Scott Klara of the Department of Energy's National Energy Technology Laboratory in Pittsburgh agrees that gasification makes CCS easier. Klara manages the DOE's carbon sequestration program, which funded $56 million of research this fiscal year, much of it in collaboration with industrial partners. The program aims to reduce the cost of CCS to $10 per ton of avoided CO2 by 2012, corresponding to a roughly 10 percent increase in the cost of electricity. He is confident, however, that even for traditional coal plants the cost of CCS can be reduced to $20 per ton.
These prices might be sufficiently low to encourage large-scale adoption of CCS. But Peter Frumhof of the Union of Concerned Scientists cautions that government investment in CCS without supporting economic incentives to reduce carbon dioxide emissions is "disingenuous at best, and dangerous at worst." Without a regulatory framework, he says, "we're not going to get there."
Even widespread adoption of CCS will not stop the accumulation of CO2 in the atmosphere. Only about a third of worldwide CO2 emissions arise from electricity generation, with much of the remainder coming from heating, industrial processes and transportation. Still, if we begin to apply a variety of CO2 reduction technologies in tandem, emissions can be held close to their current level, instead of doubling over the next 50 years, argues Stephen Pacala of Princeton University. These techniques include CCS as well as energy conservation, improved efficiency, and renewable or even nuclear energy sources. "As a species we are technologically ready to tackle the carbon and climate problems," he remarks.
Others predict that the planet's enormous geologic reserves will eventually be inadequate to hold all of the CO2 the world is likely to produce in the next hundred years. Klaus Lackner of Columbia University, for one, advocates sequestering the carbon in minerals like magnesium silicates, although currently the associated cost is much too high. Whatever the approach, "we need to do it now," he insists. "We cannot afford to sit back and say some great invention will come along sometime in the middle of the century."