As mentioned before, the Swedish company Vattenfal has a carbon capture and storage (CCS) demonstration plant in Germany. The idea was to separate pure oxygen from air, burn coal in it, then ship the resulting carbon dioxide (CO2) to an injection facility 150 miles away by truck. The liquified CO2 was then to be injected 3,000 metres underground in a depleted gas field.
Now, due to local opposition, the CO2 is simply being vented into the atmosphere. The company has been unable to secure a permit to bury the carbon, so plans to begin doing to by March or April of this year have been scrapped.
It is hard not to be of two minds about this. On one hand, it is a justified blow against those who assume CCS will be a cheap and simple way to deal with climate change. There are big economic, safety, and effectiveness questions that need to be answered. At the same time, it will not be possible to answer those questions without the kind of demonstration plant Spremberg could be.
A world in which safe, effective, and affordable CCS technology exists is one where catastrophic and runaway climate change is less likely. This is true for both direct and indirect reasons. Directly, fossil-fuel fired plants with CCS would emit less than their non-CCS counterparts. Also, facilities that burned biomass and buried the carbon could actually be net-CO2-negative. Indirectly, making it possible to keep using fossil fuels a bit longer would lessen the level of opposition to the transition to a low carbon economy, particularly when it comes to poor, large, and rapidly developing states like India and China.
We will have to wait and see how other CCS pilot projects – in Europe and elsewhere – develop over the span of the next few years.