Moving forward with Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) as a tool

Where do we currently stand with CCS and were can we go with it? What lies in our future?

Courtesy of IEA CCS Roadmap, 2013; consistent with World Energy Outlook 450 Scenario through 2035

As specified in the past blogs, Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) is the process of not only separating carbon dioxide (CO2) from industrial and energy-related sources, but the key to transport it to a safe location for long term isolation. It is this technology that will be able to control the polluting source from power (coal, biomass, and natural gas) and industrial plants (refineries, cement, and steel). CCS will also help lessen the load of damage caused by depleting geological sinks such as forests which once helped balance the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere. Since CCS is feasible, all the major components of Carbon Capture and Storage are commercially available and deployed today. The key to its success is finding the right mix of climate change policies and marketplace incentives, since it is always cheaper to emit CO2 into the atmosphere than sequester it. When strict carbon policies and strong climate polices are put in place, then this window of opportunity will open fully. Models suggest that if implemented, CCS could cover about 14% of the total emissions reduction needed by 2050 and keep the planet from warming another 2 degrees Celsius. A market pull or technology push will allow this movement to flourish since carbon and electricity markets help pay for CCS projects. The technology push from subsidies and tax credits will also provide a portion of the difference to be met to fund research.

In the future, this technology will offer a solution to a variety of problems. It would produce dispatchable power that is unavailable from intermittent solar and wind power. It will also rescue potential large sums of money stranded on fossil assets. Lastly, CCS will provide the major pathway to negative emissions when combined with biomass fired power plants. The post-combustion aspect of CCS is viable solution since it has made great strides over the past 15 years as a solvent technology, where CO2 is captured in usually liquid material. In the meantime, pre-combustion is slowly advancing due to its high capital costs and complex scientific process. One more futuristic approach includes oxy-combustion where chemical looping (where the metal oxide is introduced to a two-step process that reintroduces a fuel without the carbon dioxide emissions) can revolutionize this technology immensely.

As society continues to evolve, the interest in reducing carbon dioxide is increasing. This technology is a key technique to improve our current situation of over 400 ppm concentration. However, as a technology launching a large scale implementation forces scientists and government officials to analyze the challenges: the regulatory framework, long term liability and public acceptance. This includes the question of how confident this is doable in a large scale and if any signs of leakage (or other undefined consequences) may occur in the geological community in the future. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Working Group 3 of April 2014, summarized that while concerns may arise, CCS is bound to reduce the costs of meeting the stabilizing limit of carbon dioxide concentration in parts per million. Since no other method is currently available and relying on the public to cap their carbon dioxide exhaustion is not reliable, without CCS the target of a maximum 450 ppm cannot be met.

According to Mr. Howard Herzog, a senior research engineer from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Energy Initiative, in the near-term, CCS will be incentivized within

· the United States by the Clean Power Plan and the proposed 30% investment of tax credit

· the United Kingdom by a £billion (billion pound) competition and a contract that will make up for the difference

· Norway by proposing to directly subsidize up to three demonstration projects in cement, ammonia and waste-to-energy from energy plants

Yet, in terms of implementing Carbon Capture and Storage, Herzog estimates that the entire process may cost $50–100 per ton of stored carbon dioxide.

The key to success of reducing carbon dioxide emissions now lands in your hands. Not only is a matter of awareness, but action to keep developing this new technology in hopes of lowering the cost, testing, and becoming less dependent on fossil fuels. Herzog mentioned in the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago seminar on November 18th, 2015,

“Climate policy has not reached the levels to incentivize CCS and I don’t think it’s going to before 2030…therefore if we want to see the technology move forward [since] we have to see technology policy support.”