Cleaning up the Carbon Mess - 07.31.2011
[ASSURAS] Carbon dioxide from cars, power plants, even people -- it's all around us and it's heating up the planet. But could the secret to getting rid of that carbon be found in the same stuff we use to wash our hair?
[BOB PERRY] The same types of materials that are used in shampoos and conditioners were materials that we thought we could use in this particular instance to capture carbon.
[ASSURAS] We'll show you what's being done to capture carbon dioxide emissions from one of the biggest sources -- coal-fired power plants.
Maybe the answer to climate change is to mimic Mother Nature -- do what trees are doing already, only a lot faster. The new technology that could help reverse global warming.
And nearly half our electricity comes from coal. Can we clean it up? Or is it time for the country to kick its coal habit? We'll hear from two people with very different answers to that burning question. This is "energyNOW!"
Hello, everyone. I'm Thalia Assuras. Welcome to "energyNOW!", a weekly look at America's energy challenges and what we're doing about them.
Scientists are warning us that as we burn fossil fuels for energy -- coal, oil, and natural gas -- we're overloading the atmosphere with carbon dioxide and changing the Earth's climate, warming it, because CO2 traps heat. Every year, about 30 billion tons of CO2 are released around the globe. Almost half that comes from just one fuel: coal. Here in the United States, coal provides nearly half of our electricity. But China and India rely on coal for up to 80% of their power. Plus, their appetite for energy is growing, so carbon dioxide levels are expected to skyrocket unless nations stop using coal or find ways to eliminate its CO2 emissions.
That's where carbon capture and storage could help. Also known as CCS, it involves trapping carbon dioxide and injecting the gas deep underground. So far, those working on CCS haven't been able to make it profitable. But some researchers think they've found a way to wash the carbon dioxide right out of those coal-fired power plants. Dan Goldstein explains in this "energyNOW!" Spotlight.
[GOLDSTEIN] So, for all the talk about CO2, there just isn't that much to see. So for our purposes here, we'll introduce you to Molly, a molecule of carbon dioxide. Molly looks friendly enough, but she's also a chemical villain, trapping heat and warming the planet. And Molly is pretty pushy. She's wrestling for space in the atmosphere, and there's only so much room. In fact, according to the science journal Nature, we might have already emitted about 1/4 of the total emissions advisable by 2050. And since atmospheric CO2 levels are rising every year, well, it might be helpful if we could capture Molly and her friends before they get there.
And since they are everywhere, we might be able to use just about anything to capture carbon, including things we use pretty much every day -- like shampoo. Maybe a little lather can help clean the air.
[BOB PERRY] This is one of my colleagues, Matt McKenna, who's part of the team.
[GOLDSTEIN] That's what Bob Perry, a chemist at General Electric's Research Center in upstate New York, has been working with. Or at least something close to it. They're called amino silicones.
[PERRY] The same types of materials that are used in shampoo and conditioners were materials that we thought we could use in this particular instance to capture carbon. While not exactly the same molecules, they're in the same family, and so our experience with those materials actually gave us the insight to, hey, why don't we try these materials?
[GOLDSTEIN] So these amino silicones are actually in our shampoo?
[PERRY] Those types of materials are in shampoos. They're the ones that make your hair a little bit softer.
[GOLDSTEIN] And as we saw in Perry's lab, those materials can absorb carbon dioxide and turn it into a powder.
[PERRY] With the CO2 that we've captured, is that we now have that in a confined space and we can then move that toward someplace for storage, for sequestration.
[GOLDSTEIN] Perry's work is pretty cool, but considering all the Mollys out there, this could take a lot of shampoo. Enter Gary Rochelle. He's a chemical engineer at the University of Texas in Austin. And this is his carbon capture test facility.
So, what exactly is this rig testing?
[ROCHELLE] This rig is testing concentrated piperazine as a solvent for CO2 capture.
[GOLDSTEIN] And piperazine is pretty close to the shampoo solution we saw at General Electric. But Rochelle takes it a step further. He's developed an industrial-strength set of nozzles to rinse the carbon dioxide out of the exhaust or flue gas of a coal-fired power plant.
So this is kind of like the showerhead for CO2.
[ROCHELLE] This is the showerhead for CO2.
[GOLDSTEIN] Here's how it works. The giant showerhead sprays solvent on carbon dioxide molecules as they rise up to the top of the smokestack. The solvent then catches or absorbs the CO2 before it escapes.
[ROCHELLE] So the CO2 comes into the bottom of the absorber. The flue gas goes up the absorber. Solution comes in the top of the absorber, comes down, and washes out the CO2.
[GOLDSTEIN] So, we've got our shampoo, we've got our showerhead, but can we really put them together to capture carbon in the real world?
[ROCHELLE] This is a scale-up from what we do on campus, which is bench-scale stuff. You've got little, tiny beakers and things, and so we needed to show that the innovations that we've developed on campus can really work.
[GOLDSTEIN] But to scale it up for existing coal plants -- which can be 20 times as big as this test rig -- carbon capture gets really expensive.
[ROCHELLE] About a billion dollars.
[GOLDSTEIN] Per plant?
[ROCHELLE] Per plant.
[GOLDSTEIN] And considering that there are nearly 600 coal-fired power plants in the U.S., that's a lot of money. How much would you and I pay?
[ROCHELLE] The consumer's going to see an increase in the cost of the electricity of 5 to 10 cents per kilowatt hour. That's a 50% to 100% increase in what they'll be paying for electricity.
[GOLDSTEIN] So double their current prices that they're paying now.
But David Hawkins, the director of the Climate Program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, says it's worth the cost.
[HAWKINS] If we're going to use fossil fuels, carbon capture has got to be in the toolbox. Otherwise, we're not going to be able to protect the climate.
[GOLDSTEIN] To retrofit carbon capture technology onto coal-fired power plants, how much is that going to cost?
[HAWKINS] Well, the power plant industry in the United States is huge. It takes in revenues of about $300 billion a year. So doing anything to our electric generating fleet is going to be a huge cost over time. But that's the point -- it will be over time.
[GOLDSTEIN] And over time, the cost may be spread out enough that you won't even notice. That's according to Pierre Gauthier, whose company designs power plants here in the U.S. He says you're probably paying higher rates already to clean up other environmental problems like acid rain.
[GAUTHIER] And it was an extra cost. Today nobody even thinks about it. It's just worked its way into the rates, as standards and regulations that you have to do to do business and generate power. We believe the same thing will happen to CO2.
[GOLDSTEIN] Back in Texas, Gary Rochelle says his technology could be ready for prime time in five years. But he says there's a catch. Unless Congress passes a cap-and-trade law to limit global warming gases, few if any companies will want to spend money on capturing carbon.
[ROCHELLE] We're still five years away. Five years ago, we were five years away. And until we pass cap-and-trade legislation, we'll always be five years away.
[GOLDSTEIN] Congress and the White House, though, haven't been able to agree on how to address the carbon challenge. And unfortunately, we can't pluck carbon out of the air and put it in our pocket. At least not anytime soon. Dan Goldstein, "energyNOW!"
[ASSURAS] The Department of Energy has been funding some carbon capture research in hopes of making the technology cheaper. And it has another $4 billion to shell out. Seven U.S. power plant projects have been tagged as recipients of some of that money to test different CCS technologies on a bigger scale, but it won't cover all of the companies' costs. One of those companies, American Electric Power, recently backed out of the Carbon Capture Demonstration Program.
AEP was eligible for more than $300 million in federal funds to help build a carbon capture project at its Mountaineer coal-fired power plant in West Virginia. It would have trapped about 1 1/2 million tons of carbon dioxide a year and injected it about 1 1/2 miles underground for permanent storage. The utility blamed the collapse of climate legislation in Congress and the weak economy for its decision.
And late last year, a utility in North Dakota also shelved a carbon capture project for similar reasons. Despite these setbacks, the Department of Energy says it will keep working with the private sector to find innovative and cost-competitive ways to capture carbon.
Now, coal is often portrayed as an environmental villain, but it was once an energy hero, responsible for driving the Industrial Revolution. It also played a huge role in building America. Take a look at this energyTHEN from a 1947 documentary.
[Film projector running]
[MAN] We mine more coal, using more labor-saving devices like this coal cutter, than any other people. This black treasure from the Earth is blasted... crushed, transported, to supply power to transform raw materials into thousands of things of beauty and everyday use. Coal feeds the fires of industry, forging the riches of the nation with an inconceivable volume of searing heat to make steel. Black smoke and fumes rising from stack and chimney. That spells production. Mounting high and higher, raising our standard of living as it mounts. Produce plenty, and we shall have plenty. Never has man had the power to produce for his needs as we have that power today.
[ASSURAS] Coal was abundant back then, and there is plenty of it left in the United States. Enough, says the Energy Information Administration, for at least 200 more years at the rate we use it now.
And still ahead on "energyNOW!", could copying Mother Nature be the answer to global warming? Creating synthetic trees to inhale carbon emissions and breathe new life into the fight against climate change.
[NARRATOR] How can we reduce our dependence on oil?
[ZEPPS] Imagine if we could harness all this kinetic energy.
[NARRATOR] Who is shaping our energy future?
[SUITERS] China will produce more than half the solar panels in the entire world.
[RICHARD BRANSON] If you've got good quality batteries, you could store the wind when there's no wind, store the solar when there's no solar.
[NARRATOR] "energyNOW!" is the only TV news magazine exploring our challenges.
[SULLIVAN] Hybrid technology saved the military $250 million.
[WOMAN] It makes sense to make this shift now.
[NARRATOR] "energyNOW!" on ABC-7.
[ASSURAS] When we think of recycling, we tend to think of recycling things, like plastics and glass. But what if the solution to climate change is found not in capturing carbon but in recycling -- that's recycling exhaust fumes from tailpipes? Well, scientists are doing some extraordinary work to make it possible, as Josh Zepps tell us in this energyNEXT.
[ZEPPS] This story is about a technology that will either end up being the most pointless, useless, dead-end idea ever, or just might literally save the world.
[KEN CALDEIRA] We know that the Earth is getting hotter. The ice caps are starting to melt. The weather patterns are changing.
[ZEPPS] Ken Caldeira is an atmospheric scientist with the Carnegie Institution at Stanford University. He's a really nice guy, but, when it comes to cleaning up our atmosphere, frankly, he's kind of a downer to talk to.
[CALDEIRA] This transition to a renewable or carbon neutral energy system could easily take 50 or 100 years, even if we started working on it hard today, which we're not doing.
[ZEPPS] So, what do we do? Well, as we told you earlier in the show, one idea is to capture all those molecules of carbon from smokestack emissions and try to store them underground. But two scientists in New York are thinking a whole lot bigger than that.
[ALLEN WRIGHT, LENFEST CENTER, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY] So we can swing the CO2 level up and down, inside this box, using this material.
[ZEPPS] And it works?
[WRIGHT] Like a dream.
[ZEPPS] At the Earth Institute's Lenfest Center for Sustainable Energy at Columbia University, Allen Wright has helped create a type of plastic leaf that soaks up carbon dioxide from the air.
[WRIGHT] If you take CO2 out over here and you add CO2 over here, you still have the same amount of CO2 in the atmosphere, so you can remove CO2 anywhere you want, and it can deal with emissions from anywhere else on the planet. It's a very attractive aspect.
[ZEPPS] So you could coat Nevada in this stuff and it could be soaking up the carbon that's being emitted in Shenzhen.
[ZEPPS] Trees are the lungs of the Earth, soaking up CO2 from the air. So the idea here is to mimic Mother Nature by deploying small-scale units of plastic trees that soak up more CO2 than real trees, for longer, wherever you might need them to.
[KLAUS LACKNER, LENFEST CENTER, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY] In the jet engine of an airplane, there's no practical way to capture it, so that CO2 has no value, it's a waste. And in other places, you do need CO2. You make fizzy drinks, you make dry ice. There are lots of industrial purposes for CO2, and that CO2 needs to be purchased.
[ZEPPS] We use CO2 -- in the petroleum industry by injecting it into wells to enhance oil recovery, in the health care industry to improve blood chemistry in patients, in agriculture to grow algae for conversion into biofuels, in plastics to reduce the amount of oil used -- we even use it to decaffeinate coffee. Think about it. The carbon dioxide in the bubbles that fizz up your nose was paid for by a soft drink company and shipped to their plant, even though there's already too much carbon dioxide just hanging around in the air, and it's free. The trick is to capture it.
[WRIGHT] The whole process is two steps, really. You want to put this outside where it's going to capture CO2 from the air, but then, in order to use this again, you have to get the CO2 off of it. And how we do that is by making it wet.
[ZEPPS] The special plastic was originally used for water purification. Lackner's breakthrough was using it to absorb gas from the air. Once the carbon has been soaked up by the plastic leaf, to release it, you just wet the plastic and catch the bubbles. Lackner says a device about the size of a large tree would collect one ton of carbon a day.
[LACKNER]The tree, over its lifetime, collects a few tens of tons. So we're about a thousand times better than a tree.
[ZEPPS] [Chuckles] Well, look at you, Mr. "a thousand times better than a tree."
Mopping up excess carbon has some big advantages over merely scrubbing it out of power plants. But the challenge is figuring out ways to use the tens of billions of tons of CO2 that we've been emitting for years. Well, Lackner and Wright have a surprising idea.
[WRIGHT] You can add hydrogen to those carbon atoms and re-create gasoline.
[Needle scratches record]
[ZEPPS] Wait -- "re-create gasoline"? Isn't the whole point to get us off gasoline? Well, not according to Lackner.
[LACKNER] Sticking with liquid carbon-based fuels is very interesting because they are so powerful.
[ZEPPS] It's what Lackner calls "closing the carbon loop." You'd collect carbon from the air, use it to make gasoline, burn the gasoline as a convenient source of energy, and then collect the carbon again. On an increasingly crowded planet, soaking up carbon may actually be more efficient than reducing emissions alone.
[WRIGHT] Number one, it has a zero net impact on the environment because you're taking the carbon out that the burning of the gasoline will put in. And number two, you're separating the availability of carbon-based fuels from any geopolitical situation that exists in the world today.
[ZEPPS] The Saudis are going to hate that.
[WRIGHT] It's going to be a game changer, if that's possible to do.
[ZEPPS] But surely there must be major technological challenges to overcome before this idea could really work.
[WRIGHT] There's no real major discovery or invention that has to happen that would prevent us from deploying that technology tomorrow. It's pretty much -- it can go.
[ZEPPS] The challenge, of course, is making the technology profitable on a large scale. The researchers expect to be able to sell carbon dioxide to industry for as little as $30 a ton. That's a competitive price. And what would really make the technology take off, they say, is a tax on carbon dioxide emissions. But that kind of tax would push up the price of carbon-based fuels -- in the case of gasoline, by about 25 cents a gallon. Not exactly an idea that's catching fire in Washington right now.
[CALDEIRA] I think if there was a real crisis and people said, "We really need to do something desperately," then people would be willing to put their resources into it. Of course, it would be much cheaper to do the right thing now, but we don't seem to be doing that.
[ZEPPS] Are you confident that we're going to be able to reduce emissions to such an extent that this work will be redundant?
[WRIGHT] I think... no, probably not. I don't think we will.
[ZEPPS] Someday, tweaking the carbon levels in the atmosphere could be as simple as fiddling with a thermostat is today. Yes, it's far-fetched, but every really big idea was far-fetched once. In Stanford, California, Josh Zepps, "energyNOW!"
[ASSURAS] While the idea may be far-fetched, the basis for it was actually quite simple. Working with his daughter for her eighth-grade science fair, Klaus Lackner, the gentleman of the piece, found that a simple device -- a fish pump -- and sodium hydroxide captured carbon in a test tube. Claire won the science fair, and Klaus turned that small project into today's research that could have a huge global impact. Like father, like daughter. Nice.
Coming up, the future of coal. Its supporters say it can be clean.
[TEXT ON SCREEN] CLEAN COAL. AMERICASPOWER.ORG. See Venita's story at americaspower.org.
[ANNOUNCER] Clean coal -- America's power.
[ASSURAS] Opponents say, "No way," and the country should move beyond coal. Up next, our guests mix it up about the energy source that fuels nearly half our electricity.
[JIMMY CARTER, APRIL 18, 1977] Because we are now running out of gas and oil, we must prepare quickly for a third change to strict conservation and to the renewed use of coal and to permanent, renewable energy sources like solar power.
[GENERAL WESLEY CLARK, U.S. ARMY (RET.)] I think, in the United States today, we've got an immediate opportunity because of an immediate problem.
[SYLVIA EARLE, OCEANOGRAPHER] We want a planet that works for us. And we have been doing a terrible job of taking care of it.
[TED TURNER, TURNER ENTERPRISES] It's an experiment that I would rather see us not make.
[TEXT ON SCREEN] Can I recycle a beer bottle with a lime wedge suck inside?
Natch. But limes make good compost. Just sayin'. www.grist.org
Laugh now or the planet gets it.
[BARACK OBAMA, APRIL 6, 2011] If we don't have clean coal technologies to catch the particles that are sent up in the air, it causes serious pollution that increases the rates of asthma and is contributing to weather patterns' changing. So we should work on technologies to make coal cleaner.
[ASSURAS] That was President Obama back in April talking about coal. As we said earlier, the U.S. gets nearly half its electricity from coal, but environmental groups like the Sierra Club are working to get the country off its coal dependency. And that's what's behind the Sierra Club's "Beyond Coal" campaign. The goal is to shut down 1/3 of U.S. coal-fired power plants before the decade is out and cut electricity production from coal by 30%. The campaign recently got a big boost from billionaire New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. His personal charity, Bloomberg Philanthropies, has committed $50 million over four years to support Beyond Coal. Now, with the money, Sierra Club says it will widen its fight against coal plants to nearly all 50 states.
But coal also has its defenders, who say it's a mainstay of the U.S. economy and getting it out of the ground supports more than half a million jobs nationwide. And pro-coal groups, like the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, have a campaign of their own.
[ACCCE AD ANNOUNCER] In America, there's an energy you can feel. Energy created by American workers and American jobs. Jobs powered by affordable energy, generated by our most abundant domestically produced fuel -- coal, the source of nearly half our electricity. It is America's power.
[TEXT ON SCREEN] CLEAN COAL. AMERICASPOWER.ORG.
[ASSURAS] In this week's MIX, we've brought both sides of the coal debate together. Here in the studio, Bruce Nilles is the National Coal Campaign director for the Sierra Club. And Evan Tracey is a senior vice-president at the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity. It's great to have both of you. Thank you for joining us.
Bruce, I'd like to start with you. And the question of half a million jobs, according to industry estimates, being at risk because of your campaign. What are you going to replace those jobs with? What is the energy source that is going to replace those jobs and fill the gap?
[NILLES] What's really exciting is that wind and solar today are already employing more people than work in coal mining and coal-fired power plants. So today, as we're moving away from coal -- and there are plans to retire as much as 10% of the coal fleet already -- we're seeing record job growth in both the wind and solar sectors, so, at the end of the day, we're actually creating more jobs. And the other important piece is, it's healthier.
[ASSURAS] But let me ask you this. The gap is, we're talking about 30%, the reduction that you want. That is a huge gap, and renewables -- solar and wind and geothermal -- only make up 4% of the pie, so how are you going to, really, realistically fill that gap?
[NILLES] If we look across the country, there are states who have been quietly doing this already. The state of Iowa today gets 20% of its power from wind. If we simply did that across the United States and every state got as much power from clean energy, like wind, as does Iowa, we could retire half the coal fleet.
[ASSURAS] It makes sense, right?
[TRACEY] Well, it maybe makes sense to Bruce, but the fact of the matter is that there are half of the power right now that we use in this country is generated by coal. Baseload electricity from coal is essential to our nation's economic security. We are finding that it's harder to open coal-fired power plants but simply because of the legal burdens that groups like the Sierra Club, quite frankly, are putting on. So, in other words, instead of moving forward with things like carbon capture and storage, that you talked about in your earlier pieces, it's harder because these utilities are being forced through this longer process of decisions.
[ASSURAS] I have to interrupt you there because you're saying it's essentially their fault, but when it comes to carbon capture and storage, the Department of Energy has seven projects that it's trying to get off the ground to prove that the technology can work. There are 600 coal plants in this country, so is it realistic that this is going to happen?
[TRACEY] Look, there's carbon capture and storage projects going on. The fact of the matter, though, is that, because there isn't a cap-and-trade bill, for instance, there's no incentive, on the company's standpoint, to just go ahead and do this. Companies that have done it, who've taken the lead on this, are finding that they're very frustrated in Washington, and I think if you look at our current budget debate, you'll get everything going on in Washington. The one thing that our political leaders actually agree on is clean coal technology.
[ASSURAS] I have to back up, because you're essentially calling for climate legislation. American Electric Power, one of the biggest coal power companies in the country, just pulled out of that, saying, "We need climate legislation." Is that what you're suggesting?
[TRACEY] Our organization has never opposed climate organization or reasonable carbon capture and storage standards from the government. I think that's one of the mis--
[ASSURAS] You heard it here.
[TRACEY] -- misconceptions out there in the industry, that we actually support reasonable cap-and-trade. Now, I'm sure Bruce and I would never be able to come to agreement on what that number means or what "reasonable" means to his constituency, what "reasonable" means to my constituency. But the fact of the matter is, we've never fought that.
[ASSURAS] So, Bruce, is there a compromise, and if carbon capture is attached, would you be okay with coal power?
[NILLES] Carbon capture and storage is a pipe dream. As you just said, American Electric Power pulled out, and they pulled out because it was too expensive. We can't afford it. As the previous piece said, it would double electricity prices. So my question for Evan is, is he proposing that we double electricity prices so we can continue our reliance on coal, when, today, there's cheaper alternatives like wind, which are cheaper than new coal plants already? So, if we're going to protect public health and our rate payers, we cannot afford continuing to invest in coal.
[TRACEY] Well, look, you talk about investment -- most of the investment right now is coming from the government in the form of subsidies to wind and solar. They're trying to invent things, okay? The fact of the matter is, clean coal technology exists.
[ASSURAS] Not quite --
[NILLES] There's not a single home in America powered by a coal plant that captures carbon. Tell me that home.
[TRACEY] Nobody is right now requiring that anybody do it, either. So the fact of the matter is, AEP has an example that works. You saw a number of examples in the setup piece that you see that it's possible as opposed to, we don't have to develop it. We have two centuries of coal reserves.
[ASSURAS] What's the time frame? How realistic?
[TRACEY] The clock doesn't start until the government decides to act, okay? Until Congress says, "Here's where the goalposts are going to be," there's no incentive for our industry to go out there and put this in place. Right now what they find is when they negotiate for carbon capture and storage or cap-and-trade legislation, is that the goalposts move. So it's very hard to do long-term planning -- number one, if you're a utility; number two, if you're in the business of coal mining; and number three, if you're trying to run a business. In other words, you need some certainty.
[NILLES] It's why we're moving this debate outside of Washington -- we're getting nothing done here. Community after community -- whether in Colorado or Texas or Washington State -- they're saying, "It's time to move beyond coal. We can't afford it, it's too expensive, and it's hurting our kids."
[TEXT ON SCREEN] Watch our guests square off in the Green Room at energyNOW.com.
[ASSURAS] On that note, I want to thank both of you gentlemen for joining us here today. Several challenges ahead for coal and for the energy picture in this country.
[NILLES] Thank you.
[TRACEY] Thank you.
[ASSURAS] Finally, throughout the broadcast, you've seen plenty of video of coal plant smokestacks spewing pollutants into the air. In addition to the impact on global warming, sometimes there's just so much junk in the atmosphere from industry and vehicles, we get smog. Think Los Angeles. Well, 68 years ago, L.A. suffered its first big smog -- July 26, 1943, to be exact -- and that's this week's "energyNOW!" hotZONE. This, from the L.A. Times newspaper, is the first recorded photo of smog.
[TEXT ON SCREEN] UCLA Special Collections, L.A. Times Archives, July 26, 1943.
[ASSURAS] It was taken on that day when people actually thought this was a gas attack, the Japanese using chemical weapons. Remember, this was during World War II, and residents were reporting stinging eyes and throats and visibility was cut to just three blocks. Angelinos later found out the smog was from the area's factories and more and more cars on the road, a problem that had been building for years and was aggravated by the city's bowl-like geography. The "big smog" was a real wakeup call for L.A., leading to its own all-out war against air pollution, still going on today.
And that's it for this week's "energyNOW!" We want to know what you want to know, so reach out to us on YouTube, Facebook, or Twitter. Search for us at energyNOWnews. Plus, read our blogs and watch extras on our Web site at energyNOW.com. I'm Thalia Assuras. See you next week.
First up this week, is it possible to burn coal without putting carbon dioxide into the atmosphere? Coal accounts for almost half the electricity generated in the U.S. and up to 80 percent in rapidly growing countries such as China and India. Scientists have warned that carbon dioxide from coal, and other fossil fuels, is heating up the planet and changing the Earth's climate. Correspondent Dan Goldstein takes a look at a new technology for washing out the carbon before it can get into the air in .
This week's energyTHEN takes us back to 1947, and a documentary that cast coal as the hero in America's post-war industrial boom. The film refers to coal as a “black treasure from the Earth” and portrays black smoke and fumes as signs of production and prosperity.
Then, Special Correspondent Josh Zepps explores innovations for cleaning up the carbon dioxide that's already in the atmosphere. Scientists at Columbia University have developed a kind of “artificial leaf” that can remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere faster than actual trees. It can be re-purposed, for carbonated drinks, dry ice, even a replacement for gasoline. Can this new technology be deployed on a large enough scale to help the fight against climate change?
Next up in “The Mix,” Bruce Nilles, national coal campaign director for the Sierra Club, and Evan Tracey, a senior vice president at the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, debate the future of coal. Nilles says his organization's "Beyond Coal" campaign is trying to close one-third of U.S. coal-fired power plants by 2020, and replace it with renewable energy such as wind turbines and solar panels. But Tracey says even with government subsides, the cost of renewable power is still too high for U.S. consumers. Nilles and Tracey also debate whether carbon capture and storage technology can cut back on coal's contribution to climate change.
Finally, on the “Hot Zone,” an unhappy anniversary of sorts, as Los Angeles marks the 68th anniversary of its first “big smog.” We look at the first photos taken of the smog-shrouded city on July 26, 1943. It was the middle of World War II and some residents thought the air pollution was a chemical-weapons attack. They later realized the smog came from the smokestacks of industrial plants and tailpipes of cars.
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