A responsible position on carbon capture

Stairs and shadows

People reading this blog might get the mistaken impression that I am fiercely opposed to carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology. That is definitely untrue. There are few things that would be more helpful than safe, cheap, and effective CCS. It would ease the transition to a zero-carbon global economy, and it would allow for the actual removal of CO2 from the atmosphere, through the growing and burning of biomass.

All that said, it is deeply inappropriate for planners to count emissions reductions from anticipated future CCS in their plans, as the government of Alberta has done to an extreme extent. The technology is in its infancy. Indications to date suggest that it will not be as cheap as its biggest boosters hope. It may not be able to store carbon permanently or safely. Carbon capture certainly cannot do anything to mitigate emissions from mobile sources, making fossil fuel operations that generate fuels for them problematic.

On the basis of these concerns, I suggest that the following elements are important in any responsible consideration of CCS, from a public policy standpoint:

  1. Emissions reductions from CCS should not be estimated until information on the costs and effectiveness of commercial operations are known.
  2. It should not be assumed that CCS will allow high carbon activities such as burning coal or harvesting the oil sands to continue.
  3. While some public funding for CCS may be justifiable (especially investigations into using it with biomass fuels), industry groups that are predicting heavy usage of the technology should bear most of the development and implementation costs.
  4. CCS doesn’t make coal ‘clean.’ Even if it reduces CO2 emissions by 80-90%, coal will still be a climatically unsustainable technology. There are also a large number of environmental hazards associated with coal mining, coal ash, and so forth. Coal will probably never be clean, and will certainly never be clean just because it has CCS bolted on.
  5. Likewise, CCS cannot redeem the oil sands.
  6. We must develop alternative plans, in case CCS proves to be ineffective, unsafe, or unacceptably expensive.

As I have said before, we are in the Wright Brothers era of CCS technology, and it is far too soon to project whether it will be an important stabilization wedge or an expensive flop. It is definitely too early to be estimating the specific quantities of emissions that will be averted by as-yet-nonexistent technologies at unknown future dates.

If emissions are going to peak and descend to safe levels, we are going to need a lot of stabilization wedges: efficiency, protected and enhanced forests, zero-carbon electricity and fuels, and more. If we want to have a strategy that can survive the failure of a few major initiatives, that means we need extra wedges for contingency. As such, we probably can’t reject technologies like CCS and the increased use of nuclear fission out of hand.

Author: Milan

In the spring of 2005, I graduated from the University of British Columbia with a degree in International Relations and a general focus in the area of environmental politics. In the fall of 2005, I began reading for an M.Phil in IR at Wadham College, Oxford. Outside school, I am very interested in photography, writing, and the outdoors. I am writing this blog to keep in touch with friends and family around the world, provide a more personal view of graduate student life in Oxford, and pass on some lessons I've learned here.

54 thoughts on “A responsible position on carbon capture”

  1. CARBON CAPTURE: Major storage demonstration projects breaks ground in Ill. (02/17/2009)

    A landmark Energy Department carbon sequestration effort broke ground this week as workers began drilling in Illinois for a project that could store 1 million metric tons of carbon dioxide in the ground by 2012.

    The storage capacity is small compared with the several billion tons of the greenhouse gas that humans emit each year, but the geology of the site makes the development exciting.

    The storage capacity is small compared with the several billion tons of the greenhouse gas that humans emit each year, but the geology of the site makes the development exciting.

    The Mount Simon formation beneath Illinois, Indiana and Kentucky could eventually hold more than 100 billion tons of carbon dioxide. The demonstration in Illinois will test whether the 6,500-feet-deep formation can contain large amounts of the gas. Geologists are optimistic about Mount Simon because three layers of impermeable rock overlie the Mount Simon sandstone, where carbon dioxide will be stored, and the surface, leading scientists to believe it has great potential to contain the gas.

  2. Are you going to say anything about the potentially horrific acid-contamination of groundwater?

  3. That is one of many safety concerns.

    Personally, I am more worried about massive CO2 burps that suffocate everything nearby.

  4. It’s not like one isn’t related to the other – acid eats away at metal seals.

  5. CCS worth pursuing, but not to the exclusion of surer bets

    My Clean Break column today takes a shot at the Canadian government for repeatedly touting carbon capture and sequestration as a panacea for the oil sands, while at the same time refusing to recognize — and support — the role that renewable energy can play. It comes on the heels of an appropriately critical National Geographic feature on the oil sands called “Scrapping Bottom,” and the recently yet repeatedly expressed belief of Environment Minister Jim Prentice that technology will save the day.

    Perhaps technology will helps prolong our days on this planet, but it won’t be carbon capture and sequestration, which is too expensive, unproven, inefficient and, in some applications, ineffective to tackle the ghost in Canada’s climate-change closet. By refusing to acknowledge the major role that other renewables can play to avoid these carbon emissions in the first place, and to do it more quickly and economically, Stephen Harper is sending Canada’s economy down a path that’s unsustainable.

  6. No one will deny that researching and investing in Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) technology entails a risk. There is great uncertainty in the science, technology, and economics of CCS. The question that needs addressing is if CCS holds reasonable prospects for the future or whether it is a desperate measure to forestall change in the oil sands industry (since oil sands plants are the largest producers of carbon dioxide in Canada).

    The challenge of CCS is to capture gaseous CO2, apply the pressure necessary to liquify it (~50-80 bars or 5000-8000 KPal), inject the liquid in a deep, underground, stable hollow formation with sufficient capacity and seal this formation so the liquid remains trapped in perpetuity. This is neither easy nor cheap.

    Assuming an underground temperature of 40 degrees Celsius, the liquid CO2 will have a density of 500 kg/m3. This means that two million cubic meters would be required to store the amount of CO2 produced by Syncrude and Suncor in 2003. With increased production, more and more storage is needed, year in, year out.

    The same scenario must be assumed for coal-fired power plants and other large CO2 emitters. Can anyone guarantee, firstly, that we will always find an underground formation large enough and near enough to store all the CO2 produced by an emitter; and secondly, that the stored CO2 will remain underground in perpetuity?

    This is a challenge far more daunting then that of storing nuclear waste. Yet we are willing to bet vast sums on this, in order to allow oil sands to keep producing, whereas the nuclear energy industry was stopped for a more trivial problem.

    This is a political gamble based on fast and loose science and economics. A proper, realistic evaluation of the risk associated with CCS technology is warranted before any more money is spent on it.

  7. Carbon capture and storage
    Trouble in store

    Mar 5th 2009
    From The Economist print edition
    Politicians are pinning their hopes for delivery from global warming on a technology that is not quite airtight

    A RECENT American television advertisement features a series of trustworthy-looking individuals affirming their faith in the potential of “clean coal”. One by one, a sensible old lady in a hat, a lab-coated scientist standing by a microscope, a fresh-faced young schoolteacher, a weather-beaten farmer and a can-do machinist face the camera square-on and declare, “I believe.”

    The idea that clean coal, or to be more specific, a technology known as carbon capture and storage (CCS), will save the world from global warming has become something of an article of faith among policymakers too. CCS features prominently in all the main blueprints for reducing greenhouse-gas emissions. The Stern Review, a celebrated report on the economics of climate change, considers it “essential”. It provides one of the seven tranches of emissions cuts proposed by Robert Socolow of Princeton University. The International Energy Agency (IEA) reckons the world will need over 200 power plants equipped with CCS by 2030 to limit the rise in average global temperatures to about 3°C—a bigger increase than many scientists would like.

    Politicians have duly lined up behind the idea. Barack Obama talked up CCS during last year’s election. Gordon Brown, Britain’s prime minister, has said the technology is necessary “if we are to have any chance of meeting our global climate goals”. The leaders of the G8, a rich-country club, want it to be widespread by 2020.

    Despite all this enthusiasm, however, there is not a single big power plant using CCS anywhere in the world. Utilities refuse to build any, since the technology is expensive and unproven. Advocates insist that the price will come down with time and experience, but it is hard to say by how much, or who should bear the extra cost in the meantime. Green pressure groups worry that captured carbon will eventually leak. In short, the world’s leaders are counting on a fix for climate change that is at best uncertain and at worst unworkable.

  8. Climate change
    The illusion of clean coal

    Mar 5th 2009
    From The Economist print edition
    The world is investing too much cash and hope in carbon capture and storage

    “Politicians should indeed encourage investment in clean technologies, but direct subsidies are not the way to do it. A carbon price or tax, which raises the cost of emitting carbon dioxide while leaving it up to the private sector to pick technologies, is the better approach. CCS is not just a potential waste of money. It might also create a false sense of security about climate change, while depriving potentially cheaper methods of cutting emissions of cash and attention—all for the sake of placating the coal lobby.”

  9. There is an excellent quotation in there which deserves to be emphasized: “CCS is not just a potential waste of money. It might also create a false sense of security about climate change, while depriving potentially cheaper methods of cutting emissions of cash and attention—all for the sake of placating the coal lobby.

  10. Carbon capture has a sparkling future

    New research shows that for millions of years CO2 has been stored safely and naturally in underground water in gas fields saturated with the gas. The findings – published in Nature today – bring carbon capture and storage a step closer.

    CO2 storage: natural gas fields as a model for power-station emissions burial

    Solubility trapping in formation water as dominant CO2 sink in natural gas fields
    Nature, 2 April 2009, doi:10.1038/nature07852

  11. Carbon projects get $140M

    Ottawa opens wallet to Western Canada to develop capture, storage technology

    By Dave Cooper, The Edmonton Journal

    Ottawa will pump as much as $140 million into eight demonstration projects in Western Canada which aim to capture and store carbon dioxide produced by power plants and the fertilizer and petroleum industries.

    Projects in the Edmonton region include Epcor and Enbridge’s Genesee project and TransAlta’s Pioneer project, both in the Lake Wabamun area and both aimed at removing carbon dioxide from the flue gas of coal-fired power plants and injecting it into deep saline aquifers.

  12. CCS kicks off in France, while U.K. putters (04/10/2009)

    A gas-fired generator in southern France will become the first retrofitted power plant in the world to capture, transport and sequester carbon emissions when it begins operation later this month.

    Total’s Lacq plant will retrofit a 30-megawatt boiler to use an oxyfuel technology that will enable it to capture 60,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide a year. The gas will be transported by a 50-year-old pipeline once used to take natural gas out of the ground — only now it is being pumped the other way, for storage 4,500 meters underground.

  13. CARBON CAPTURE: Ky. team bores 1st injection well for storage pilot (05/18/2009)

    A team of fossil fuel companies is looking 8,300 feet below pastures of Kentucky bluegrass for a place to store millions of tons of global warming pollution.

    At 4,000 feet, the drillers are halfway to their target — a 550 million-year-old rock formation that could absorb millions of tons of carbon dioxide emissions. The $8 million project is funded primarily by the state of Kentucky, ConocoPhillips, Peabody Energy and E.ON U.S., the parent of Louisville Gas & Electric Co. and Kentucky Utilities.

    Carbon storage carries high stakes for Kentucky, which is the nation’s third-largest coal producer and is 90 percent reliant on the fossil fuel for its electricity needs.

    “We don’t have a choice,” said Len Peters, secretary of the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet. “We have to do this for coal to be a part” of the nation’s energy mix.

    The project’s success also has a lot to do with the viability of the companies involved. ConocoPhillips invested in the well because of the proposed Kentucky NewGas project, which seeks to turn coal into natural gas at a plant built atop an underground mine. ConocoPhillips has teamed up with Peabody for the project.

  14. IPCC chairman calls for expansion of CO2 storage

    BERGEN, Norway – The chairman of the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change urged the international community on Wednesday to develop more technologies for capturing and storing carbon dioxide as part of the fight against global climate change.

    Rajendra K. Pachauri, who shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with Al Gore, said that underground CO2 storage is a “very attractive” technology for cutting emissions.

    “We need to move fast, we need to bring down costs, we need to do this in a much larger scale,” he said at the opening of an international conference about CO2 storage in Bergen, Norway.

    Carbon capture and storage, or CCS, is an experimental technology where carbon dioxide from fossil fuel plants is captured and stored underground. While proponents say it could help cut greenhouse gases from power plants by up to 80 percent, some environmentalists argue that it diverts resources from cleaner technologies and could involve the same leakage risks as storing nuclear waste.

  15. Carbon capture technology tested

    New carbon capture technology is being tested for the first time in the UK on a working coal-fired power station.

    A 30-tonne test unit will process 1,000 cubic metres of exhaust gas per hour from Longannet power station in Fife.

    Carbon dioxide will be removed using chemicals and turned into a liquid, ready for storage underground.

    Energy company ScottishPower wants to test technology which could lead to a full scale carbon capture plant becoming operational by 2014.

    The UK government recently gave the go-ahead for a new generation of coal-fired power stations provided they were able to limit their CO2 emissions.

  16. The dark side of CCS
    Posted by Fabian Teichmueller on May 30, 2009 at 13:19
    Energy, Germany, Mitigation, Politics

    Proponents of Carbon-Capture-and-Storage (CCS) have long hailed the technology as the silver bullet that will enable the world to both fight climate change and keep using coal reserves. In Germany, the debate about the merits and pitfalls of this approach has once again surfaced. It highlights three key problems with using CCS to solve the climate crisis. Ordered from least to most damaging to the proponents of CCS, they can be summarised as: 1) The technological challenges in bringing the technology to large-scale applicability and the amount of money needed to reach this point. 2) The economic uncertainties over the competitiveness of CCS-generated energy vis-a-vis other forms of energy. 3) The opportunity costs of investing in CCS given the proven potential and fast growth rates of other renewable energy sources.

  17. The World’s first CCS Coal-Fired Project
    By Samia Robbins on power

    CCS is being tested for the first time in the UK on a working coal-fired Power Station, as energy company, Scottish Power, is bidding for a £1 billion government competition to test the technology which could lead to a full scale carbon capture plant becoming operational by 2014. (Source: http://www.timesonline.co.uk, 30-05-09)

    “This is the first time that CCS technology has been switched on and working at an operational coal-fired power station in the UK. It’s a major step forward in delivering the reality of carbon-free fossil fuel electricity generation.”

    Quote: Scottish Power Chief Executive, Nick Horler

    In a consortia bid between Scottish Power, Aker Clean Carbon of Norway, which is developing the capturing technology, and Marathon Oil, the partners will work on the techniques to provide undersea installations, and the pipelines needed to transport and store carbon dioxide under the North Sea.

  18. June 23, 2009, 6:00 am
    Raytheon Tests Carbon Sequestration
    By Kevin Ferguson

    Raytheon says it is testing a leak-proof method of keeping sequestered carbon dioxide buried deep in the ground — using some of the same technology it developed to increase production of oil from shale.

    The latest sequestration method involves encasing the gas in gel, pumping it underground, and then heating it with microwaves until the gel solidifies. The extraction technology, for its part, involves heating the shale with microwaves before pumping liquid carbon dioxide into the formations to separate kerogen, an organic precursor of oil, from the rock.

    In both instances, Raytheon partnered with CF Technologies of Hyde Park, Mass. CF Technologies specializes in so-called supercritical fluids, substances that share properties of both liquids and gases when subjected to high pressure and temperature. Carbon dioxide is commonly used as a supercritical fluid.

  19. What the heck is CCS and can it really help fight climate change? An expert explains

    Posted 1:58 PM on 13 Jul 2009
    by David Roberts

    It is conventional wisdom among People Who Matter that burning coal is going to continue, even accelerate, no matter what kind of legislation is passed or international agreements are forged. That’s why carbon capture and sequestration (CCS)—technology that buries power-plant carbon dioxide emissions underground—is widely seen as the bright, shining hope for maintaining a livable climate: it’s the only way to burn coal without frying the planet.

    Or it would be, if it were proven to work on a large scale.

    The American Clean Energy & Security Act recently passed by the House contains billions of dollars in subsidies for developing CCS technology, and effectively delays any serious domestic greenhouse-gas reductions for 10 to 15 years—by which time, it is hoped, CCS might be able to be scaled up to wide use.

    But does CCS technology actually exist? Is it practical? Affordable? Who’s working on it? Despite the flurry of chatter about CCS, these basic questions usually go unanswered.

  20. Q. Lots of the early work in CCS has been around injecting CO2 into oil wells to help extract more oil, known as enhanced oil recovery (EOR). How big of a role is that going to play?

    A. Some early opportunities for EOR can and should be explored. It’s not CCS, though, unless you’re storing the CO2 and monitoring it over the long time frame.

    Q. Are any EOR projects doing that?

    A. The Weyburn project, which takes CO2 from the Dakota gasification plant in North Dakota and takes it up to the Weyburn oil field, has had a strong research project associated with it that’s been tracking the CO2—using that as a platform to study CCS via EOR.

    Standard industry practices leave about a third of the CO2 underground.

  21. Harvard stunner: “Realistic” first-generation CCS costs a whopping $150 per ton of CO2 — 20 cents per kWh!
    July 22, 2009

    Harvard’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs has published a blockbuster study, “Realistic Costs of Carbon Capture.” The paper concludes that First-of-a-Kind (FOAK) carbon capture and storage plants are going to be much more expensive than most people realize:

    1. The costs of carbon abatement on a 2008 basis for FOAK IGCC plants are expected to be approximately $150/tCO2 avoided (with a range $120-180/tCO2 avoided), excluding transport and storage costs….

    This yields “levelised cost of electricity on a 2008 basis is approximately 10¢/kWh higher with capture than for conventional plants.“ So pick your favorite price for new coal plants — Moody’s said last year that is about 11¢/kWh — and add 10¢ and you get 20+¢/kWh.

    Political Folly or Climate Change Fix?

    By Graham Thomson
    For the Program on Water Issues
    Munk Centre for International Studies

    Conclusions: A political fix

    Every year the burning of fossil fuels pours 30 billion tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere, a threat to climate security. Both the Alberta and Canadian governments have enthusiastically endorsed Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) as a new and powerful tool to avert dangerous climate change. Industrialists, civil servants and university scientists generally agree that Canada won’t be able to maintain its standard of living or rate of fossil fuel consumption in a carbon constrained world without employing this controversial technology.

    Many sincere and credible scientists argue that CCS remains the best mitigation option to prevent global temperatures from rising above 2 degrees. Some environmental groups such as the Pembina Institute advocate for CCS as a bridging mechanism to reduce greenhouse gases while building and investing in renewable energy.

    The technology holds the promise of massive reductions in emissions but any success may ultimately be limited to a relatively few projects due to cost, liability, technology, scale and public skepticism. CCS may turn out to be another costly Faustian bargain and classic technical fix.

    The very promise of CCS, whether delivered or not, will extend the life of coal and other hydrocarbons, thus making more economies dependent on fossil fuels. Instead of buying us time to find alternate sources of clean energy, CCS is buying politicians’ time to avoid making tough, unpopular decisions. The allure of CCS threatens to divert resources from energy efficiency and delay more durable reforms. As one former nuclear expert put it: “CCS may be, politically, an easy way out of having to make more difficult and sustainable choices.”

    The Oil Sands Illusion: Although both federal and Alberta politicians have promoted CCS as a way to ‘green’ bitumen production in the oil sands, (Canada’s largest growing source of emissions) industry remains divided about its utility and cost. Of 20 firms selected by the Alberta government to submit proposals for carbon capture and storage projects, eight major oil sand firms (including Suncor and ConocoPhillips) chose not to participate for largely economic reasons. With the exception of upgraders most oil sands emissions are too impure or dispersed for this technology. A study on unconventional or highly carbon-rich fuels by the Rand Corporation concluded that even if CCS could be applied to the oil sands, it would “still leave unaddressed the CO2 emissions from final combustion of the fuels.” In other words unconventional fossil fuels “do not, in themselves, offer a path to greatly reduced carbon dioxide emissions.”

    The Bottom Line: Given the paucity of groundwater information in Canada and lack of national water standards, the push to accelerate CCS could pose real risks to our groundwater resources. In sum, the marriage of a brave new technology with a political fix for an immediate climate problem could have negative long-term consequences for Canadian taxpayers and water drinkers without stabilizing the climate. To move forward on the sequestration of billions of tonnes of carbon dioxide in underground saline aquifers without strong regulations, clear liability, effective oversight, sound science and a transparent decision-making process would be sheer folly.

  23. Perhaps the most sensible position on nuclear/CCS/geoengineering can be summed up by paraphrasing William Lyon Mackenzie King: “nuclear/CCS/geoengineering if necessary, but not necessarily nuclear/CCS/geoengineering.”

  24. Elements of carbon capture established, but cost and scale remain a challenge

    By Lauren Krugel (CP) – 1 day ago

    CALGARY — The individual pieces of a carbon capture and storage puzzle have been around for a while, but there’s a long way to go before those fragments can be assembled at a big enough scale and cheap enough to put a worthwhile dent in greenhouse gas emissions.

    “At large scale it’s not been done, and we need to learn how to do it in a much more cost-effective manner,” said Eddy Isaacs, executive director of the Alberta Energy Research Institute.

    The technology – which got a $865-million boost from the Alberta and federal governments last week – involves separating climate-change-causing carbon dioxide from industrial emissions and injecting the gas deep underground, rather than letting it escape into the atmosphere.

    Refineries, petrochemical plants and other industrial facilities have employed the “capture” part of the equation for some time, using special chemicals to scrub poisonous hydrogen sulphide and other contaminants from their emissions.

  25. CCS, the cost, the risk, and the law of unintended consequences

    When the Alberta government announced last week that it would be handing over $745 million to Shell Canada so it could move ahead with its Quest commercial-scale CCS project, and when the federal government said it would chip in another $120 million, it didn’t sit well with environmental and energy think-tank The Pembina Institute.

    It’s not that Pembina is against developing this technology. What it doesn’t particularly like, and I can’t help but agree, is the fact that the Alberta and federal governments’ are covering two-thirds of the cost for this $1.35 billion project, which will be designed to capture CO2 from the steam methane units at the Scotford Upgrader in Fort Saskatchewan. It’s part of the Athabasca Oil Sands Project, a joint venture among Shell (60 per cent), Chevron Canada (20 per cent) and Marathon Oil Sands (20 per cent).

    Why, Pembina asks, are taxpayers covering the majority of a project’s costs when the companies benefitting from this public freebie are some of the most profitable companies in the country? Pembina is also opposed to the governments being “singularly focused” on end-of-pipe technologies, such as CCS, at the expense of investments in technologies and energy sources that reduce or altogether eliminate carbon emissions at the front of the pipe — renewables, energy efficiency, etc…

    Rather than carry the load for the private sector, the government should be moving quickly to establish a cap-and-trade regime that would put a sufficient price on carbon, Pembina argues. Ultimately, polluters should cover the whole cost of CCS deployment and that will only happen when they factor in the cost of not doing so once carbon pricing hits their bottom line. Pembina also argues that the government shouldn’t be so narrowly focused on CCS that it ignores the much broader, and less risky opportunities out there. “In parallel to its support for CCS, the government needs to support a massive scale-up in renewable energy and energy efficiency, the most sustainable solutions to climate change,” it says.

  26. Carbon capture plant backed by EU

    Plans for Britain’s first coal-fired power station equipped with carbon capture technology have been backed by the European Commission.

    The commission has recommended that a plant in Hatfield, near Doncaster, should receive £164m of EU funding.

    The sum would be matched by a similar sum from the UK government.

    If the plan gets the go-ahead it is thought 1,500 jobs will be created by the plant’s construction. Work would begin in 2010, for completion in 2015.

    The Hatfield scheme was judged as the third best in Europe by the commission.

    It beat off rival applications for money from the Longannet coal-fired station in Fife and a proposed new power plant at Kingsnorth in Kent.

  27. “A standard unit of carbon capture and storage is “the Sleipner”: thanks to Norway’s implementation of a carbon-emission tax of $55 per tonne of CO2 (which can be compared to today’s EU market price of 14.10 euros per tonne), StatoilHydro is storing 1 Mt CO2 per year in the Utsira saline aquifer under the North Sea. A 1-GW coal power station, running all the time, produces roughly 7 Mt CO2 per year. So every 1-GW power station would require roughly 7 Sleipners, and the cost to the consumer for electricity from that source might be in the ballpark of an extra 4p per kWh of electricity (similar to the present subsidy for wind power in the UK). The scale of the waste to be stored is worth mentioning. The volume of 7 Mt CO2 (the approximate annual waste from 1 GW coal power station), after it’s been compressed to the same density as water, is three times the volume of the great pyramid at Giza. If Britain were to build, say, 33 GW of `clean coal’, the volume of compressed waste that would have to be pumped through pipelines and into rocks under the North Sea would be 100 great pyramids per year; or, to put it in personal terms, 13 litres per day per person in the UK, every litre of this waste CO2 having the same weight as a litre of water.”

  28. At the far end of the McKinsey curve – expensive per tonne reductions – is an approach favoured by Alberta, Canada’s largest provincial per capita emitter.

    There, the government has set aside $2-billion for carbon sequestration – capturing carbon and burying it. The McKinsey study says, yes, retrofitting coal-fired plants with carbon capture and storage or building new ones with that technology definitely removes carbon but at a high price per tonne.

    You can see this in Alberta’s first efforts. More than half of the $2-billion has been pledged to two projects that, if they work, will remove only 2.1 million tonnes of carbon, a tiny fraction of Alberta’s total emissions.

    At this rate of spending, the $2-billion might remove less than 5 per cent of the province’s emissions based on Alberta’s total emissions today. Of course, when emissions rise as tar sands production grows, so the carbon capture contributions will shrink as a share of the whole.”

  29. Pingback: Gore on CCS
  30. “A new research paper from American academics is threatening to blow a hole in growing political support for carbon capture and storage as a weapon in the fight against global warming.

    The document from Houston University claims that governments wanting to use CCS have overestimated its value and says it would take a reservoir the size of a small US state to hold the CO2 produced by one power station.

    Previous modelling has hugely underestimated the space needed to store CO2 because it was based on the “totally erroneous” premise that the pressure feeding the carbon into the rock structures would be constant, argues Michael Economides, professor of chemical engineering at Houston, and his co-author Christene Ehlig-Economides, professor of energy engineering at Texas A&M University

    “It is like putting a bicycle pump up against a wall. It would be hard to inject CO2 into a closed system without eventually producing so much pressure that it fractured the rock and allowed the carbon to migrate to other zones and possibly escape to the surface,” Economides said.

    The paper concludes that CCS “is not a practical means to provide any substantive reduction in CO2 emissions, although it has been repeatedly presented as such by others.”

    Chapman pointed out that Statoil, a Norwegian oil company, had been injecting CO2 into an old reservoir on the North Sea Sleipner field for some time as a successful experiment in carbon storage. But Economides says the Sleipner scheme involved a million tonnes over three years, while one 500mW commercial station would need to absorb and store 3m tonnes annually for 25 years.Economides, who admits he veers towards being something of a climate change sceptic, says the oil and coal industries see these schemes as potential solutions so they can keep on doing what they have been doing in the past, but “CCS is the last refuge of the scoundrel,” he said.”

  31. E.ON shelves plans to build Kingsnorth coal plant

    The energy firm has withdrawn from competition for the first CCS plant, saying the station would have been uneconomic to build

    Environmentalists claimed a victory over E.ON today when the German energy company confirmed it was shelving plans to build its Kingsnorth coal plant after years of protests.

    The company said it was pulling the project out of the government’s competition to build the first of four planned large pilot plants to demonstrate technology for capturing and storing some of the carbon that would usually be emitted into the atmosphere.

    Kingsnorth became a rallying point for environmentalists as it would have been the first new coal station to be built in the UK for decades. E.ON said depressed power prices made it uneconomic, becoming the latest bidder to withdraw from a race that now has just one company left in it.

    It means that no new coal plant will be built as part of the current carbon capture competition. The sole remaining contender – ScottishPower’s Longannet plant – is an existing coal power station on to which the CCS technology would be added.

  32. Clean coal project a go
    SaskPower, gov’t expected to unveil $1.2-billion project
    Bruce Johnstone, The Leader-Post
       The provincial governR ment is expected to give the green light today to a $1-billion-plus clean coal project at SaskPower’s Boundary Dam generating station, which will be the first carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) project of its kind in the world.
       A media advisory issued Monday said Rob Norris, minister responsible for SaskPower, and SaskPower president and CEO Robert Watson will make “a major announcement on the future of electricity generation in Saskatchewan” at the Boundary Dam Power Station.
       The proposed $1.2-billion CCS demonstration project received $240 million from the federal government several years ago, of which about $180 million has been spent.
       But the CCS project has been up in the air due to lack of federal regulations affecting greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired generating stations.
       In December, SaskPower announced it was proceeding with the $354-million rebuild of 150megawatt (MW) Unit 3 at Boundary Dam, the province’s largest coal-fired generating station.
       But the so-called “clean coal” project was put on hold, pending publication of federal regulations on greenhouse gas emissions at thermal generating stations. The regulations were expected to be published this month, but the federal election delayed their release.

  33. ENVIRONMENT Under fire over emissions, Alberta goes ahead with carbon capture plan

    JOSH WINGROVE EDMONTON Alberta thrives on the strength of its oil and gas sector, while coal keeps the province’s lights on – as such, in an era where many demand lower emissions, the province is a carbon giant looking to change its ways.

    Choking the output of those industries, however, could be economically devastating. So rather than limiting the actual amount produced, the province has pinned its hopes on a process known as carbon capture and storage (CCS), which would see carbon collected and buried deep below ground.

    On Wednesday afternoon, Alberta Energy Minister Ron Liepert announced a final agreement on its third such CCS project. The province promised $2-billion in seed money three years ago, but only this year has approved projects.

    Calgary-based Swan Hills Synfuels LP aims to use an unproven method, coal gasification, to reach 1.4-kilometre-deep coal deposits in central Alberta, convert them to gas underground, capture the emissions before they ever see daylight and use the gaseous coal to run a power plant.

    The new plant would serve a whopping 300,000 homes while producing one-third the emissions of a similarly sized regular coal plant – or about the same carbon output as a natural-gas plant.

  34. Longannet carbon capture project cancelled

    Last remaining project in government competition for CCS funding scrapped as partners fall out over funding

    A pioneering £1bn state-funded carbon capture and storage (CCS) project at the Longannet power station in Fife has been cancelled, as the government announced that “a decision has been made not to proceed with Longannet but to pursue other projects with the £1bn funding made available by the government.”

    Earlier this month, the Guardian revealed that Longannet, the only remaining project in the government’s competition for CCS funding was on the brink of collapse because Scottish Power and its partners, Shell and the National Grid, were concerned about its commercial viability without more public backing.

    David Cameron cast doubt on the future on the project during prime minister’s questions, when he said the scheme “isn’t working”. Tom Greatrex asked : “Given the importance of CCS both as a way of reducing emissions and as an exportable technology, can the PM confirm the Longannet scheme is going ahead?”

  35. Carbon capture and storage
    A shiny new pipe dream
    Capturing the carbon dioxide from power stations is not hard. But it is expensive. A new project in Norway aims to make it cheaper

    AS Helene Boksle, one of Norway’s favourite singers, hit the high notes at the Mongstad oil refinery on May 7th, the wall behind her slid open. It revealed, to the prime minister and other dignitaries present, an enormous tangle of shiny metal pipes. These are part of the world’s largest and newest experimental facility for capturing carbon dioxide.

    Such capture is the first part of a three-stage process known as carbon capture and storage (CCS) that many people hope will help deal with the problem of man-made climate change. The other two are piping the captured gas towards a place underground where the rocks will trap it, and then actually trapping it there. If the world is to continue burning fossil fuels while avoiding the consequences, then it will need a lot of CCS. There is no other good way to keep the CO2 emitted by power stations, and also by processes such as iron- and cement-making, out of the atmosphere. To stop global warming of more than 2°C—a widely agreed safe limit—carbon-dioxide emissions must be halved by 2050. According to the International Energy Agency, an intergovernmental body that monitors these matters, CCS would be the cheapest way to manage about a fifth of that reduction.

    To do this, the agency reckons, requires the building of 100 capture facilities by 2020 and 3,000 by 2050. Which is a problem, because at the moment there are only eight, none of which is attached to a power station. Another 28, mostly in North America, are under construction or planned. But some are likely to be cancelled—as happened on May 1st to a project in Alberta. CCS is thus having difficulty reaching escape velocity.

  36. “But there is an energy paradox with CCS. Any coal-fired power plant, oil refinery, or bitumen upgrader equipped to handle CCS will pay a huge energy penalty: it will have to burn anywhere from 25 to 32 percent more fossil fuels. Stripping and compressing CO2 is not cheap. This form of energy cannibalism also requires nearly a third more water and a third more chemicals. And the penalty doesn’t include the energy costs of retrofitting these plants. Moreover, to bury just 20 percent of the world’s emissions, calculates energy expert Vaclav Smil, we would need to create an entirely new worldwide absorption-gathering/compression-transportation/storage industry. That industry’s annual throughput would have to be about 70 percent larger than the annual volume now handled by the entire global crude oil industry, whose immense infrastructure of wells, pipelines, compressor stations, and storage systems took generations and about $60 trillion to build. Monitoring CO2 cemeteries would require more energy and public funds for thousands of years.”

    Nikiforuk, Andrew. The Energy of Slaves: Oil and the New Servitude. 2012. p.172 (hardcover)

  37. But scientists at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University and other institutions have come up with a different way to store CO2 that might eliminate that problem. Their approach involves dissolving the gas with water and pumping the resulting mixture — soda water, essentially — down into certain kinds of rocks, where the CO2 reacts with the rock to form a mineral called calcite. By turning the gas into stone, scientists can lock it away permanently.

    One key to the approach is to find the right kind of rocks. Volcanic rocks called basalts are excellent for this process, because they are rich in calcium, magnesium and iron, which react with CO2.

    Iceland is practically all basalt, so for several years the researchers and an Icelandic utility have been testing the technology on the island. The project, called CarbFix, uses carbon dioxide that bubbles up naturally with the hot magma that powers a geothermal electrical generating plant 15 miles east of the capital, Reykjavik (Read more about it here).

    In 2012, they pumped about 250 tons of carbon dioxide, mixed with water, about 1,500 feet down into porous basalt. The CO2 was laced with a radioactive isotope and there were other compounds in the water that helped the researchers trace its spread into the rock.


  38. Technology to Make Clean Energy From Coal Is Stumbling in Practice

    OTTAWA — An electrical plant on the Saskatchewan prairie was the great hope for industries that burn coal.

    In the first large-scale project of its kind, the plant was equipped with a technology that promised to pluck carbon out of the utility’s exhaust and bury it underground, transforming coal into a cleaner power source. In the months after opening, the utility and the provincial government declared the project an unqualified success.

    But the $1.1 billion project is now looking like a green dream.

    Known as SaskPower’s Boundary Dam 3, the project has been plagued by multiple shutdowns, has fallen way short of its emissions targets, and faces an unresolved problem with its core technology. The costs, too, have soared, requiring tens of millions of dollars in new equipment and repairs.

  39. “The documents showed that the system was working at only 45 percent of capacity. One memo, written a month after the government publicly boasted about the project, cited eight major problem areas. Fixing them, it said, could take a year and a half, and the memo warned that it was not immediately apparent how to resolve some problems.

    A chart covering the first year of operation showed that the system often didn’t work at all. When it was turned back on after shutdowns for adjustments and repairs, the amount of carbon captured sometimes even dropped.

    The repeated shutdowns have caused SaskPower to miss multiple carbon dioxide deliveries to Cenovus Energy, the Canadian oil company that signed a 10-year contract with the utility to buy most of the gas. (Cenovus uses carbon dioxide to force oil from largely depleted wells.) SaskPower has had to pay 7 million Canadian dollars in penalties, offsetting most of the 9 million Canadian dollars in payments received.

    On top of that, the carbon system is a voracious consumer of the electricity generated by Boundary Dam, which has 150 megawatts of capacity. Mr. Marsh testified that about 30 megawatts of capacity were consumed by the system, and an additional 15 to 16 megawatts were needed to compress the carbon dioxide.”

  40. Stop hoping we can fix climate change by pulling carbon out of the air, scientists warn

    Two papers published last week debunk the idea of planting large volumes of trees to pull carbon dioxide out of the air — saying there just isn’t enough land available to pull it off — and also various other strategies for “carbon dioxide removal,” some of which also include massive tree plantings combined with burning their biomass and storing it below the ground.

    “Biomass plantations are always seen as a green kind of climate engineering because, you know, everybody likes trees,” said Lena Boysen, a climate researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology in Germany, who led one of the new studies while a researcher at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. “But we just want to show that that’s not the complete story. They cannot do that much.”

    But for years, scientists have discussed the idea of going further by using large plantations full of fast-growing, carbon-storing trees to pull extra carbon emissions out of the atmosphere, a strategy sometimes called “afforestation.” But the amount of land and other resources this strategy would require to actually help us meet our global climate goals — namely, keeping global temperatures within at least two degrees of their pre-industrial levels — is completely impractical, according to Boysen’s new study in the journal Earth’s Future, and would require the destruction of huge amounts of natural ecosystems or productive agricultural land.

    The solution that’s been proposed in numerous reports and climate models, including those released over the years by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), is a technology known as bioenergy and carbon capture and storage, or BECCS. This strategy involves establishing large plantations of fast-growing trees, capable of storing large quantities of carbon, which can then be harvested and used for fuel. Biomass burning facilities would need to be outfitted with a special carbon-capturing technology, which would capture the carbon dioxide produced and store it safely away, potentially in geological formations deep underground.

    It’s an ambitious proposal, and one that many scientists have pointed out is nowhere near the point of becoming feasible, even from a technological perspective. Carbon capture and storage technology is just getting on its feet from a commercial standpoint, and there are only a few facilities around the world — several of them in the United States — that use it. Without this technology, the planting and harvesting of biomass becomes far less climate friendly, essentially releasing all the stored carbon right back into the atmosphere.

    Worryingly, they add, carbon dioxide removal is increasingly assumed by climate models and planning tools as a future mitigation tactic. While they encourage continued research and development of the technology, the authors also urge the necessity of “avoiding cavalier assumptions of future technological breakthroughs.”

  41. What they don’t tell you about climate change

    Stopping the flow of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere is not enough. It has to be sucked out, too

    Fully 101 of the 116 models the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change uses to chart what lies ahead assume that carbon will be taken out of the air in order for the world to have a good chance of meeting the 2°C target. The total amount of CO2 to be soaked up by 2100 could be a staggering 810bn tonnes, as much as the world’s economy produces in 20 years at today’s rate (see article). Putting in place carbon-removal schemes of this magnitude would be an epic endeavour even if tried-and-tested techniques existed.

    If the market will not provide an incentive, governments could. The case for a proper price on carbon (this paper has favoured a tax) is strong. Its absence is one of the reasons carbon capture and storage has not taken off as a way of reducing emissions from fossil-fuel plants; the kit needed can double the price of electricity. Yet, setting a price high enough to encourage negative emissions would asphyxiate the economy.

  42. Being able to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere is, therefore, a crucial element in meeting climate targets. Of the 116 models the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) looks at to chart the economically optimal paths to the Paris goal, 101 assume “negative emissions”. No scenarios are at all likely to keep warming under 1.5ºC without greenhouse-gas removal. “It is built into the assumptions of the Paris agreement,” says Gideon Henderson of Oxford University.

    Climate scientists like Mr Henderson have been discussing negative-emissions technologies (NETs) with economists and policy wonks since the 1990s. Their debate has turned livelier since the Paris agreement, the phrasing of which strongly suggests that countries will need to invent new sinks as well as cutting emissions. But so far politicians have largely ignored the issue, preferring to focus on curbing current flows of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. NETs were conspicuous by their absence from the agenda of the annual UN climate jamboree which ended in Bonn on November 17th.

    In the short term this makes sense. The marginal cost of reducing emissions is currently far lower than the marginal cost of taking carbon dioxide straight from the atmosphere. But climate is not a short-term game. And in the long term, ignoring the need for negative emissions is complacent at best. The eventual undertaking, after all, will be gargantuan. The median IPCC model assumes sucking up a total of 810bn tonnes of carbon dioxide by 2100, equivalent to roughly 20 years of global emissions at the current rate. To have any hope of doing so, preparations for large-scale extraction ought to begin in the 2020s.

    The technologies that exist today, under development by companies such as Global Thermostat in America, Carbon Engineering in Canada or Climeworks of Switzerland, remain pricey. In 2011 a review by the American Physical Society to which Ms Wilcox contributed put extraction costs above $600 per tonne, compared with an average estimate of $60-250 for BECCS.

    However, the falling price of solar panels was a result of surging production volumes, which NETs will struggle to replicate. As Oliver Geden of the German Institute of International and Security Affairs observes, “You cannot tell the green-growth story with negative emissions.” A market exists for rooftop solar panels and electric vehicles; one for removing an invisible gas from the air to avert disaster decades from now does not.

  43. Limiting temperature rises to 2°C above pre-industrial norms would still leave atmospheric carbon dioxide at well over 450 parts per million (ppm) (“What goes up”, September 21st). We evolved, and until less than a century ago, lived, on a 300ppm planet. We need to return the Earth’s climate to its pre-industrial state, without doing the same to our economy.

    The un recently hosted the first Global Forum on Climate Restoration. Entrepreneurs and climate scientists discussed the undoubtedly gargantuan challenge of removing and permanently storing around a trillion tonnes of carbon from the atmosphere by 2050, and presented technically viable ways to do this. Even if market-based approaches to remove carbon dioxide fail entirely, and they won’t, a reasonable estimate is that it would cost 3-5% of global gdp for 20-30 years to return the atmosphere to 300ppm. As a comparison, ten years ago America diverted 3.5% of its annual gdp to prevent the financial system from collapsing. That felt like a good investment. So does this.

    Jon Shepard
    Global Development Incubator

  44. Of the wisdom taught in kindergartens, few commandments combine moral balance and practical propriety better than the instruction to clear up your own mess. As with messy toddlers, so with planet-spanning civilisations. The industrial nations which are adding alarming amounts of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere—43.1bn tonnes this year, according to a report released this week—will at some point need to go beyond today’s insufficient efforts to stop. They will need to put the world machine into reverse, and start taking carbon dioxide out. They are nowhere near ready to meet this challenge.

    Once such efforts might have been unnecessary. In 1992, at the Rio Earth summit, countries committed themselves to avoiding harmful climate change by reducing greenhouse-gas emissions, with rich countries helping poorer ones develop without exacerbating the problem. Yet almost every year since Rio has seen higher carbon-dioxide emissions than the year before. A staggering 50% of all the carbon dioxide humankind has put into the atmosphere since the Industrial Revolution was added after 1990. And it is this total stock of carbon that matters. The more there is in the atmosphere, the more the climate will shift—though climate lags behind the carbon-dioxide level, just as water in a pan takes time to warm up when you put it on a fire.

    The Paris agreement of 2015 commits its signatories to limiting the rise to 2°C. But as António Guterres, the un secretary-general, told the nearly 200 countries that attended a meeting in Madrid to hammer out further details of the Paris agreement this week, “our efforts to reach these targets have been utterly inadequate.”

    The world is now 1°C (1.8°F) hotter than it was before the Industrial Revolution. Heatwaves once considered freakish are becoming commonplace. Arctic weather has gone haywire. Sea levels are rising as glaciers melt and ice-sheets thin. Coastlines are subjected to more violent storms and to higher storm surges. The chemistry of the oceans is changing. Barring radical attempts to reduce the amount of incoming sunshine through solar geoengineering, a very vexed subject, the world will not begin to cool off until carbon-dioxide levels start to fall.

    The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimates that meeting the 1.5°C goal will mean capturing and storing hundreds of billions of tonnes of carbon dioxide by 2100, with a median estimate of 730bn tonnes—roughly 17 times this year’s carbon-dioxide emissions. In terms of designing, planning and building really large amounts of infrastructure, 2050 is not that far away. That is why methods of providing negative emissions need to be developed right now.

    The psychological problem is that, even while the capacity to ensure negative emissions languishes underdeveloped, the mere idea that they will one day be possible eats away at the perceived urgency of cutting emissions today. When the 2°C limit was first proposed in the 1990s, it was plausible to imagine that it might be met by emissions cuts alone. The fact that it can still be talked about today is almost entirely thanks to how the models with which climate prognosticators work have been revised to add in the gains from negative emissions. It is a trick that comes perilously close to magical thinking.

    A price on carbon is an essential step if such systems are to be efficient. The trouble is that a price high enough to make capture profitable at this stage in its development would be unfeasibly high. For the time being, therefore, other sticks and carrots will be needed. Governments tend to plead that radical action today is just too hard. And yet those very same governments enthusiastically turn to negative emissions as an easy way to make their climate pledges add up.

  45. The cost of permanent carbon dioxide removal

    The deployment of carbon dioxide removal (CDR) solutions is integral to meeting global climate goals. The potential scale of CDR activity is vast—potentially at the levels of tens of billions of tonnes of CO2 removed annually by the end of the century. Both voluntary- and compliance-based paradigms are under development. One element inhibiting the development of these markets is the absence of an accessible and quantitative approach for evaluating the extent to which a given CDR pathway is fungible with an emission. The climate repair value (CRV) metric presented here addresses this knowledge gap. This metric will allow voluntary- and compliance-based CDR markets to “right price” the different CDR pathways in terms of their contribution to climate repair. Through this framework, we demonstrate that in almost all cases, permanent removal—although costly, relative to most mitigation—is less costly than non-permanent removal.

  46. Many geologists (myself included) believe there are places on Earth where long-term CO2 storage could be safely achieved, but it would require what scientists call “site characterization.” That means studying the location in enough detail to be confident that things put there will stay there. For example, the U.S. currently stores military radioactive waste in low-permeability salt formations in New Mexico, and there are numerous pending proposals to store CO2 in sandstones overlain by low-permeability shales in North Dakota.

    But site characterization takes time that we don’t have. The DOE spent more than 20 years evaluating Yucca Mountain. It spent some 14 years studying the New Mexico site. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded in 2018 that we have only until 2030 to stop irreversible climate damage, so it’s urgent that we focus our attention on solutions that can be implemented right now.

    We could jump-start the project by expanding existing carbon capture and storage sites. The problem, as Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Charles Harvey and entrepreneur Kurt House have explained, is that nearly all CCS projects in the U.S. are actually enhanced-recovery projects that keep the oil and gas flowing, and every new barrel of oil and cubic foot of gas sold and burned is putting more CO2 into the atmosphere. So not only do these kinds of projects not help, but they perpetuate our use of fossil fuels at a critical moment in history when we need to do the opposite.

    Despite the U.S. government having spent billions on failed CCS projects, under the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), it is set to spend many billions more, a lot of it in tax subsidies to fossil-fuel companies. In theory, IRA tax credits are to be used for “secure” carbon storage, but the mechanisms for ensuring that CO2 is not leaking back into the atmosphere are flimsy at best. And it gets worse: the Environmental Protection Agency has concluded that if the price of CCS falls—because of tax credits, for example, or economies of scale—some currently closed oil or gas fields might reopen.


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