Carbon dioxide is harmful to the atmosphere and the leading cause of pollution. Even countries like China and India recognize that they need to reduce their carbon footprints.
Still, few countries are willing to give up coal as it’s the cheapest and most plentiful source of energy. So the industry is looking to “clean coal” as a solution.
As I told readers last week, though, clean coal isn’t really… well, clean. That’s just spin put on by the coal industry to lessen the negative impact of carbon emissions in the public eye. Carbon dioxide, the by-product of burning coal, doesn’t just disappear.
But there’s another lesser-known use for the gas – one that could end up being the saving grace for the coal and fracking industries in the United States.
Savior Rising From the Mists
Fracking for oil and gas requires the propulsion of water and chemicals at very high rates of pressure into shale rock formations. This high pressure essentially loosens the oil and gas that’s lodged in tight crevices and forces them to the surface.
While the U.S. fracking industry is successful enough to spook the Middle East, the industry is still facing a problem.
You see, the water used has to be relatively clean, and it cannot be re-used without very expensive treatments. On top of that, the chemicals used with the water have environmentalists up in arms. They say there’s a risk of groundwater contamination.
Fortunately, a solution could enter soon from stage left.
Companies like General Electric (GE) are experimenting with using carbon dioxide – the same pollution-exploding by-product of coal gasification and coal burning – in part of the fracking process.
During tests, the gas is highly compressed and shot into the shale formation. This creates pressure that pushes oil and gas out of the tight formations, just like when water is used.
This sounds like the perfect solution for both the coal and fracking industries… and it just might be.
The gas can be highly compressed and applied at a higher pressure, making it more efficient – and the fracking industry can reduce its reliance on water.
In turn, the coal industry can sequester noxious carbon dioxide gas. Theoretically, the carbon dioxide that’s shot into the ground should be captured in the formation and unable to return to the surface or atmosphere in a gaseous form. Plus, any gas that does come up can be reused, unlike with water.
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Unfortunately, there are hurdles that are preventing this method from being a near-term solution.
Forgiving the Sins of CO2
One of the biggest problems is that there are no pipelines for carbon dioxide that can transport the gas to the various shale regions. That means major infrastructure projects would need to be funded. Carbon dioxide can be transported in trucks, but that’s also very expensive.
As a solution, GE is working with Statoil (STO), the giant Norwegian oil and gas company, to formulate a super-critical fluid – a chilled version of carbon dioxide that’s neither a liquid nor a solid. The hope is that this formula will become the standard when it’s correctly formulated.
This method is just the beginning of finding a real solution to the carbon emissions problem.
The United States was already leading the way with carbon sequestration and filtering technology. Now, there’s even more incentive to move forward with a clean coal solution, as repurposing carbon dioxide gas will help in our quest for energy independence.
Bottom line: What’s now considered a pariah could very well become a savior in the not-too-distant future.
And “the chase” continues,
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