“Clean Coal” — Still an Unattainable Goal for Germany (and for the United States)?     Print Email
Wednesday, 01 July 2009

Germany, the EU’s “Mr. Coal,” has stumbled in its first high-tech attempt to make this fossil fuel environment-friendly.

The German utility RWE had plans for a big project of carbon sequestration, but the venture was derailed when the German parliament, the Bundestag, voted down a bill in late June that was supposed to lay a legal framework for the practice. The technology is designed to make coal consumption carbon neutral by capturing the carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants and pumping them into vast underground storage chambers. In gaseous form, the emissions are pressurized to reduce their volume and then can be contained. This way no CO2 is released, and the energy company does not incur any fines to the EU for greenhouse-gas emissions. The bill was killed by objections from Germany’s two center-right ruling parties, Christian Democratic Union and the Social Democratic Party. Some argued that storage of the CO2 in the underground facilities is unsafe, and the gas will leak. Others maintained that it is counterproductive: the money used for the storage should be used to develop other clean energy alternatives. Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) was reportedly furious about the outcome. Without CO2 sequestration, the days of cheap, coal-based power could be numbered for Germany—the European nation with the biggest coal reserve.

Read the full story at Spiegel Online:

A comparable project in the U.S. was started and then canceled by the Bush administration. Called FutureGen, the experimental plant would have used cutting-edge technologies (including coal gasification and CO2 capture and sequestration) to generate electricity with near-zero emissions from a first-of-its-kind, coal-fueled power plant. The Obama administration is expected to revive the venture – cf. European Affairs, Vol. 10, No.1-2.

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    We do not believe that Brexit, Trump, or the alarming success of radical right parties in almost all European countries should be interpreted as mere “electoral accidents.” Instead, we suggest that the current destructuring of political systems is connected to the profound transformation of labor markets in times of automation. Our core argument is that the specific effects of current technological innovations are key to understanding their political implications.

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UMD Jean Monnet Research Project

The University of Maryland has received a Jean Monnet grant from the EU to conduct a series of policy exchanges between Europe and the US on filling infrastructure needs and the utility of public/private partnerships as the financing mechanism. If interested in participating in or receiving more information about these exchanges, please contact Rye McKenzie (rmckenzi@umd.edu).

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