“$1 billion hydrogen power plant in works” reads the headline on MSNBC this morning. My headline, though more accurate, is somehow less exciting. Let me summarize the article for you. It is essentially your run-of-the-mill zero-carbon coal plant experiment, where you burn gases released from pressurized coal, except they are substituting petroleum coke for coal, like a lot of power plants already do. They are counting on government assistance, are planning on using this pressurized CO2 to force more oil out of nearby wells, won’t know if they can do it until 2008, and should be making electricity by 2011 if they decide to go through with it.
I think these carbon-free power plant experiments are important. There are two big questions everyone wants answered. Will the carbon stay underground? How expensive is power generated in this manner? Finding ways to use coal without adding to global warming might be a good thing. Peak oil does not mark the peak of fuel supplies. It marks the beginning of higher fuel costs. We have enough fossil fuels to last for hundreds of years. The problem is that we are running out of the lowest cost versions — light crude oil and natural gas. Refining the dirtier oils and sequestering carbon from coal will be expensive.