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THW use carbon capture and storage to curb carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels
THW use carbon capture and storage to curb carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels
Carbon capture and storage (CCS, sometimes also referred to as ‘carbon capture and sequestration’) is the process of capturing the greenhouse gas CO2 (carbon dioxide) and storing it, so it doesn’t enter the atmosphere.
There are several methods of capturing carbon dioxide. This casefile refers to ‘post-combustion capture’ from a big CO2-source like a coal burning power station, and does not, for example, refer to filtering carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. In post-combustion capture, the exhaust gases resulting from burning fossil fuels (called ‘flue gases’) are captured, and then treated chemically to remove the carbon dioxide. The chemical process is called ‘acid gas removal’ and is currently also used to remove the highly toxic hydrogen sulphide from flue gases.
There are a lot of different ways to store carbon dioxide. One can use biological processes (for example by planting trees or using iron fertilization to encourage carbon dioxide-consuming phytoplankton growth in the oceans), chemical (for example by letting carbon dioxide react with magnesium- or calciumoxide to form magnesite or calcite) or physical processes by storing it in either gas form, liquid form, supercritical form (‘highly pressurized gas’) or in solid form. This casefile focusses mainly on one specific storage form, namely the physical process of injecting carbon dioxide in geological formations, for example in depleted oil and gas fields or in saline formations.
CCS is often mentioned in combination with the term ‘clean coal’. Coal is the most used fossil fuel to generate electricity (around 42% of electricity is generated by coal, responsible for 28% of global carbon dioxide-output, see: Power generation from coal, 2010). The ‘clean coal’-movement aims to make this process ‘cleaner’ by applying several techniques, one of which is CCS.
|Points For||Points Against|
|CCS helps mitigate the effect of our continuing use of fossil fuels||Storing carbon dioxide is unsafe|
|CCS is an efficient way to curb emissions of greenhouse gases||CCS leads to more environmental damage|
|CCS can be implemented now||CCS is distracting attention, energy and resources from clean energy-technologies|
Remember to choose a winning argument!
CCS helps mitigate the effect of our continuing use of fossil fuels
The International Energy Agency (IEA) 2011 forecasts that global energy demand will increase by one-third from 2010 to 2035, and 90% of the increased demand will come from non-OECD countries like China and India (World Energy Outlook 2011 Factsheet, 2011). With the state of technology as it is, alternative technologies like solar power are insufficient to meet this demand. This means we will continue to use fossil fuels and will continue to increase carbon dioxide emissions – the IEA predicts a 20% increase of carbon dioxide emissions, causing a long-term increase in global average temperature, with catastrophic effects. If we can’t escape using fossil fuels, we should at least limit their emissions as much as possible, and CCS is a very effective means to that end.Improve this
We shouldn’t be investing in the continued use of fossil fuels
With the currently built power stations, we’re already emitting far too much carbon dioxide – the International Energy Agency estimates that 80% of the cumulative carbon dioxide emitted worldwide between 2009 and 2035 in a scenario which is relatively safe for climate change is already “locked-in” by current production facilities (World Energy Outlook 2011 Factsheet, 2011) so we should not be encouraging the building of yet more carbon dioxide emitting power stations even if they are supposed to capture most of the emissions.
Moreover, fossil fuels are finite: we will most probably run out of them in the 21st century (Peak Uncertainty, 2011). Since power stations have such long life-cycles, we really need to start shifting away from fossil fuels immediately, which is also possible, since the potential supply of energy generated from renewables is 3078 times as much as current energy consumption (Energy [R]evolution, 2010, p. 161)Improve this
CCS is an efficient way to curb emissions of greenhouse gases
The Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) finds that with current capture technologies, carbon dioxide emissions reaching the atmosphere from fossil fuels can be reduced by about 80 – 90% (Carbon dioxide Capture and Storage, 2005). This leads the International Energy Agency to conclude that CCS is a key technology to stem carbon dioxide emissions that can be responsible for up to 18% of emission savings in a ‘safe’ scenario for climate change (World Energy Outlook 2011 Factsheet, 2011). This is because CCS can be fitted to existing power plants rather than requiring completely new plants to be built.Improve this
CCS is too expensive to be cost-efficient
The Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change finds that a power plant equipped with CCS-technology would need somewhere between 10% and 40% more energy to effectively operate (Carbon dioxide Capture and Storage, 2005). An energy penalty of 20% would require the construction of an additional power station for every four of the same size built with CCS, to maintain the same net output that there was before the CCS was fitted. Implementing CCS could lead to a doubling of plant costs, and a resulting electricity price increase of 21-91% (False Hope, 2008) This would make fossil fuel power plants much less competitive compared to renewables and nuclear and would have an immense impact on economies as a result of higher electricity costs.Improve this
CCS can be implemented now
Currently, there are many projects around the world demonstrating the feasibility of CCS. One well-known example is the Sleipner-project in Norway. This site has been in operation since 1996. Another example is the Weyburn-Midale project in Canada, which has stored over 20 million tonnes of carbon dioxide since October 2000. (Interactive Map, Global CCS Institute, 2011)
We can easily implement CCS because the technology is well-known and tested. The technology of injecting carbon dioxide into gas- and oil fields has been used already when drilling for gas and oil: oil companies use carbon dioxide injections to push out oil and gas. (Carbon dioxide capture and storage, 2005).Improve this
CCS can’t scale up in time to be effective
Most of the projects around are ‘demonstration projects’ and don’t effect global emissions that much. Take the Weyburn-Midale project: according to the Global CCS Institute, this project stores 7,700 tonnes of carbon dioxide per day. In 2008, Canada emitted 554,091,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide (List of countries by carbon dioxide emissions, 2011). Based on these figures, the Weyburn-Midale project only absorbed about 0.5% of Canada’s carbon dioxide emissions in 2008.
Building new plants fitted with CCS is expensive, as is retrofitting existing plants and investing in the pipeline-network, so CCS isn’t likely to become commercially viable soon. In fact, research done by McKinsey, argued that CCS will only become commercially viable from 2030 onwards - but only if governments massively subsidize it (Report claims CCS will be commercially viable by 2030, 2008). This is far too late.Improve this
Storing carbon dioxide is unsafe
The places where carbon dioxide will be stored, can leak, either through bad design or via natural processes, for example when it’s stored in porous rock. Even if the carbon dioxide leaks way slowly, this still has disastrous consequences. On the global scale, a leakage rate of only 1% per year would mean that 63% of carbon dioxide will have escaped into the atmosphere after 100 years, effectively negating the ‘emission savings’ promised. Whilst slowly leaking away, the carbon dioxide will pollute the shallow subsurface area above the storage site.
The consequences locally would be even worse if by technical accident it would release all of its carbon dioxide. A natural example of the danger of carbon dioxide leakage occurred in a volcanically active area at Lake Nyos in Cameroon in 1986. 1.6 million tonnes of carbon dioxide that had accumulated on the bottom of the lake was suddenly released, killing 1700 people and thousands of cattle within 25 kilometers of the lake through suffocation (False Hope, 2008).Improve this
Storing carbon dioxide is safe
The odds of carbon dioxide leaking away are incredibly small: according to research done by Edinburgh University it’s about 1 in 100 million ('CO2 storage safe' say Edinburgh University scientists, 2011). The IPCC finds that “Observations from engineered and natural analogues as well as models suggest that the fraction retained in appropriately selected and managed geological reservoirs is very likely to exceed 99% over 100 years and is likely to exceed 99% over 1,000 years” (Carbon dioxide capture and storage, 2005).
The reason why the chances of leakage are so small, as the IPCC observes, is because many of the storage sites have been functioning as storage sites for millions of years already. Take empty gas fields: these have been storing flammable fossil fuels for thousands, if not millions of years, until we started searching for it and pumping it out of the ground. If these fields can hold gas and oil, why can’t they hold carbon dioxide?Improve this
CCS leads to more environmental damage
The EU’s Environmental Agency has found that CCS could result in increased emissions of air pollutants such as particulate matter and nitrogen oxide, because plants equipped with CCS technology needs up to 25% more energy to run and therefore needs more fuel. Emissions of ammonia could rise by a factor of three or even higher if CCS technology is involved (Air pollution impacts from carbon capture and storage, 2011).
Furthermore, let’s not forget the fossil fuel industry in general is dirty. In ‘The True Cost of Coal’, Greenpeace gives several examples of how mining for coal generates ‘externalities’ that destroy local communities: In Jharia, India, thousands of people living around the area’s decaying coal mine endure horrendous living conditions caused by uncontrollable coal fires. In the Kuyavia-Pomerania region of Poland, mining activities have caused the water level of Lake Ostrowskie to drop dramatically (The True Cost of Coal, 2008). CCS doesn’t stop these horrible practices and could indeed encourage them by making coal power plants seem environmentally friendly so leading to greater demand for coal.Improve this
CCS doesn’t have to lead to more damage
In the same report, the EU’s Environmental Agency concluded that the extra risk of air pollution didn’t outweigh the benefits of saving carbon dioxide emissions. Also, the argument that extracting fossil fuels has negative externalities is not an argument against CCS per se. Take one example Greenpeace names: “In Russia, unsafe mining conditions have meant injury and death for scores of workers.” (The True Cost of Coal, 2008). The real cause of this ‘negative externality’ is the Russian government, which has allowed lax labour safety regulations and doesn’t monitor safety conditions well or enforce the standards it does have. The same lax labour standards would apply even if Russia fully switched to alternative energy.Improve this
CCS is distracting attention, energy and resources from clean energy-technologies
Our best bet right now is to do everything we can to leave fossil fuels behind us: they’re polluting, endangering our planet and are going to run out anyway. So, we should focus all our energy and resources into developing alternative, renewable resources. Instead, coal and oil companies are putting up a façade of ‘being clean’, tricking us into thinking something like ‘clean fossil fuels’ actually exists. Take the example of ‘clean coal’: even with CCS, coal is and will remain an essentially dirty business. Believing that CCS mitigates this is succumbing to the millions of dollars the coal lobby has invested in marketing and advertising (clean coal is a myth, date unknown). Instead we should be focusing on the cleanest renewable energies; working out how to make them as cheap and efficient as possible so that the majority of electricity generation can be done cleanly.Improve this
CCS is an intermediary whilst realizing the transition to clean energy technologies
Calling something a ´marketing myth´ is disingenuous: no matter what the fossil fuel industry would say in response, it can always be shrugged of as ‘mere marketing’.
In fact, the energy industry knows that CCS should be considered an ‘intermediate’ technology. For example, look at the following project, called Road2020. This is a Dutch CCS-demonstration project led by several big European energy companies. On their ‘objectives’ page, they state: “[..]an eventual move to sustainable energy supplies [is] a must. At the same time, as part of the transition to sustainable energy supplies, we will need to deploy a range of technologies – including CCS – […]”. (Objectives, date unknown). For commercial companies currently still fully reliant on fossil fuels, this can be considered a bold endorsement of renewable energy, and the acknowledgement that we will need CCS before we get there.Improve this
BBC News, ‘'CO2 storage safe' say Edinburgh University scientists’, September 12, 2011. URL: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-edinburgh-east-fife-14887494 Last consulted: December 21, 2011.
Business Green.com, ‘Report claims CCS will be commercially viable by 2030’. September 28, 2008. URL: http://www.businessgreen.com/bg/news/1802639/report-claims-ccs-commercially-viable-2030 Last consulted: December 21, 2011.
European Environmental Agency. Air pollution impacts from carbon capture and storage (CCS). 2010. URL for PDF: http://www.eea.europa.eu/publications/carbon-capture-and-storage Last consulted: December 21, 2011.
Intergovernmental Panel Climate Change. Carbon Dioxide Capture and Storage. 2005. URL for PDF: http://www.ipcc.ch/pdf/special-reports/srccs/srccs_wholereport.pdf Last consulted: December 19, 2011.
International Energy Agency. Power generation from coal. 2010. URL for PDF: http://www.iea.org/papers/2010/power_generation_from_coal.pdf Last consulted: December 18, 2011
International Energy Agency. World Energy Outlook Factsheet. 2011. URL for PDF: http://www.worldenergyoutlook.org/docs/weo2011/factsheets.pdf Last consulted: December 19, 2011.
Greenpeace. Energy [R]evolution. A Sustainable World Energy Outlook. URL for PDF: http://www.greenpeace.org/international/en/campaigns/climate-change/energyrevolution/ Last consulted: December 19, 2011.
Greenpeace. False Hope. Why carbon capture and storage won’t save the climate. 2008. URL for PDF: http://www.greenpeace.org/international/en/publications/reports/false-hope/ Last consulted: December 19, 2011
Greenpeace. The True Cost of Coal. 2008. URL for PDF: http://www.greenpeace.org/international/en/publications/reports/cost-of-coal/ Last consulted: December 21, 2011
Greenpeace/Quit coal, Clean coal is a myth. Date unknown. URL: http://quitcoal.org/clean-coal Last consulted: December 21, 2011
Global CCS Institute. Interactive Map of Projects. 2011. URL: http://www.globalccsinstitute.com/projects/map Last Consulted: December 21, 2011.
Road 2020, ‘Objectives’. Date unknown. URL: http://www.road2020.nl/en/road/doelstellingen/ Last consulted: December 21, 2011.
American Society of Mechanical Engineers, ‘Peak Uncertainty.’ March, 2011. URL: http://www.asme.org/kb/news---articles/articles/fossil-power/peak-uncertainty Last consulted: December 19, 2011.
Wikipedia, ‘List of countries by carbon dioxide emmissions’. URL: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_carbon_dioxide_emmissions Last consulted: December 21, 2011
If you want to know more about the technical issues surrounding CCS, the following wikipedia-pages are good places to start:
The general page on carbon capture and storage: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carbon_capture_and_storage Last consulted: December 18, 2011
More about the acid gas removal technique: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Acid_gas_removal Last consulted: December 18, 2011
More about the different methods of storing carbon dioxide: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carbon_sequestration Last consulted: December 18, 2011
The International Energy Agency has a page dedicated to both the technical and regulatory/legal issues of CCS: http://www.iea.org/ccs/
For a very simple explanation of the CCS-process, look at this website, developed by the association of coal-based electricity companies: http://www.americaspower.org/carbon-capture-storage Last consulted: December 18, 2011
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