Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Decarbonization Model
Despite President Bush's statements about the lack of quid pro quos on climate change vs. Iraq, global warming will be an important topic at the G8 summit getting underway at Gleneagles, Scotland. Two related stories out of the UK caught my eye this weekend. The first item described the UK's provisions for importing LNG, as it becomes a net gas importer for the first time in more than a decade. The second announced the construction of a new kind of power plant in Scotland, in which natural gas will be converted to hydrogen and fed into a gas turbine, with the resulting carbon dioxide piped into an underground reservoir. Building this kind of power plant in the knowledge that Britain will have to import a growing share of its gas needs says a great deal about the country's commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Natural gas is already one of the cleanest fuels for power generation, in terms of both traditional pollutants such as oxides of sulfur and nitrogen, as well as carbon dioxide emissions. Converting gas to hydrogen consumes about a third of its energy content, turning it into heat that will be difficult to recover and use. As a result, while the hydrogen-fired gas turbine will produce emissions-free electricity, it won't win any prizes for efficiency. That means that it will consume more natural gas to produce the same amount of electricity as a conventional gas-turbine plant. There's nothing inherently wrong with that, but it's a remarkable choice in a country that is at the end of its long run of energy self-sufficiency, as production from the North Sea oil and gas fields declines. (Norway built a similar plant a few years ago, but it remains a large gas exporter.)

The energy situations of the UK and US are clearly different on a number of fronts besides just scale. But as the leaders of the industrial West discuss these issues this week, President Bush should be aware of the degree to which Prime Minister Blair is "putting his money where his mouth is" on climate change.

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