Carbon Capture and Storage: A Licence to Pollute? Basic Facts Green Investors Should Know.
About Cleantech Investing: Climate Series Part I: Carbon
As global leaders strive to achieve net-zero carbon emissions and shift towards sustainable energy sources, technology is anticipated to be a crucial enabler. Carbon capture and storage (CCS) has emerged as a promising technology that could help reduce emissions. Nevertheless, there are several obstacles that prevent CCS from gaining widespread adoption, including economic challenges and potential safety concerns.
CCS could cut global CO2 emissions by 17% by 2050.
CCS captures up to 90% of CO2 emissions
CCS is expensive depending on the specific technology, the project and its location.
CCS is energy-intensive and consumes 30% to 50% of a power plant’s total energy output.
26 large-scale CCS facilities worldwide, capture and store around 40 million tons of CO2 per year.
What is Carbon Capture and Storage?
Carbon capture and storage (CCS) is a process that involves capturing, transporting, and storing greenhouse gas emissions from sources such as fossil fuel power plants, energy-intensive industries, and gas fields by injecting the captured greenhouse gases back into the ground. While CCS can be applied in various settings, this fact sheet focuses on its use in conjunction with fossil fuel energy infrastructure. However, not all aspects of CCS discussed here may be equally applicable to other uses of the technology.
Proponents of CCS suggest that it can help mitigate the impact of emissions-intensive industries like cement, steel, and chemical production. Nevertheless, CCS is not a zero-emissions solution, especially when implemented in association with highly-polluting coal and gas projects.
CCS, as a "band-aid" approach
Some critics argue that CCS is not a solution to the underlying problem of carbon emissions. Instead, it may allow industries to continue emitting greenhouse gases without making significant changes to their operations. In other words, CCS may be seen as a "band-aid" solution rather than a comprehensive approach to reducing emissions. Other critics even go further and argue that carbon capture and storage (CCS) is a "license to pollute" that enables increased greenhouse gas emissions. Many CCS projects worldwide are being developed to facilitate ongoing oil and gas production, which still accounts for nearly three-quarters of global CCS initiatives, rather than to reduce emissions. The coal and gas industry is advocating for CCS not primarily to lower emissions but to justify the continuation of polluting projects.
For instance, CCS can be used for enhanced oil recovery, in which the captured CO2 is sold to oil companies to extract otherwise inaccessible oil. However, this defeats the purpose of CCS if the amount of CO2 captured does not offset the CO2 released by burning the newly accessible oil. Without accounting for the emissions from the extracted oil, CCS may only contribute to the greenhouse gas in the atmosphere, making it a less effective tool for mitigating climate change.
The Cost of CCS Is High
After decades of CCS research and billions of dollars invested around the world, there is little to show for it. The around 40 million tons of CO2 per year by CCS projects account for only 1% of the total emissions.
In fact, when CCS is attached to coal and gas power stations it is likely to be at least six times more expensive than electricity generated from wind power backed by battery storage. One report from researchers at the University of Utah cites estimates of a 50% to 80% increase in the cost of electricity in order to pay for the implementation of CCS technology. In order to equip existing industry and electric generation plants with CCS technology, the cost of the product being generated must increase if no subsidies are provided. One report from researchers at the University of Utah cites estimates of a 50% to 80% increase in the cost of electricity in order to pay for the implementation of CCS technology.
There are currently no regulatory frameworks in place that mandate or encourage the implementation of carbon capture and storage (CCS). Consequently, the expenses associated with CO2 separation equipment, transportation infrastructure, and storage facilities may be prohibitively expensive. To date, every carbon capture and storage (CCS) project has encountered significant setbacks and enormous cost overruns. Trials of CCS on coal-fired power plants around the world have been resounding failures. The limited number of projects that have progressed have far exceeded their initial budgets and timelines, captured far less carbon than originally anticipated, and are mostly inactive now. Given the risk of long-term storage, no private company is willing to finance a CCS project, leaving taxpayers responsible for any potential liabilities.
Other disadvantages of CCS
The long-term storage capacity for CO2 is uncertain
Carbon capture and storage (CCS) faces uncertainty regarding the long-term storage capacity for captured CO2. Environmental protection agencies predict that not all countries will have sufficient CO2 storage capacity to effectively deploy CCS. Accurately calculating storage capacities for various sites is challenging, as noted by researchers at Khalifa University of Science and Technology, making it difficult to determine the worldwide CO2 storage capacity. While scientists at MIT suggest that the United States has enough CO2 storage capacity for the next 100 years, the outlook beyond that remains unclear.
CO2 transport and storage sites are not risk-free
There are potential risks associated with CO2 transport and storage. Despite low accident rates, the release of CO2 during transport could pose a threat to human life if concentrations reach between 7% and 10%, as noted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Similarly, a sudden or gradual leak at the storage site could contaminate soil and groundwater, endangering nearby communities and animals. Seismic events triggered by CO2 injection could also disrupt the surrounding areas.
Public perception of storage location Is negative
The public's perception of storing CO2 is generally negative due to perceived risks. Implementation of CCS technology on a large scale requires finding a location to store the captured CO2. Although public awareness of CCS is low, those who are aware often have a neutral or positive perception of it until the storage location is mentioned. The "Not in My Back Yard" effect is strong, causing people to reject large projects like CCS near them due to concerns about health and lifestyle risks, as well as a perceived unfairness in its placement, as mentioned in a study by scientists at St. Petersburg Mining University in Russia.
CCS is not the silver bullet for addressing climate change; as evidence suggests, it might extend the use of fossil fuels, which are major sources of pollution While it has some potential benefits, it also poses several serious risks and limitations. Therefore, it is important to prioritize renewable energy sources and other sustainable solutions that can help us achieve net-zero emissions in the long run.
To halt the rise of global temperatures, reaching net-zero emissions is imperative. Developing renewable energy sources like wind and solar, which have become more affordable over the past decade, is a more cost-effective approach. The emphasis should be on preventing carbon emissions, rather than capturing them after they have been emitted, to achieve net-zero emissions.