From: Joseph, Clean Techies, More from this Affiliate
Published June 8, 2009 11:01 AM

he Clean Coal Conundrum

The internecine battles in the green community are growing in number: there’s pro-renewable versus open space; the anti-hydro crowd; and the nukes or no nukes debate. Add the fight over clean coal, which the Boston Globe editorial staff weighed in on yesterday.

We know from his comments earlier this year that Al Gore essentially sees clean coal as a shell game, and he is being borne out at least in part by the larding of Waxman-Markey with billions to placate coal state legislators.

But, the Globe editorial touches on an interesting geopolitical/economics quandary. The US and Europe may be pushing toward carbon reduction reforms; but, it is the largest and fastest growing emitters in Asia that pose the greatest threat to the planet and are projected to negate even the most ambitious Western reduction estimates.

So, clean carbon technology might be the liar’s lie that Gore claims it is for US energy production, but what about the possibility of developing technology to export? Do we have an obligation to invest in clean coal research for the greater good even if its not in our future?

And, if we do, who should make the investment? The technology that emerges is likely to be immensely valuable, but it also promises to be the kind of technology over which any attempt at proprietary control would be difficult to assert on all fronts: technological, moral, and legal. All of that makes it unlikely that American companies will invest much in the effort.

Which would seem to leave any effort to our newest class of venture investor — the American taxpayer. Joe Six Pack is already going to be heavily invested in emerging renewable technologies, so the extension is not much of a reach.

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But, with the banks, the auto companies, and all the other cash that Uncle Sam has already committed, is clean coal investment to give away to developing countries really a good allocation of tax resources?

There is a lot of debate in the climate change movement about the obligations that the Western world now has to emerging economies (the "you had your turn, and now its our time to pollute, so don’t lecture us" line of reasoning). Maybe clean coal is the time to turn this on its head? Let’s tell the Chinese and Indians to take all of their emerging technological might, their strong engineering technocracy, and their CO2-laced revenues and apply it all to find a marketable gasification technology and send it along when you’ve got the killer app.

For the first time in this new global economy, we’ll see what its like when the innovation product life cycle door swings the other way, with the capital investment and technological innovation happening there and the benefits accruing here.

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