The future of Carbon Capture and Storage

 (The main steps of CCS processes: capture, transportation, storage [1])

     Many human activities rely on the combustion of fossil fuels, such as road and air transportation, and power stations. Carbon dioxide emissions are released into the atmosphere when fossil fuels are burned. The increasing emission of carbon dioxide is responsible for environmentally global warming. Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) is a mitigation technology to avoid carbon dioxide entering the atmosphere by capturing and burying CO2. It can help limit CO2 emissions and allow for the continued use of fossil fuels.

CCS is also known as carbon sequestration. It involves three processes in the CCS technology. First, capturing the CO2 produced from industrial or power generation processes, at a specific installation, and liquefied it. Second, transport the CO2 to an underground geological formation which is suitable geological formations, such as deep underground saline aquifers or disused oil fields. The later method is also used in “Enhanced Oil Recovery”, where CO2 pushing the remaining oil [2].

CCS is critically dependent on comprehensive policy support. This is because, in contrast to renewable energy, CCS generates no revenue. And it is expensive to install and operate. The International Energy Agency has released a paper “A Policy Strategy for Carbon Capture and Storage”. This guide aims to assist the development of CCS from its early stages through to wide-scale deployment of the technology [3].

Because the weak support for the CCS technology, two carbon capture and storage projects in Germany and Britain were canceled in 2011 and many of the remaining projects will probably share that fate this year. The imperilment is a mix of regulatory objections, a lack of money, public opposition to the possible geological risks and broader uncertainty about strategies to slow climate change. While the technology enjoys political and financial support in many countries, including United States and Canada, the United States has four operational projects, with three more under construction and 18 planned; and Canada has one operational and two under construction, with three awaiting final decisions and three in the planning stage [4].

CCS is still a very expensive process now. The high expenses and untested technology would make it less attractive.  It is hoped that technological developments will eventually reduce the costs associated with CCS technology and the comprehensive policy would incentive commercial investment in CCS. As a promising technology to mitigate climate change without sacrificing the reliability and affordability of fossil fuels, it is well worth supporting and developing the CCS projects.

(1) Figure: “Carbon Capture and Storage”, <http://wiki.dickinson.edu/index.php/Carbon_Capture_and_Storage>

(2) “Carbon Capture and Sequestration (CCS)”, Congressional Research Service, June 19, 2009 <http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/RL33801.pdf>

(3) “A Policy Strategy for Carbon Capture and Storage”, International Energy Agency, January 2012, <http://www.iea.org/papers/2012/policy_strategy_for_ccs.pdf>

(4) “Growing Doubts in Europe on Future of Carbon Storage”, the New York Times, January 16, 2012, <http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/17/technology/17iht-rbog-ccs17.html>

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “The future of Carbon Capture and Storage

  1. keithmagdoza

    Carbon capture storage is a controversial issue in the realm of climate change. The results from a recent Economist debate show that 57% of voters are against CCS while 43% are in favor of it. [1]

    Those against CCS have a number of valid reasons. As you’ve already mentioned, CCS has the potential to damage ecosystems; leaks can cause the concentrated CO2 to enter the atmosphere anyway, and new infrastructure can damage existing habitats. Another reason is that currently, the technology is both expensive and inefficient. Although there are promises that the technology will improve in the future, it is feared that this reasoning would justify the creation of more fossil-fuel plants, which only contributes more to climate change. This would worsen if the technology never actually improves. [1]

    Proponents of CCS support its usefulness in mitigating the damage done by industrial processes and securing the convenience fossil-fuels as an energy source. The process of carbon capture is also similar to already existing processes of the chemical and electricity industries, meaning that the mechanisms behind infrastructure and scale-up projects are well-understood. Looking towards the future, optimists believe that improving technology will cause carbon capture systems to not only remove CO2 from flue gas, but also be able to remove CO2 from the atmosphere itself, providing a fix to global warming. [1]

    Despite this debate, CCS is advancing (although somewhat slowly) throughout the world. Recently, the Summit Power Group has made plans for a 90% CCS system to be implemented in the Grangemouth oil refinery in Scotland. [2] Environmentalists are in favor of this high percentage of carbon capture but are also worried about the impacts of the carbon’s eventual use in enhanced oil recovery. As the race for clean energy solutions carries on, only time will tell where carbon capture storage finds its footing.

    [1] http://www.economist.com/debate/debates/overview/218

    [2] http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2012/mar/20/petrofac-carbon-capture-storage-grangemouth

  2. selmster

    Although CCS seems to be a promising idea in the quest to lower CO2 emissions, I think it is important to note that not everyone is on board yet. There are some reasonable concerns and arguments against CCS that I have come across.
    There are trade-offs in the use of CCS technology, and although “CCS may have an overall positive effect on air pollution, emissions of some pollutants may increase.” Plants that use CCS technology require more feed fuel to run, meaning that direct emissions at the plant itself are increased, and indirect emissions from acquiring the additional feed fuel are also increased. Overall carbon dioxide and sulphur dioxide emissions are predicted to fall greatly, while particulate matter and nitrogen oxide emissions are expected to increase. Also, ammonia emissions may increase greatly, according to a study reported by the EEA. [1]
    Environmentalists warn that burying CO2 underground could later result in groundwater contamination, as CO2 could seep out. The potential of eruptions of CO2 exist, and some fear that even minor earthquakes could result. Opponents bring up the point that CCS may in fact further our dependence on fossil fuels, as it can be used to enhance oil recovery. [2]
    Although good issues are raised, I think everyone realizes that CCS is not a perfect solution to all of the pollution problems. However, for the time being, this is a good alternative and will overall lead to lower carbon dioxide emissions while in the meantime further progress can be made.
    1) http://www.eea.europa.eu/highlights/carbon-capture-and-storage-could
    2) http://www.energyboom.com/emerging/carbon-storage-japan-look-pros-and-cons-css-technology

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