Is Calera attracting coal industry interest?

Forget Bloom Energy. According to Thomas Friedman’s latest column, the new new thing in clean tech this week will be Calera, a Californian start-up that has developed a way to turn CO2 captured from coal- and gas-fired plants into calcium carbonate, by spraying it with seawater or bubbling it through seawater, according to an 18-month old Scientific American story, which has more on the technology itself.

Both stories make the point that making cement is a very CO2-intensive process, so Calera’s technology could potentially not just capture CO2 in a relatively simple way, but also reduce the CO2 generated in cement production.

Exciting stuff. Calera is one of several clean-tech companies that well-known venture capitalist Vinod Khosla has backed, and, Friedman says, is Khosla’s “favorite baby right now”.

More interestingly, Friedman cites ‘a source’ saying that US coal giant Peabody is about to announce an investment in Calera.

This would be very interesting because much of the coverage so far of Calera, and a Canadian firm called Carbon Sense Solutions that has a similar technology, has focused on their efforts as a way to reduce the carbon emissions from cement manufacturing. However the company is also experimenting with capturing emissions – and heat – from a small-scale coal boiler.

Interest from Peabody would suggest that Calera’s approach is looking like a viable alternative to more cumbersome carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies.

Friedman then goes on to talk of course about Bloom Energy, confessing he doesn’t really understand it, but a bunch of big companies including Google are using it so – well then! But he helpfully adds:

Attention: These technologies still have to prove that they are reliable, durable and scalable — and if you Google both, you will find studies saying they are and studies that are skeptical.

Um, studies saying they are scalable? Surely some mistake.

Anyway, he finishes by saying that carbon should be priced and that American politics has ‘gotten so impossible lately’ that Americans have stopped dreaming. Both of which are hard to argue with.

Update: Thanks to a reader for this link, which asserts that Friedman’s description of the calcium carbonate creation process is rather, well, simplistic.

Related links:

Silicon Valley tech leaders are repositioning themselves for cleantech revolution (Calera profile) (MercuryNews)

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