It requires no imagination to realize that coal plants will continue to be the power source of convenience for a very long time everywhere. And right now the sum of the technology is to take pure carbon and to convert it into CO2 and power and left over heat. The CO2 and excess heat has been released into the environment.
It is now possible to do much better. The total CO2 and the surplus heat can be fed into a battery of algae production greenhouses that then convert the CO2 into a viable biodiesel and a possibly viable meal for animal consumption. The current indications and optimism suggests that it will really be that easy.
This product stream does not sequester the carbon but it displaces fossil carbon going into the transportation industry. The other huge impact is to force an end to any stack gas releases into the open air. If one is to capture the CO2 and heat, one is left with a soup of every thing else in a form that allows it to be worked with. It starts of been a much smaller problem. Of course none of this is easy, but we have just spent the last thirty years figuring out how to deal with these problems.
Just as the acid rain problem can be converted into an acid in a pipe problem and handled with a small acid plant, the CO2 problem can be neatly turned over to an algae plant.
We can now envisage a global industry in which power production from coal and eventually all smokestacks will become non polluting using these strategies.
It does not end our reliance on fossil fuels but it certainly lessens it and smartly converts solar energy into a useable form of transportation energy. With the solar input, our thermal efficiency will likely exceed 100% of the input coal.
What I find most promising about this strategy is the simple fact that it is all able to operate at the scale of industry. The coal plants already exist. Shoving the CO2 into an algae plant is not a big step for anyone in that position. Selling the byproducts to Exxon and Cargill for further refining and sell through is trivial. It almost needs no political work to bring into effect.
The place this will happen fastest will be China. They are choking on their smoke stacks and the need to create new sources of transportation fuel is immediate.