Shiny Imaginary Friends – The Dream of Carbon Capture and Storage

This week has seen a flurry of “Yes, We Can” news articles about the Carbon Capture and Storage technology, or CCS.

“Solution to the carbon problem could be under the ground : Hope for the fight against climate change as study finds greenhouse gas can be buried without fear of leaking : By Steve Connor, Science Editor : Thursday, 2 April 2009 : Carbon dioxide captured from the chimneys of power stations could be safely buried underground for thousands of years without the risk of the greenhouse gas seeping into the atmosphere, a study has found.”

“Carbon Capture Has A Sparkling Future, New Findings Show : ScienceDaily (Apr. 2, 2009) — New research shows that for millions of years carbon dioxide has been stored safely and naturally in underground water in gas fields saturated with the greenhouse gas. The findings – published in Nature April 1 – bring carbon capture and storage a step closer. Politicians are committed to cutting levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide to slow climate change. Carbon capture and storage is one approach to cut levels of the gas until cleaner energy sources are developed.”

“Natural carbon capture encourages scientists : By Richard Lindell for AM : Posted Thu Apr 2, 2009 12:12pm AEDT : CO2 capture: scientists say they can use the earth’s natural ability to hold gas as a way of countering emissions. Researchers have found that nature has been storing CO2 safely in water within gas fields for millions of years. The findings, published this morning in the scientific journal Nature, are an important step in proving the viability of carbon capture and storage in depleted oil and gas fields. The lead researcher, Dr Stuart Gilfillan from the University of Edinburgh, says if CO2 is injected into a depleted oil or gas field he would expect that CO2 would dissolve into that water over time…Dr Gilfillan says his team was able to show there was no leakage from the fields, which occur naturally around the world.”

“Carbon capture has a sparkling future : 2 April 2009 : New research shows that for millions of years carbon dioxide has been stored safely and naturally in underground water in gas fields saturated with the greenhouse gas. The findings – published in Nature yesterday – bring carbon capture and storage a step closer. Politicians are committed to cutting levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide to slow climate change. Carbon capture and storage is one approach to cut levels of the gas until cleaner energy sources are developed. But the risks around the long-term storage of millions of cubic metres of carbon dioxide in depleted gas and oil fields has met with some concern, not least because of the possibility of some of the gas escaping and being released back to the atmosphere. Until now, researchers couldn’t be sure how the gas would be securely trapped underground.”–

“Storing underground is safe, say Scots experts : Published Date: 02 April 2009 : By Jenny Haworth : CARBON dioxide can be stored safely underground for millions of years, Scots scientists have shown. Their research demonstrates that the technique of capturing from power stations and storing it underground could be used safely. Hope is being pinned on the technology, known as carbon capture and storage, to enable fossil-fuel power stations to continue operating without adding to climate change. There have been concerns about the risks of storing underground in depleted gasfields and oilfields, with fears it could escape back into the atmosphere. However, scientists from the universities of Edinburgh and Manchester analysed nine gasfields around the world and discovered had been stored in them naturally for millions of years. Mainly the gas was dissolved in water.”

“Home > Earth > Energy > Carbon Capture : Carbon capture and storage moves a step closer : Greenhouse gases can be stored safely stored under the sea for millions of years, scientists have discovered, in a major step forward in the fight against climate change. : By Louise Gray, Environment Correspondent : Last Updated: 11:06AM BST 01 Apr 2009 : Storing carbon dioxide underground in a process known as carbon capture and storage or CCS would enable fossil fuel power stations in countries like India and China to continue operating without harming the environment. The technology is also being considered by the British Government as a way of enabling new coal-fired power stations like Kingsnorth to continue operating while meeting ambitious climate change targets on cutting carbon emissions. However, until now it has not been certain whether it would be safe to store the carbon dioxide underground over a long period of time without leakage occuring. Now a study published in the journal Nature has shown that for millions of years carbon dioxide has been stored safely and naturally in underground water in gas fields saturated with the greenhouse gas. In the first real studies into greenhouse gas storage, rather than looking at computer models, scientists examined how the carbon dioxide dissolved in nine gas fields in North America, China and Europe. These gas fields were naturally filled with carbon dioxide thousands or millions of years ago.”

But the future is not all bright or all right :-

“Nature’s underground carbon stores aren’t rock solid : Instead, they’re wet and fizzy like bottled drinks, study finds : Last Updated: Wednesday, April 1, 2009 | 6:00 PM ET : CBC News : Carbon dioxide stored in water can erupt back into the atmosphere through natural vents such as the Chaffin Ranch geyser in Utah. Carbon dioxide stored underground in nature eventually ends up mainly in fizzy water, not rocks — and that could have implications for artificial carbon capture and storage projects. A new study by British, Canadian and U.S. researchers, published in Thursday’s edition of Nature, sheds some light on the conditions that allow carbon dioxide to be safely stored underground for thousands or millions of years, as well conditions under which it might leak back out into the atmosphere.”

“Carbon capture would create fizzy underground oceans : North Sea could turn to Perrier, cautions prof : By Lewis Page : Posted in Environment, 2nd April 2009 13:23 GMT : New research has possibly given a boost to the idea of carbon capture, indicating that CO2 is sometimes held dissolved in underground water for millions of years. However, it is acknowledged that CO2 contained in subterranean water is prone to bubble out again, and often does so – famously at naturally-sparkling springs, for instance. The new information comes from a novel carbon-sequestration study carried out by government-funded researchers in the UK and Canada. Rather than using computer modelling, the scientists examined nine gas fields in North America, China and Europe. They used isotopes of carbon and noble trace gases (helium, neon) as tracers to work out what had happened to CO2 naturally present in the ground many millennia in the past.”

“Carbon capture and storage : Trouble in store : Mar 5th 2009 : From The Economist : Politicians are pinning their hopes for delivery from global warming on a technology that is not quite airtight : A RECENT American television advertisement features a series of trustworthy-looking individuals affirming their faith in the potential of “clean coal”. One by one, a sensible old lady in a hat, a lab-coated scientist standing by a microscope, a fresh-faced young schoolteacher, a weather-beaten farmer and a can-do machinist face the camera square-on and declare, “I believe.” The idea that clean coal, or to be more specific, a technology known as carbon capture and storage (CCS), will save the world from global warming has become something of an article of faith among policymakers too. CCS features prominently in all the main blueprints for reducing greenhouse-gas emissions. The Stern Review, a celebrated report on the economics of climate change, considers it “essential”. It provides one of the seven tranches of emissions cuts proposed by Robert Socolow of Princeton University. The International Energy Agency (IEA) reckons the world will need over 200 power plants equipped with CCS by 2030 to limit the rise in average global temperatures to about 3°C—a bigger increase than many scientists would like…
The problem with CCS is the cost. The chemical steps in the capture consume energy, as do the compression and transport of the carbon dioxide. That will use up a quarter or more of the output of a power station fitted with CCS, according to most estimates. So plants with CCS will need to be at least a third bigger than normal ones to generate the same net amount of power, and will also consume at least a third more fuel. In addition, there is the extra expense of building the capture plant and the injection pipelines. If the storage site is far from the power plant, yet more energy will be needed to move the carbon dioxide.”

But why do we go along with the general happy wave of optimistic propaganda about the future developments of technology ?

“Wednesday, April 01, 2009 : Facing Decline, Facing Ourselves : Of all the fallacies that surround the contemporary crisis of industrial civilization, and have done so much to bring that crisis down on us, the most seductive is the assumption that it’s a technical problem that can be solved by technical means. That’s an easy assumption to make, for a variety of reasons, but it puts us in the situation of the drunkard in the old joke who looks for his keys under the streetlight half a block from the dark sidewalk where he dropped them, since under the streetlight he can at least see what he’s doing. The technical aspects of our predicament, though challenging, are the least of our worries; it’s the other aspects that have proven intractable. Consider the project of cutting US per capita energy consumption to a third of its present level. Given that the average European uses a third as much energy each year as the average American, and in many ways gets a better standard of living out of it, this is far from impossible; a great deal of the technology is sitting on the shelf only one continent away, in effect, and simply needs to be put to work. Now of course such a project would require a great deal of investment in railways, mass transit, urban redevelopment, and the like, but what’s been spent on recent military adventures in the Middle East would cover much of it – and let’s not even talk about what could be done with the funds being wasted right now to prop up Wall Street banks looted by their own executives in the final blowoff of an epoch of corporate kleptocracy. The return on the investment needed to cut our energy use to European levels, in turn, would be immense. Since the US still produces more than a third of the oil it uses, to name only one result, we would no longer be sending billions of dollars a year to line the pockets of Middle Eastern despots; we’d be a net exporter of oil – even, quite conceivably, a member of OPEC. So why isn’t so sensible a project being debated right now in the halls of Congress? Why, more broadly, has energy conservation through lifestyle change – arguably the single easiest and most cost effective option we have on hand in dealing with the end of the age of cheap oil – been entirely off the political and cultural radar screens since the end of the 1970s, so much so that most of those who have noticed that we’re running out of cheap abundant energy have framed the issue entirely in terms of finding some technical gimmick that will let us keep on living the way we live now?”

CCS is coming. It will be slow. It will not be universal. It will be an expensive niche product, attracting high Carbon Credits, which means it will be mostly in China, under a “transfer of technology” agreement. It’s going to remain expensive.

Real, deep Carbon cuts are going to cost you nothing, actually. In the end, universal recession will put the brakes on the burning of Fossil Fuels and the globalised trade in trees, Indonesian/Malaysian rainforest palm oil, and Amazonian-ranched meat and soya will collapse.

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