Kiss of Death for Carbon Capture?

04/15/2009 10:17 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Carbon capture. The Norwegians love it, and so does every utility bent on building coal-fired generation. It's like a free "Get out of Jail" card, and probably the biggest bunch of hot air, since, well, hot air.

As a technology, carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) in not inherently evil, of course. It may even have some type of long-term potential, or may spawn important technologies in efforts to cost-effectively control carbon emissions.

But coal enthusiasts have used CCS right from the start as a way to convince governments and populations that continuing to accept new coal-fired plants is a good idea. In a curiously under-reported story this week, the delegates at the climate talks in Poznan, Poland were unable to get behind CCS for use in power plants in developing countries.

The UN's scientific team of negotiators rejected adding "clean coal" technology (alias CCS) to a list of UN-approved methods for limiting CO2 emissions. They also crossed nuclear technology off the list.

What makes this keenly interesting is the fact that during 2008 CCS has been steadily losing its shine on the firmament of possible carbon emissions reduction techniques. A presentation at Poznan on biochar - wood and farm waste converted to a charcoal-like soil amendment - was more interesting simply because it offered a possibly more cost-effective way to deal with CO2.

Though Vattenfall succeeded in getting its CCS demonstration project in Germany underway, other projects, especially FutureGen's much lauded Illinois CCS installation have fallen by the wayside.

CCS is not dead. Norway, for one, is not giving up on the technology it has spent so much money researching and deploying. And this tiny oil-producing nation currently captures 1 million tons of CO2 annually that would otherwise be emitted from its sea-based oil fields.

But what may be dying is the idea that "clean coal" is a currently a real economically feasible alternative to the other clean energy technologies - wave, wind, and solar installations.

Lester Brown predicted earlier this year that coal-fired plans would soon be banned in the U.S. because of their inability to effectively cut CO2 emissions. Recently, Houston-based Dynegy decided to "rethink" its investments in new coal-fired generation, citing tightening credit markets for its coal projects.

So, while neither King Coal nor CCS are going away tomorrow, their place in the clean energy pecking order definitely looks less secure.