The smog is currently thick at times around a power plant in southwestern Japan. The plant supplies power to a major Toshiba factory and releases lots of carbon pollution, among other pollutants.  (Source: Keetsa)

Kensuke Suzuki,a Toshiba engineer, shows off his company's new carbon capture and sequestration unit. Toshiba hopes to bury its carbon emissions, despite controversy surrounding the expensive proposed solution to greenhouse gas emissions.  (Source: AFP/File/Kimiko de Freytas-Tamura)
Why solve your problems, when you can bury them

Carbon burial is a controversial technique to cut levels of atmospheric carbon-containing compounds, which are thought to be greenhouse gases.  The approach is controversial as it proposes that instead of solving the underlying problem and reducing CO2 emissions, to instead bury these gases underground.  This process is expensive and can be easily ruined by an earthquake or other seismic event, which could trigger the potentially violent release of the stored carbon gas.  Environmentalists and global warming critics alike are skeptical of the approach.

Still, some members of industry insist that it's the best way to halt global warming.  They argue that they can't make deeper cuts to their carbon footprint, so burying it is the only reasonable solution.

Among those who are looking to shoulder the large costs of carbon burial is Japan's Toshiba Corp.  Toshiba is looking to deploy carbon capture and storage (CCS) at the Mikawa power station, a power plant that provides power for one of its main factories, located in Japan's southern Fukuoka prefecture, approximately 900 kilometres (560 miles) southwest of Tokyo.

The carbon sequestration hardware went online last month, and is trapping approximately 10 tons of carbon dioxide a month.  The waste gas from the plant is sent to a boiler where amines and other liquid solvents are mixed in, allowing the carbon dioxide to be separated.  The carbon dioxide is then compressed and stored as a liquid.

Eventually Toshiba plans on decompressing this liquid and storing it underground, but it's still trying to find a suitable site, and currently is simply stockpiling the stored carbon dioxide.  Currently the system traps 10 percent of the plant's carbon emissions, but Toshiba wants to gradually increase this until the system captures 90 percent of the plant's carbon pollution.  The system, however raises the plant costs by about 60 percent and reduces the power output by about 40 percent.

Still Japanese researchers insist that it's the only good way to solve the emissions dilemma.  States Shigeo Murai, a professor at Japan's Research Institute of Innovative Technology for the Earth, "CCS will be the only technology to reduce emissions on a grand scale.  At the same time it won't be able to reduce overall emissions on its own. It will need help from solar and wind power."

If you think that statement seems a bit contradictory, you're not the only one.  Greenpeace calls CCS a "dangerous gamble" and comments, "[CCS] pose[s] significant risks including negative health effects and damage to ecosystems (and) groundwater contamination."

Currently the method costs about 65 dollars per ton of carbon dioxide.  With world emissions at approximately 30 billion metric tons, this would mean that it would cost more than $1.95 trillion USD to capture all current emissions, and with emissions expected to rise, that figure is likely to rise up as well.

For Toshiba, though, the technology isn't just about cutting its own emissions, its about creating a saleable product.  Toshiba believes the market for CCS will reach $100B USD per year by 2020.  Toshiba plans to release CCS products by 2015, for the use of power plants.  Toshiba is also looking to use the resulting stored gas to try to force hard-to extract methane and oil deposits out of the ground.

"We basically took a look at this situation and said, this is bullshit." -- Newegg Chief Legal Officer Lee Cheng's take on patent troll Soverain

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