As a result, the MIT researchers recommend that governments not support the new gasification plants over conventional plants. Instead, they say that governments should focus on large-scale demonstration programs that would, for the first time, capture carbon dioxide from coal plants, transport it, and store it at a large scale. The project would need to handle a million tons of carbon dioxide. Such demonstrations would make it possible to compare different technologies, increase policymaker and public confidence that capture and sequestration technology can work, and pave the way for quick adoption of the best technologies in response to a price on carbon dioxide.
Without such a demonstration, warns the report, a rush to cut carbon emissions would lead to spiking costs and further delays, and that would make it difficult for power producers to meet energy demand.
Although the DOE does spend a significant part of its resources on developing cleaner coal technology, the researchers say the agency’s efforts are underfunded and not focused on the most promising approaches. For example, the DOE strategy promotes advanced coal plants that do not include carbon-dioxide capture technology. And although the DOE’s FutureGen project has the potential to be a large-scale demonstration of power generation and carbon sequestration, its emphasis has been on research, not on the sort of work that will reveal system costs, the MIT authors say.
The demonstration projects the MIT researchers envision will take years. Meanwhile, the researchers suggest that governments take action by establishing a carbon-control policy. That will include, among other things, closing a potential loophole that may encourage utilities to build coal plants now without carbon capture in the hope that they can avoid future regulations.