Clean Coal is a Fantasy

Kumar Thangudu

August 07, 2017

tldr: Clean coal isn’t necessarily something we can do at scale that will solve problems on any reasonable time-scale.



Humanity can’t grow a several trillion dollar carbon sequestration industry over night, a few years, or even a single decade.

Clean coal is unreasonable on any relevant time scale with current technologies.

I did some back of the napkin calculations based on my memory of geological engineering and chemical processing a few weeks ago, but I was hunting for something more substantive and I found it!

My calculations were far off by an order of 2x.

I’ve put some of them here from an expert — Vaclav Smil. You can see him in this video describing this exact calculation —

  • 5 Billion Cubic Meters of Oil are produced Annually by humanity.
  • 30Bn Tons of CO2 generated.
  • 60% is un-sequesterable because it is small and/or mobile.
  • 40% is sequestrable and large scale/stationary.
  • 12 Billion Cubic Meters of CO2 are thus sequestrable.

You must liquefy CO2 before putting it into the ground.

  • 50% -70% efficiency in converting it to a liquid that we can shove into the ground.
  • 6 to 8.4 Billion Cubic Meters of Liquefied CO2 are thus Sequestrable.

Shoving 6 to 8.4 billion cubic meters of liquefied CO2 into ground is no small matter.

Think about it this way, humanity built an entire industry focused on an annual extraction of 5Bn Cubic Meters of Oil over a time span of 100+ years with refineries and complex processes spanning multiple countries, geographies, regulations, wars, and land rights.

Also, who’s going to buy sequestered carbon?
The reality is that something like this will require spinning up an entire Trillion dollar market.

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