Carbon Capture and Storage : Basket of Tricky Questions

Last week’s announcement by the UK Government for up to 4 “demonstration” projects for Carbon Capture and Storage [CCS] at new coal-fired electricity generation plants raises some serious questions.

Not least amongst that basket of tricky and serious questions : is CCS being used to justify the use of coal fuel, when less Carbon-intensive fuels are available ?

George Monbiot will be live on The Guardian website on Thursday 30th April 2009 to answer questions about CCS.

I’ve already added my halfpennyworth (see below).

“Live Q&A: George Monbiot on clean coal : Post your questions to Britain’s leading green commentator, George Monbiot, who will be online at 1pm on Thursday 30 April to answer your questions about clean coal”

Posted by : joabbess

George, I’m sorry I can’t join in with the live Q&A on Thursday as I shall be otherwise engaged all day. So here are a few questions that I hope you find useful :-

1. How many years ago did the UK Government decide to commission “demonstration” projects for Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) ?

2. Why are the “demonstrations” of CCS only going to be for a proportion of the Carbon Dioxide (CO2) emissions of a plant or plants ?

3. Why are the CCS “demonstrations” to be done with coal-fired electricity generation plant ? Why not with Natural Gas (like in France) ? Why not with Biomass (which could theoretically be Carbon-negative) ?

4. Why are you calling for 100% CCS on a plant, when the physics and chemistry and engineering calculations only permit something like 90% maximum without huge extra energy overhead (and the concomitant CO2 emissions) ?

5. Does anyone have any real data on the extra energy required to capture and sequester CO2 from a coal plant (or any other kind of thermal electricity generation plant) ? Can we validate the claims of somewhere in the region of 20% to 55% extra fuel, depending on the technology chosen ?

6. Who advised CCS to the SBSTA of the UNFCCC ? Did the experts consulted include any of the companies who are now tendering for CCS “demonstration” cash in the UK ?

7. Why does the UK Government focus on high technology, cost-positive responses to Climate Change, such as CCS, when there are many hundreds of measures that could cut emissions at zero or negative cost ?

8. Is CCS being chosen as a response to Climate Change or a response to the Energy gap being caused by the closure of other plant such as old nuclear and old coal ?

9. Can anyone guarantee that CCS of any kind will be working at sufficient scale by 2050 to cover all the coal-plant emissions from the UK (which it will need to to meet our CO2 reduction targets) ? Or will we stop using coal for Energy by 2050 ? If so, why are we building CCS plants ? Why not spend the money on truly renewable sustainable energy infrastructure ?

10. Can anyone guarantee that CCS will be working at any kind of scale within 20 years ?

11. How many countries will we need to buy Carbon Quotas from (or CDM CERs or Carbon Permits or whatever) in order to get permission to carry on burning 25% abated coal in the same proportion as today in 2030 ?

12. Is CCS really something that can be retrofitted to any scale ? Surely the best most efficient designs so far being used for Enhanced Oil Recovery, for example, are basically massive chemistry sets and could not really be bolted onto existing plants ?

13. Is CCS just a figleaf to cover up the continuation of a policy to diversify the “energy mix” to include as many indigenous sources of Energy as possible (that is : coal) ?

14. How quickly would the UK run out of space to store CO2 from CCS for the current coal consumption – assuming that all storage was done in disused oil and natural gas fields around the UK ? Surely CO2 has a much larger molecular size than the natural gas it would replace (natural gas is 80% methane chemical formula CH4) ?

15. How much land would be taken up with the kit that would be required to do CCS (the massive chemistry sets and the amount of pumping equipment and pipelines and so on required) ?

16. How could a coal-fired electricity generation plant designed to abate 25% of its CO2 emissions be scaled up easily and cheaply to CCS 90% of its CO2 emissions ?

17. Is CCS a way that the energy companies can justify begging for public money to invest in new coal plant ?

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