The shale revolution came about as a result of a marriage of entrepreneurial risk taking and smart government investment in advanced technologies and demonstration projects. George P. Mitchell, an independent Texas oil man who deserves much of the credit for cracking the shale code, couldn't have succeeded in achieving his breakthrough in hydraulic fracturing technology without help from several government-funded energy programs. He tapped into the Eastern Gas Shales project, the Gas Research Institute and several national laboratories for assistance.
U.S. technology for carbon mitigation could make it easier for countries to make better use of the trillions of tons of coal in the world. Capturing a share of the global market for coal technology would be a huge prize. With world coal use growing at a breakneck pace and a race on to raise coal-burning efficiency while reducing its carbon footprint, we need focused government support, particularly to develop and demonstrate technologies for carbon capture and storage (CCS). Although the United States possesses the world's largest coal reserves, with forecasts that global coal consumption will grow, we have yet to build one large-scale CCS demonstration project. That's nonsensical.
Construction on the FutureGen project, a $1.4 billion public and private initiative to retrofit an existing coal plant in Illinois with clean coal and CCS technologies, is slated to begin next year. But one large-scale demonstration project isn't nearly enough. We need a dozen!
Abundant and affordable, coal remains a growing and critical piece of the world's economy. There are those in the U.S. who want this country to turn its back on coal. They believe it's a fuel of the past. But every global trend suggests it's very much the fuel of the future, even without the benefits of CCS technology.
Yet solar and wind power, which account for less than 2 percent of the nation's energy, are getting lavish government support and are heralded as our energy future. Given the huge global market for coal technologies, it should be the other way around. Coal should be at the top of our energy agenda, not at the bottom.
We have become the unquestioned world leader in the development of shale energy. With the right investment, we could do the same with advanced coal technology, helping to raise living standards around the world, while strengthening our own economy and creating jobs.
Peng holds the Charles E. Lawall Chair of Mining Engineering at West Virginia University.