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Carbon Capture and Storage : Today’s Trojan, Tomorrow’s Turkey

Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) has been just the wisp or filament of an idea for so long; and never really taken on a bodily form. It’s still ectoplasmic, in the worst of ways. Despite the various attempts around the world to drag it kicking and screaming into a corporeal existence.

Yes, you’ll hear about your Sleipner, your Snohvit and your Weyburn and your Salah; your Schwarze Pumpe and even smell the promise of FutureGen waved under your nose several times a year.

But none of these projects has the kind of scale required to sequester the Carbon Dioxide emissions from a significant percentage of Coal-burning.

Plus, they’re not going to be with us for a while yet. Yet apparently we only have 100 months (or less) to come up with a solution for Climate Change.

Those of you with a UK-centric perspective could be forgiven for thinking that CCS is actually the brainchild and wholly-owned-policy of the UK Government Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC). That’s the way the British media are encouraged to paint the story. But it goes much deeper and further than Westminster.

And the problems aren’t just to do with scale and speed of implementation.

Although the UK Government Minister for Energy and Climate Change, Ed Miliband, has been pursuing European Policy to the best of his ability, the kind of investment required for CCS makes it deeply unattractive, and so the scale of the “demonstration projects”, again, will not be of a sufficient scale to count, seriously.

How did this all start, this small-time, tiny-scale, very costly scuttle towards CCS ? And why is everyone with decision-making power pursuing it, vain and untenable and ethereal though it appears ?

Well, part of the history of this batch of rotten eggs can be traced back to some energy and engineering companies. No surprise there, then.

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, way back, in 2006, took up the recommendations of the SBSTA, its Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice, with presentations from, amongst others, Shell, Statoil, Chevron, BP and Vattenfall.

But none of them have a sizeable Carbon Capture and Storage operation, and none of them can swear, hand on heart, that CCS can really be made to work at the kind of scale proposed for the optimistic cost estimates.

I’m afraid to say that the evidence is that the Energy Industry have been entrusted with the cachet of expertise on a matter that they can probably not deliver.

Privately-owned profit-making enterprises, resting on the shoulders of historical capital, with a vested interest in the continuation of their own Carbon-soaked business.

And worse : all the UNFCCC, European and American negotiations seem to expect CCS to become part of the international trade in Carbon Emissions using the so-called “Clean Development Mechanism”. It should really be nominated the “Clean Coal Development Mechanism”, because that appears to be the central aim of it.

So many people seem to believe the “Clean Coal” fairytale now, that it’s becoming a central plank. Why, even large new coal-fired electricity generation plants, like Kingsnorth in Kent, England, are likely [60% to 85%] to be given the go-ahead on the hypothetical basis that CCS will be available and retrofittable in the near future.

That’s not what I call a good omen.

Expect ructions.


“CARBON DIOXIDE CAPTURE AND STORAGE : IPCC, 2005: IPCC Special Report on Carbon Dioxide Capture and Storage. Prepared by Working Group III of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change”

[Page 21]

“Scenario studies indicate that the number of large point sources is projected to increase in the future, and that, by 2050, given expected technical limitations, around 20–40% of global fossil fuel CO2 emissions could be technically suitable for capture, including 30–60% of the CO2 emissions from electricity generation and 30–40% of those from industry. Emissions from large-scale biomass conversion facilities could also be technically suitable for capture. The proximity of future large point sources to potential storage sites has not been studied…”

[Page 24]

“18. Available evidence suggests that, worldwide, it is likely [probability between 66 and 90%] that there is a technical potential of at least about 2,000 GtCO2 (545 GtC) of storage capacity in geological formations. There could be a much larger potential for geological storage in saline formations, but the upper limit estimates are uncertain due to lack of information and an agreed methodology. The capacity of oil and gas reservoirs is better known. Technical storage capacity in coal beds is much smaller and less well known. Model calculations for the capacity to store CO2 in the oceans indicate that this capacity could be on the order of thousands of GtCO2, depending on the assumed stabilization level in the atmosphere and on environmental constraints such as ocean pH change. The extent to which mineral carbonation may be used can currently not be determined, since it depends on the unknown amount of silicate reserves that can be technically exploited and on environmental issues such as the volume of product disposal.”

“19. In most scenarios for stabilization of atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations between 450 and 750 ppmv CO2 and in a least-cost portfolio of mitigation options, the economic potential of CCS would amount to 220–2,200 GtCO2 (60–600 GtC) cumulatively, which would mean that CCS contributes 15–55% to the cumulative mitigation effort worldwide until 2100, averaged over a range of baseline scenarios. It is likely that the technical potential for geological storage is sufficient to cover the high end of the economic potential range, but for specific regions, this may not be true. Uncertainties in these economic potential estimates are significant. For CCS to achieve such an economic potential, several hundreds to thousands of CO2 capture systems would need to be installed over the coming century, each capturing some 1–5 MtCO2 per year. The actual implementation of CCS, as for other mitigation options, is likely to be lower than the economic potential due to factors such as environmental impacts, risks of leakage and the lack of a clear legal framework or public acceptance.”

“20. In most scenario studies, the role of CCS in mitigation portfolios increases over the course of the century, and the inclusion of CCS in a mitigation portfolio is found to reduce the costs of stabilizing CO2 concentrations by 30% or more. One aspect of the cost competitiveness of CCS systems is that CCS technologies are compatible with most current energy infrastructures.”

“IPCC 4th Assessment Report : Working Group 3 : Mitigation :The scenarios that report quantitative results with drastic CO2 reduction targets of 60–80% in 2050 (compared to today’s emission levels) require increased rates of energy intensity and carbon intensity improvement by 2–3 times their historical levels. This is found to require different sets of mitigation options across regions, with varying shares of nuclear energy, carbon capture and storage (CCS), hydrogen, and biomass.”

“Figure 3.23: Cumulative emissions reductions for alternative mitigation measures for 2000 to 2030 (left-hand panel) and for 2000-2100 (right-hand panel). The figure shows illustrative scenarios from four models (AIM, IMAGE, IPAC and MESSAGE) for stabilization levels of 490-540 ppmv CO2-eq and levels of 650 ppmv CO2-eq, respectively.”

“Published estimates (for CO2 stabilization scenarios between 450–750 ppmv) of the global cumulative amount of CO2 that might be stored over the course of this century in the ocean and various geological formations span a wide range: from very small contributions to thousands of gigatonnes of CO2. This wide range can largely be explained by the uncertainty of long-term, socio-economic, demographic and technological change, the main drivers of future CO2 emissions. However, it is important to note that the majority of stabilization scenarios from 450–750 ppmv tend to cluster in the range of 220–2200 GtCO2 (60–600 GtC). This demand for CO2 storage appears to be within global estimates of total CO2 storage capacity. The actual use of CCS is likely to be lower than the estimates for economic potential indicated by these energy and economic models, as there are other barriers to technology development not adequately accounted for in these modelling frameworks. Examples include concerns about environmental impact, the lack of a clear legal framework and uncertainty about how quickly learning-by-doing will lower costs. This chapter concludes with a review of knowledge gaps that affect the reliability of these model results. Given the potential for hundreds to thousands of gigatonnes of CO2 to be stored in various geological formations and the ocean, questions have been raised about the implications of gradual leakage from these reservoirs. From an economic perspective, such leakage – if it were to occur – can be thought of as another potential source of future CO2 emissions, with the cost of offsetting this leaked CO2 being equal to the cost of emission offsets when the stored CO2 leaks to the atmosphere. Within this purely economic framework, the few studies that have looked at this topic indicate that some CO2 leakage can be accommodated while progressing towards the goal of stabilizing atmospheric concentrations of CO2.”

“Letter : Nature 458, 614-618 (2 April 2009) : doi:10.1038/nature07852; Received 24 June 2008; Accepted 22 January 2009 : Solubility trapping in formation water as dominant CO2 sink in natural gas fields : Stuart M. V. Gilfillan, Barbara Sherwood Lollar, Greg Holland, Dave Blagburn, Scott Stevens, Martin Schoell, Martin Cassidy, Zhenju Ding, Zheng Zhou, Georges Lacrampe-Couloume & Chris J. Ballentine : Injecting CO2 into deep geological strata is proposed as a safe and economically favourable means of storing CO2 captured from industrial point sources. It is difficult, however, to assess the long-term consequences of CO2 flooding in the subsurface from decadal observations of existing disposal sites. Both the site design and long-term safety modelling critically depend on how and where CO2 will be stored in the site over its lifetime. Within a geological storage site, the injected CO2 can dissolve in solution or precipitate as carbonate minerals. Here we identify and quantify the principal mechanism of CO2 fluid phase removal in nine natural gas fields in North America, China and Europe, using noble gas and carbon isotope tracers. The natural gas fields investigated in our study are dominated by a CO2 phase and provide a natural analogue for assessing the geological storage of anthropogenic CO2 over millennial timescales. We find that in seven gas fields with siliciclastic or carbonate-dominated reservoir lithologies, dissolution in formation water at a pH of 5–5.8 is the sole major sink for CO2. In two fields with siliciclastic reservoir lithologies, some CO2 loss through precipitation as carbonate minerals cannot be ruled out, but can account for a maximum of 18 per cent of the loss of emplaced CO2. In view of our findings that geological mineral fixation is a minor CO2 trapping mechanism in natural gas fields, we suggest that long-term anthropogenic CO2 storage models in similar geological systems should focus on the potential mobility of CO2 dissolved in water.”

“1.4.1 CCS policy : CCS is an important pillar in both the EU and the Dutch climate change policy. The EC considers CCS to be “a crucial element in the portfolio of existing and emerging technologies with the potential to bring the cuts of CO2 emissions needed for meeting targets beyond 2020” (EC, 2008b). Since it is believed that the EU targets cannot be reached without CCS, considerable attention is paid to CCS stimulation policy. Moreover, the European Commission sees the early development of CCS as an opportunity to become a technological leader and to set the standard for CCS legislation (EC, 2008b) [ European Commission (EC), 2008b, Communication from the commission to the European parliament and the council, Supporting Early Demonstration of sustainable Power Generation from Fossil Fuels, COM(2008) XXX final ]

“Slide 31 : Fossil fuel share of electricity generation without CCS drops to < 50% of total supply by 2030"

“Permits to release a ton of carbon dioxide into the air need to cost about $50 each, or three times Europe’s current price, for companies to invest in experimental technology to trap the greenhouse gas, Nicholas Stern said. “Carbon capture and storage will be vital to the United Nation’s goal to halve global emissions by 2050, according to the Paris-based International Energy Agency, adviser to the U.K., the U.S. and 26 other oil-importing nations.””

“The maximum short-term (i.e. in 2012) theoretical potential of CCS CDM projects is estimated at 584 Mt CO2/year – larger than under the current CDM portfolio. However, this potential is unlikely to be reached given the long lead-time of projects… Figure 1 : The potential of CCS is extensive in both Annex I and non Annex I countries. IEA (2006) modelling exercises suggest that the bulk of emission reductions from CCS by 2050 would take place in developing countries; the differences between the “Map” scenario, which includes all technology options, and the “No CCS” scenario, amount to 1171 Mt CO2 per year for OECD countries, 451 Mt CO2 for economies in transition, and to 2108 Mt CO2 for developing countries.”

“Two days of the meeting were focused on the work achieved by IEA GHG since the last meeting and the discussion of plans and activities for the future. Formal business included the acceptance of new members. Vattenfall and E.ON were now formally approved, intentions for membership by Babcock &Wilcox and Schlumberger were agreed and Austria announced its intention to join. Following the Executive Committee meeting IEA GHG and Repsol hosted a one day Forum. The forums can be used as a means of communicating activities underway in member countries or used to bring Governments and other interested parties in their respective countries up to speed on international developments in greenhouse gas mitigation. In this case, the forum served as a show case for Repsol YPFs activities in CCS and served also as an opportunity for members to discuss issues related to CCS inclusion under the Clean Development Mechanism.”

“There is also the problem of pumping the captured carbon dioxide underground into geological structures such as saline aquifers, or inert rock, which has not been tested on the scale that large coal plants would require. Furthermore, no one has integrated carbon capture and sequestration commercially. Swedish power company Vattenfall, for example, unveiled its first carbon-sequestering coal-fired pilot power plant in Schwarze Pumpe, Germany. The company won’t start pumping its CO2 underground, however, until April 2009. Furthermore, it won’t have its first commercial plant running until at least 2020—at least not without outside economic support. If the U.N. decides against backing CCS, then “clean coal” may have to come from other sources. The U.N.’s Subsidiary Body for Science and Technological Advice (SBSTA), the body that provides counsel to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, has suggested developing other clean coal initiatives including coal gasification, in which steam and air is used to break coal down into its chemical components. The synthetic gas or “syngas” that is produced can be purified of mercury, sulfur and other particulates, and can then be converted to different types of fuel or used to power turbines. But the gasification process is also expensive, and it is not “clean” in a carbon sense: burning syngas still releases plenty of CO2, so it won’t significantly help with climate change.”

“CCS-CDM Methodology Working Group : Introduction : This forum has been established following a workshop which was held in London on 19th and 20th April 2006. The objective of the workshop was to establish co-operation between parties interested in carrying out Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) projects under the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM). The main co-operation will be in developing methodologies for CCS so that they are widely useable and do not introduce conflicts. Efforts will also be made to introduce some commonality into Project Design Documents for CCS-CDM projects. Membership is restricted initially to those who attended the first workshop but additional participants can be considered. Contact : If you are interested in finding out more on the Working Group on CCS for CDM, please contact Mike Haines ( Documents: Carbon Dioxide Capture and Storage in the Clean Development Mechanism:October 2006”

“Ed Miliband plans clean coal scheme worth millions : Energy minister hopes to defuse global warming row : Cabinet support for plan, but Treasury balks at cost : Juliette Jowit and Tim Webb, The Guardian, Saturday 18 April 2009 : Ed Miliband, the climate change and energy secretary, is pushing an ambitious plan to spend billions of pounds on cleaning up pollution from dirty coal plants. He is said to have cabinet support for the proposal which could help to head off controversy about global warming pollution and the UK’s future energy security. Ministers are still discussing how to fund the expensive and unproven carbon capture and storage technology, including a possible levy on customer bills. Miliband is said to favour developing “clusters” of carbon capture and storage (CCS), fitted on both coal- and gas-fired power stations, and a “national grid” for transporting and storing the polluting emissions. Such a move would be a change from the current policy of building up to eight coal plants, with only one equipped with pollution-trapping technology. However, Treasury officials have balked at the cost and a less ambitious plan, starting with two or three plants, is also on the table. It had been hoped the proposals could be announced alongside next week’s budget, but the announcement might have to be delayed until financing is agreed. Ministers have already delayed announcing permission for the first proposed new coal plant, at Kingsnorth, Kent, because of wrangling over the cost of CCS, said to have risen to between £750m and £1.5bn for the first trial alone. Energy companies have warned that further delay in decisions on new coal power would pose serious security of supply problems as other ageing plants are closed down. Greenpeace urged the government to go further. John Sauven, its executive director, said: “Climate scientists have made it clear that any outcome which results in a jumble of half measures would be another Heathrow-sized fiasco. “Miliband should be focused on cutting emissions, not appeasing German energy giants like E.ON who want to build a new coal-fired power station at Kingsnorth without guaranteeing it will capture and store any of its emissions.” A consultation on the proposals is expected to include how to fund more demonstration coal plants to test the technology, which is not yet commercially proved. Senior officials are also understood to be concerned about the long-term cost and responsibility for storing huge quantities of carbon dioxide and other global warming emissions. Energy companies will also be required to fit CCS to their coal plants over a period of time once the technology is proved. Companies not able to secure European commission funding will pass on the costs of the CCS programme to consumers. Supporters of a levy said it would be spread over millions of homes and businesses across several decades, but fuel poverty campaigners say 6m householders are already struggling to pay for gas and electricity. Until now the government has offered to fund one CCS demonstration plant but has not said how much money would be made available or how. The Treasury is not in a position to commit significant funds to an expanded programme. The Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) said: “We have to strike the right balance between affordability and getting the level of demonstration we want.” Miliband is said to have asked officials to draw up a new coal plan to meet conflicting warnings about global warming emissions and a looming gap in Britain’s energy supplies when old coal and nuclear plants are closed in the next decade. The Climate Change Committee watchdog has said the UK should make coal plants fit CCS by the early 2020s to meet the government’s pledge to cut greenhouse gases by 80% by 2050. The DECC believes clusters of coal and gas plants with CCS would offer efficiency because they could share the costs of building and operating pipelines to storage facilities, probably in old North Sea oil and gas fields.”

“Carbon capture: we have the technology : Tim Webb : The Guardian, Saturday 18 April 2009 : What exactly is carbon capture and storage (CCS)? It is technology that captures the carbon emissions of heavily polluting plants, such as power stations, and stores them underground. Power companies say up to 90% of the carbon dioxide (CO2) which would otherwise be emitted into the atmosphere and contribute to global warming can be trapped in this way…”

“From The Sunday Times : April 19, 2009 : PM stokes row with ‘clean’ coal plan : Jonathan Leake, Environment Editor : GORDON BROWN is to risk a clash with the green movement by throwing the government’s weight behind the construction of a new generation of coal-fired power stations. Ministers intend to give power companies permission to construct at least two new coal-fired stations, with more to follow. The move will anger climate change scientists and campaigners because coal produces more CO2 for each unit of energy generated than any other fuel. Brown and Ed Miliband, his energy secretary, will argue that Britain urgently needs more coal-fired generating plants to prevent future power shortages as old plants are shut down. They will soften the blow by pledging that any new plants will be designed so they can be fitted at a later date with equipment to capture CO2 — a technology that is still unproven. The plan may also be mentioned in Alistair Darling’s budget this week. The government is understood to want initially to approve 2.5 gigawatts (Gw) of generating capacity. This is equivalent to two fairly large power stations. The proposed plant at Kingsnorth in Kent, seen as the most likely to be approved first, would generate 1.6Gw. The plant has already been the focus of large-scale protests by green activists. This week Miliband is expected to prepare the ground for the inevitable controversy by announcing a consultation into the technical requirements to be imposed on any new power station, including the licensing system for pumping captured CO2 into underground rock strata. He is also expected to say he wants to expand plans to test “carbon capture and storage” (CCS) technologies by building up to three such plants rather than the single one planned at the moment. He told a recent parliamentary committee that he wanted to put Britain at the forefront of CCS technologies. The government hopes such pledges will placate its opponents sufficiently so that the new power stations will be approved. “We see new coal generation as having a potentially important role to play in securing Britain’s electricity supply, but we also recognise the need to deal with CO2 emissions,” said a spokesman for the energy and climate change department, run by Miliband. He is likely to face fierce opposition from other political parties and from groups such as Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth. They see the proposals as a way of getting coal-fired power stations built on a promise that will not be fulfilled — that their emissions will one day be abated. In theory, so-called carbon capture could be capable of capturing up to 90% of the CO2 emissions from power plants. It would then be pumped underground for permanent storage. However, no industrial-scale CCS plant has yet been built anywhere in the world and the technology remains unproven. Britain burns about 63m tons of coal a year, with 84% used to generate power. Coal-fired plants generate about a quarter of the 560m tons of CO2 that Britain produces each year.”

“Carbon capture and storage : Trouble in store : Mar 5th 2009 :
Politicians are pinning their hopes for delivery from global warming
on a technology that is not quite airtight”

This link indicates that the 15 to 55% figure comes from Stern’s report :-

“According to the Stern report, the cost of adapting to climate change will be greater than the cost of mitigating climate change. Estimates vary, but CCS could be used to achieve 15-55 per cent of the cumulative CO2 mitigation efforts by 2100. ”

“Carbon capture and storage will be vital to the United Nation’s goal to halve global emissions by 2050, according to the Paris-based International Energy Agency, adviser to the U.K., the U.S. and 26 other oil-importing nations.”

“Carbon capture and storage (CCS) involves removing carbon dioxide from the combustion stream of fossil fuel powered generating plant and sequestering it under ground in water-bearing geological strata. The objective is to reduce or eliminate CO2 emissions from electricity generation with focus on coal-fired plant…The process involves large-scale engineering work, is expensive and uses a significant proportion of the power generated by the plant. The IPCC estimate that the energy cost is somewhere between 20 and 25%. In the UK the average efficiency of coal-fired plant is 37%, with 63% of the energy lost as waste heat. With CCS the energy efficiency drops to 30% assuming 20% of the power produced goes to bury CO2 rather than to power society. An alternative to CCS is to burn less coal. Combined heat and power (CHP) generation involves capturing the waste heat from power stations and pumping this hot water to neighbouring houses in district heating systems. Danish CHP plant is over 90% energy efficient. Thus 3 times as much energy is extracted per unit of fossil fuel in CHP compared with normal plant fitted with CCS and this may equate to 67% reduction in coal use. Energy costs should therefore be reduced at national and individual level and CO2 emissions reduced by similar amount. In Denmark, a certain CHP plant is also fitted with CCS. This is truly the belt and braces approach to environmental care.”

“The latest answer to the perceived problem of climate change is a process called Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS). A current advert by the Shell oil company informs us that “capturing” carbon dioxide gas (CO2) from industrial processes, and “storing” it underground, is the safest way of reducing our “carbon footprint” on the Earth. While the company admits this will not be easy, it nevertheless promotes the practice for the future. Now, I’m trying to visualize this process in the real world. By common consent we emit vast quantities of CO2 from almost everything we do. I haven’t got a number for it, but it must be millions of tons of every day. If all of that is somehow blown into underground caverns, do they suppose there won’t be leaks? And not just leaks but whole plumes of the stuff spraying out into the air in some places. Adverse conditions underground, like earthquakes, could make this a nightmare scenario. Imagine not only having to cope with the effects of a quake, but with vast amounts of carbon dioxide gas in the local atmosphere too. CO2 is not toxic in the way carbon monoxide is, but enough of it might reduce the oxygen in the air sufficiently to suffocate many people. It might also be changed by atmospheric conditions — sun, cosmic rays, etcetera — into deadly monoxide and kill everyone in sight.”

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