Expert Commentary

The realistic costs of carbon capture

2009 study by Harvard's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs on the cost of carbon sequestration and its long-term outlook.

Coal currently provides more than half the United States’ electricity. Because burning a single ton of coal can create more than two tons of CO2, a primary contributor to climate change, a technique known as carbon capture and storage (CCS) is under development.

If CCS makes coal-generated electricity more expensive than that of other technologies, incentive to adopt it would be reduced. A study by the Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, “Realistic Costs of Carbon Capture,” is a good resource for stories on CCS. The study concludes that:

  • For a first-generation facility, the cost of abatement would be $100 to $150 per ton of CO2 avoided, excluding the cost of transportation and storage.
  • Carbon capture and storage would add approximately 8 to 12 cents per kilowatt hour to the cost of coal-generated electricity, effectively doubling its cost.
  • When carbon-capture technology is mature, costs could decline to $30 to $50 per ton of CO2 avoided, adding 2 to 5 cents per kilowatt hour to the cost of coal-generated electricity.

The cost premium for generating low-carbon electricity from coal with CCS would be similar to that for generating low-carbon electricity by other means, and higher than certain renewables such as onshore wind.

Image of proposed Futuregen facility courtesy of the U. S. Department of Energy. Tags: carbon, carbon sequestration, carbon capture, coal, emissions, fossil fuels, global warming, greenhouse gases, mining, pollution.

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