CCS: Neither bullet nor hype
Is carbon capture and sequestration a magic bullet to curb emissions or is the technology a bunch of hype?
The starting point in the discussion on carbon capture and storage (CCS) has to be that much used phrase, "There are no silver bullets". It is true of CCS as well. However, when looking at the possible range of solutions to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, it does figure high on the list of things that will need to be done. In the big picture story there are five things that can be done, and CCS is one of them. They include:
1. Using energy more efficiently;
2. Introducing more renewable, bio and nuclear energy;
3. Initially substituting natural gas for coal and eventually linking CCS with all fossil fuel use;
4. Converting, destroying or capturing emissions of non-CO2 GHGs;
5. Managing land use and deforestation.
So CCS is important. A good starting point for understanding this is the CCS Technology Roadmap (pdf) recently published by the International Energy Agency (IEA). The roadmap makes the case for the global deployment of CCS and spells out the necessary pace of deployment such that CCS can deliver not only on its potential by 2050 but its necessity in contributing to a global emissions pathway which equates to a long term atmospheric concentration of CO2 of 450 ppm. The take-away headline from the IEA Roadmap is that "CCS delivers one-fifth of the lowest cost GHG reduction solution in 2050."
The IEA roadmap breaks down the deployment by region and highlights the need for 29 projects in North America by 2020, leading to a very substantial deployment in 2050 where some 590 projects are foreseen. The projects include 11 GW (77 Mt CO2 per annum) in the power sector and a further 12 projects in the industrial and upstream oil and gas sectors, with the latter storing 44 Mt CO2 per annum. This gives a total 2020 storage in North America of some 120 million tonnes of CO2 per annum, which could equate to 100-110 Mt/a in the USA.
CCS isn't a single technology but rather a family of technologies combined in a particular way, with all those individual technologies in operation at scale today in many parts of the world, but not in CCS applications. This means it is technically viable now. Although there is doubtless room for improvement, CCS isn't in need of more fundamental R&D, it is in need of demonstration in a number of large scale projects.
It will also need a comprehensive policy framework for deployment. But the real key is a CO2 price, delivered through an emissions trading system. However, getting a new large scale industry up and running, even with just a few projects covering a few of the technology options will be a considerable challenge. Despite a full range of measures now in place in the EU delays persist and the recent weakening of the CO2 price through the recession has probably delayed the process further.
Delivering on the early goals of the IEA Roadmap in the USA is by no means a given and will require continued effort by both the private and public sectors over the coming decade.
March 24, 2010; 12:57 PM ET
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Posted by: fabco | March 28, 2010 6:59 PM
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