Given the long developmental timeline of 30-50 years, it’s unlikely that any new and innovative technology to mitigate CO, emission growth will become available to end users prior to 2050. Few of the existing coal plants are likely to be retrofitted with carbon capture. The examples we have to date show both enormous costs, and significant loss of performance. These two hurdles by themselves would, in practical terms, disqualify them immediately based on any competing alternative (e.g., a combined cycle, or even a combined cycle with some measure of carbon capture). During this same period, we can expect very high growth rates of new coal thermal plants to come online, a fact that will likely accelerate the rapid growth in the atmospheric CO, burden.
We also know that some things that can be accomplished in the short term that would at mitigate some of this explosive growth, and potentially offset some of the predicted temperature increases.
Meanwhile, since a gas-fired combined cycle yields about one thud of the carbon emissions of a thermal plant (see Figure 5). one solution to the vast buildup of thermal plants now happening would be the eventual phased conversion of many of the recent coal plants into natural gas combined cycles. Such a conversion process would likely take a decade, as a gas infrastructure would need to be co-developed in tandem.
Longer term, new technologies, or improvements to existing ones, need to be introduced if we are to slow, or at least minimize the accelerating growth of greenhouse gases. These technologies need to address some of these critical issues:
In total, these advances could har e a substantial impact towards the goal of reducing CO, emissions from the power sector; but, as hinted early on, that developmental cycle must be navigated between a working concept and commercial deployment could be fifty years or more. So far, the only periods where CO, concentrations in the atmosphere have either slowed or reversed appear to be associated with economic downturns, not the application of innovative technologies. Whether current fuel and technology applications are sufficient to reverse any impact related to climate change remains unknown.
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