Even as the US Department of Energy announced the awarding of a fourth grant for assessing the commercial-scale underground sequestration of carbon dioxide, President Bush’s science adviser was expressing doubts that efforts to bottle up the greenhouse gas will mitigate global warming.

“We do not currently have a scalable technology for carbon sequestration, and I do not see one coming soon,” John Marburger told a meeting of the American Geophysical Union in December 2007. The world’s “stunningly large fossil-fuel consumption numbers” and the roughly 27 billion tons of CO2 released annually “create barriers for any carbon extraction and sequestration scheme,” he said. “Any industrial-scale process has environmental impacts, and there are few greater industrial scales than that of power generation. The sequestration industry would have to be of comparable scale.”

But despite his misgivings, Marburger admitted that over the long run, carbon capture and storage from coal-fired plants ranks...

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