May/June 2010

Experts: U.S. could stamp out CO2 emissions from coal

The U.S. could completely stop emissions of carbon dioxide from coal-fired electric power plants within 20 years by using technology that already exists or could be commercially available within a decade, said a group of scientists, engineers, and architects, according to the American Chemical Society's journal Environmental Science & Technology.

Pushker Kharecha and colleagues-from NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, the Columbia University Earth Institute, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and 2030 Inc./Architecture 2030-said the global climate change problem becomes manageable only if society deals quickly with emissions of carbon dioxide from burning coal in electric power plants.

"The only practical way to preserve a planet resembling that of the Holocene (today's world), with reasonably stable shorelines and preservation of species, is to rapidly phase out coal emissions and prohibit emissions from unconventional fossil fuels such as oil shale and tar sands," they said.

The group outlines strategies to make that phase-out possible. They include elimination of subsidies for fossil fuels; putting rising prices on carbon emissions; major improvements in electricity transmission and the energy efficiency of homes, commercial buildings, and appliances; replacing coal power with biomass, geothermal, wind, solar, and third-generation nuclear power; and after successful demonstration at commercial scales, deployment of advanced (fourth-generation) nuclear power plants; and carbon capture and storage at remaining coal plants.