working concern is called an “oil well” in standard parlance, which definition encompasses all working aspects of the well. Thus CO2 is injected into the well just not into the production well pipe which flows the other way… and by jingo that would just be dang stupid wouldn’t it?

  12. Ikonoclast
    January 11th, 2017 at 20:19 | #12

    Time for a slogan and a joke.

    “Clean coal is a dirty lie.”

    Q. “How do you get clean coal?”
    A. “You whitewash it.”

  13. Collin Street
    January 12th, 2017 at 06:26 | #13

    Wrong: CO₂ is not pumped into oil wells. In the process known as Enhanced Oil Recovery (EOR), CO₂ is pumped into dedicated injection wells.

    If someone makes a distinction-without-a-difference like this then further discussion is pretty much pointless: you know that you’re talking to a person who reaches for reasons to reject messages, and that means you can’t expect that your “you made a mistake here” message will get through.

    Pragmatic language impairment. Like I keep on saying, this is symptomatic of actual clinical cognitive problems.

    [or it could be offered in deliberate bad faith, but that’s even less likely to lead to productive engagement.]

    [I think it’s fairly straightforward to argue that “oil well” in normal language can be used to mean the entire well-and-rock-stratum system, not just the physical hole; if you take that reading, then “CO₂ is injected in oil wells” remains true. But running this argument is actually less likely to work than “your quibbling distinction is pointless; look to the substance”.]

  14. rog
    January 12th, 2017 at 06:52 | #14

    12. How much does CCS cost?

    In the carbon capture and storage (CCS) chain, it is the building of the capture and compression facilities that costs the most money. SaskPower’s Integrated Carbon Capture and Storage facility in southeastern Saskatchewan was constructed between 2011 and 2014 for a reported total cost of 1.35 billion Canadian dollars (as of April, 2014). A final breakdown of these costs between the capture and compression facility and the replacement of the turbine in the power plant is not currently available, but most coal-fired plants thinking of fitting existing turbines with carbon capture technology would also need to include changes to infrastructure as part of the overall costs. The high costs of capture are associated with the fact that, so far, there have been so few capture facilities built globally. The capture technologies have not been employed on a broad level across many projects; as more get built, savings are likely to be identified. The engineering and deployment of the technologies will become more efficient and, as a result, prices will come down.

    Transportation and storage of the CO2 cost considerably less than capture, since most of the technologies are well known and have been deployed in other industries such as oil and gas production. For injection of CO2 into the Weyburn and Midale fields, there were two significant capital costs – the 320 km pipeline that runs from North Dakota up to the oilfields, and the infrastructure required in the oilfields themselves to inject the CO2 at different locations.

    These were significant capital costs – in the hundreds of millions of dollars for the pipeline and similar for the infrastructure at the oilfields – and do not include ongoing operating costs. But the costs and benefits of CCS need to be weighed on a project-by-project basis. In the case of Weyburn and Midale, costs have been weighed against the higher income to the oil companies from the increased oil production. These total costs and benefits associated with the Weyburn and Midale CO2-EOR operations are confidential to the oil companies involved, but if costs were exceeding profits then it is unlikely CO2 would be injected.


  15. rog
    January 12th, 2017 at 06:53 | #15

    According to the experts CCS costs are a piece of string.

  16. rog
    January 12th, 2017 at 07:18 | #16

    For CCS to make coal viable they need to be able to also capture other greenhouse gases eg methane, which is released during the mining process. Miners claim that amount of methane, relative to CO2, is small (~5%) however IPCC find that, using carbon as a baseline of 1, methane has a global warming potential of 86 over 20 years and 34 over 100 years.

    And there is the problem that CCS has to guarantee that the stored material will not leak, ever.

  17. Ben
    January 12th, 2017 at 11:47 | #17

    There are two components of CCS costs: the plant equipment and the pipeline and sequestration costs (which you can express in $/tonne CO2 based on the expected CO2 flows over a long period). The latter costs are non-trivial and are usually overlooked.

    I just can’t see anyone retrofitting our sub-critical clunkers with post-combustion CCS.

  18. Ben
    January 12th, 2017 at 11:55 | #18

    Apologies, I see you already mentioned much of this yourself and in far more detail!

  19. John Quiggin
    January 12th, 2017 at 13:26 | #19


    Thanks for the alert on this

    As Ikonoklast says, this is a mixture of pedantic quibbles and outright evasions. He starts with the silly point that the CO2 isn’t injected into the same well that brings the oil out.

    Then, even though my entire article is about CCS for coal-fired power, he goes on about a bunch of other applications, none of them likely to happen on a large scale, but not as totally hopeless as clean coal. There’s more but, as rog says, why bother with someone who obviously doesn’t care.

  20. GrueBleen
    January 12th, 2017 at 15:38 | #20

    @John Quiggin

    Hmm, I think maybe you too need to remind yourself about the ‘Gish Gallop’

    Try this:http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Gish_Gallop

    There is just no rational, effective counter to a Trump Tirade/Gish Gallop – as they have both demonstrated countless times (well, until Gish ‘shuffled’ in 2013 anyway).

  21. jrkrideau
    January 12th, 2017 at 21:38 | #21

    That was my first thought when I saw the title.

  22. GrueBleen
    January 15th, 2017 at 09:12 | #22
  23. John Quiggin
    January 15th, 2017 at 12:03 | #23


    Thanks, very interesting

  24. Ronald Brakels
  25. Ian Roberts
    January 16th, 2017 at 20:40 | #25

    As an example, take glass manufacturing which is the major (>50%) use of soda ash (sodium carbonate). Soda ash is used as a flux to reduce the melting point of silica and reduce energy needs. The actual flux component is sodium oxide (Na2O) which is produced in situ by adding soda ash which breaks down at high temperatures to form sodium oxide and carbon dioxide. Hence the CO2 captured from coal-burning is just released at a later date during glass manufacture. End result no reduction in CO2 emissions. It is not unlike capturing CO2 for enhanced oil recovery by re-injecting into oil wells; most of the injected CO2 is emitted back into the atmosphere when the oil is produced.

  26. wilful
    January 17th, 2017 at 16:45 | #26

    You got flogged by a wet lettuce with that reply, prof.He would have been better off not saying anything.