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Graphic Series: Earthly Ideas, CCS
Andy Lubershane, 17 Nov 09

Carbon Capture and Sequestration (CCS) is a proposed (and controversial) solution to powerplant pollution that captures carbon from smokestacks and stores those emissions underground.

Although some believe this idea would help provide the amount of power currently demanded while reducing pollution, it has others scratching their heads. Many feel confused about the science, as there are are still technical challenges to overcome, and others feel outraged as they believe CCS could be used as another industry-created excuse not to move forward on important renewable energy discussions and investments.

What do you think? Is CCS an idea worthy of time and implementation? Whatever your opinion, we think it's worth understanding the concept of CCS and hope this week's cartoon will help.


Click image to enlarge

Editor's note: This post is part of a series featuring Worldchanging ally Andy Lubershane's original graphics. While many of the issues covered in the comics have been discussed on Worldchanging in the past, we hope that you'll be able to use this new medium in a different way … whether it's in your classroom, on your office wall, or to help explain ideas to friends and family.

Andy Lubershane researches writes and cartoons about sustainability from his home in Ann Arbor, MI. He is currently pursuing a master's degree at the University of Michigan School of Natural Resources and Environment. Check out more of his illustrations at

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That was waaaay too verbose. This is a cartoon, not an essay. I appreciate your trying, however.

Posted by: Christopher Mims on 17 Nov 09

It's not really a promising technology. At least not based on anything I've seen (and if anyone else has references to encouraging papers on the subject, I would be very interested to read them). Because of the long residence time that CO2 has in the atmosphere, the maximum leakage rates that underground CCS reservoirs could have and still be effective are very, very small, on the order of 0.1% per year. There are 0 demonstration projects, and nobody wants to take on the liability in case they don't work, or in case of catastrophic leaks, which suffocate some town in a low-lying area, and all indications are that even it it works, it would be approximately as costly as getting oil out of the ground, which would kill coal as an energy source just as well as if it were outlawed altogether.

Posted by: Zane Selvans on 17 Nov 09

Has anyone studied what the pumping of CO2 into the ground will do to the soil ecology and the microorganisms that inhabit the deep underground?

From what I have read, extra CO2 can cause sea water to becomes acidic, so what if that were the case for deep underground sealed storage caverns?

Sorry we just don't know the consequences of this expensive ill-thought-out-band-aid "solution", due diligence would demand at least doing some research here.

Posted by: Tim Taylor on 20 Nov 09

Nobody is suggesting we start pumping carbon into the ground without first doing a lot more research to ensure that it won't leak out, acidify groundwater, etc. There are certainly a lot of technological challenges left to resolve. I wish I could have included a more comprehensive review of these challenges in the cartoon, but there's only so much room on a page!

That said, the technology is still worth exploring despite its challenges. It's overly idealistic to think the world can give up coal within the time period we need to reduce GHG emissions. Relying on the few technologies we have today that are cost-competitive with coal (even during the first stages of a cap-and-trade system) is simply not going to get us the energy we need in the time-frame we need it. Coal inertia is too strong - there are too many generation plants being built TODAY that, as the cartoon says, aren't going to sit idle. It may turn out that CCS isn't the technology to solve this problem, but it's absolutely worth a concerted, well-funded research effort to find out.

Posted by: Andy Lubershane on 20 Nov 09

many of the carbon emissions would be of negligible consequence if we still had healthy, living, covered soils. annual tillage has impaired our earth's ability to cycle gases such as co2. one simple answer that requires very little money or technology, but some cooperation and human sweat, is to perennialize agriculture and restore soil health. grazing and grasslands / rangelands (which span triple the land area that cropping systems do) have the largest potential to sequester carbon naturally, into soil that respirates it. carbon belongs to the earth, and the only pumps we need are the tiny microbes that processes it into a treasure called organic matter. we just need to give them the right environment and adjust our agronomic practices.

Posted by: maerose on 22 Nov 09

This technology is indeed useful. The shift to renewable will not shift over night; thus, we must focus on improving our fossilized (archaic) forms of energy production today.

"I am here to serve."

The Window Man

Posted by: The Window Man on 28 Nov 09

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