Some carbon capture similes

2008-04-12

in Economics, Politics, Science, The environment

The media is full of talk about carbon capture and storage (CCS). At the same time, there are only four facilities in the world where it is done. None of them resemble a conventional coal-fired power plant.

As a result, our cost projections for the technology are far more speculative than is commonly acknowledged. It is like we are in the era of the Wright Brothers, and we are trying to sort out the economics of running a major airline.

As I have said before, we had better hope that CCS works, if only because so many different climate change mitigation plans depend on it. At the same time, we really need to acknowledge that there is some chance that it simply will not work, and we will need to find those megatonnes of reduction somewhere else.

That uncertainty also pertains to questions about building more coal power plants. Building them today – with the hope that CCS will eventually become available – is highly irresponsible. It might be compared to jumping out of a plane and hoping you can sew yourself a parachute before you hit the ground.

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Sarah April 15, 2008 at 7:11 pm

There is a recent New Scientist article about CCS, which is not at all optimistic about its utility over the next twenty years:

“Unfortunately, few in the energy industry believe these deadlines are remotely achievable. A study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology called The Future of Coal, published last year, suggests that the first commercial CCS plants won’t be on stream until 2030 at the earliest. Thomas Kuhn of the Edison Electric Institute, which represents most US power generators, half of whose fuel is coal, takes a similar line. In September, he told a House Select Committee that commercial deployment of CCS for emissions from large coal-burning power stations will require 25 years of R&D and cost about $20 billion.
The energy company Shell, though enthusiastic about the technology, doesn’t foresee CCS being in widespread use until 2050. Yet some governments appear oblivious to this. When Germany recently approved its new coal power stations, it stipulated that the plants must be compatible with any future carbon capture technology. The UK is likely to take the same approach if ministers, as expected, approve a new coal-fired station at Kingsnorth in Kent. However, these installations are likely to have reached the end of their useful lives before the technology arrives.”

It also says (perhaps even more depressingly):

“Add all this together, and what do we get? The most detailed published assessment, by Peter Viebahn of the German Aerospace Center in Stuttgart, estimates that at best CCS will reduce greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired power stations by little more than two-thirds. That compares with life-cycle emissions for most renewable energy technologies that are 1 to 4 per cent of those from burning coal.”

Subscribers can see the full article at http://environment.newscientist.com/channel/earth/mg19726491.500-can-coal-live-up-to-its-clean-promise.html

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