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Carbon Captured : The Ultimate Bailout

Image Credit : SCCS

Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) is a collection of actual and proposed technologies to return the carbon dioxide from fossil fuels back underground, or somewhere else where they can stop interfering with the global carbon cycle.

An excess of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is causing a range of problems, including acid ocean and most seriously, climate change.

Carbon Capture and Storage, or Sequestration, was first seriously proposed back in the 1970s, by a range of scientists and engineers, including Cesare Marchetti, (“On Geoengineering and the CO2 problem”, Climatic Change, Volume 1, Number 1, Pages 59 – 68) who is reputed to have coined the term “geoengineering” (see “Geoengineering: Could or should we do it?”, Stephen H. Schneider, Climatic Change, Volume 33, Number 3, Pages 291 – 302).

Although Marchetti was hypothesising about “burying” carbon dioxide in deep ocean currents, today’s engineers are mostly interested in the possibilities of pumping carbon dioxide into holes in the ground, including some of the holes from which the oil and gas companies removed the fossil fuels earlier.

Various projects have been tried and test, and much propaganda, dressed as engineering research, has been printed. You will find mentions of CCS in magazines, at conferences, in newspapers – you can never quite get away from the idea. Yet, strangely, CCS has not really “taken off” as a largescale technology. Well, not strangely actually. It’s expensive and uses a lot of energy to do it, and requires retrofitting power plants.

Various public moneys have been promised to get CCS “off the ground”, so to speak, but even the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (and the International Energy Agency), who listen to every stakeholder on climate change, doesn’t think it will come to much before around 2030 :-

Some think that CCS is a waste of time, effort and money, and it is not clear if it can be scaled up to be genuinely useful in a global context.

Others still beat the CCS drum. Why is that ? Why do we get things like this :-

“Carbon Capture & Storage More Critical than Renewables” by Carin Hall, 20 March 2012 in Green Technology, Energy Digital

“CCS technologies show promise in a few international pilot projects, critical to projected global energy trends : In an effort to curb climate change, renewable energy development and energy efficiency retrofits are only half of the equation in reducing the world’s dependency on oil, coal and natural gas. While the burning of fossil fuels will remain a central component of the global energy matrix for at least another hundred years, developing technologies to capture some of the pollution in that space will be just as critical as developing alternatives to replace them in the future. As the American Association for the Advancement of Science convention wrapped up last month, specialists in carbon capture and storage (CCS) indicated that the technology can work on a global scale to cut emissions by 25 per cent over the next century. CCS will be especially critical in rapidly expanding countries like China, India and Russia, where coal-fired generation dominates. As the least expensive option in extending electricity supply to citizens in developing nations, coal is the most expensive option in terms of the environment, accounting for half of annual CO2 emissions globally today…”

Maybe all this attention is connected to a deliberate communications strategy by some interested parties ? Oh yes, it is.

“Capture crucial”, David Hone, Senior climate change adviser, Shell International, Letters to New Scientist magazine, Issue 2850, Page 30, 1 February 2012

“The article on the Durban climate talks was a useful synopsis of the current state of affairs (17 December 2011, p 8), but the diagram analysing the gap between the projected emissions of 55 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide in 2020 and the environmentally desirable goal of 44 gigatonnes suffered from a gap of its own.”

“Like many, you have called for a more rapid switch to renewable energy and improved efficiency, but a closer look at the state of the global energy system reveals the need for an enhanced approach.”

“Arguably we are in a time where underlying global energy demand outstrips supply. This means that increased use of renewables and greater efficiency will not cut overall fossil fuel consumption, as “surplus” fossil fuels are merely redirected to meet energy gaps elsewhere. This condition may persist for decades.”

“So CO2 emissions do not fall. But there is a solution – carbon capture and storage (CCS). Independent experts such as the International Energy Agency have said that if CCS demonstration projects can start quickly, CCS could offset around a fifth of cuts in the CO2 emissions needed by 2050, and that without a clear focus on CCS the cost of tackling climate change could be 70 per cent higher.”

“There is, therefore, an imperative for policymakers to support CCS projects this coming decade, with a view to widespread commercial deployment of the technology beyond 2020.”

“Who pays?”, Rory Allen, Letters to New Scientist, Issue 2856, Page 30, 14 March 2012

“David Hone of Shell International makes a valuable point on the potential for carbon capture and storage (CCS) to reduce the impact of climate change caused by burning fossil fuels (4 February, p 30), but he fails to discuss how it would be funded.”

“It seems clear that the fairest, as well as the most economically efficient, way would be through a carbon tax, with every tonne of carbon consumed subject to a levy equal to the cost of final disposal through CCS. Would Shell, or any other oil company, back this? I suspect not. In which case, would this be just another example of polluters expecting other people to pay for the clean-up?”

Royal Dutch Shell is possibly seeking to re-cast itself as a post-carbon corporation, working to deal with atmospheric carbon waste on our behalf, as its oil and gas business runs onto the shoals of depletion. Peak Oil and the ensuing Peak Natural Gas will make it progressively harder to keep ahead of the game, even if the energy companies and nations turn to mining unconventional fossil fuels.

But to perform this carbon dioxide geo-sequestration service, they need to be paid with public money – some propose that global carbon finance should pay for CCS, some that a carbon price or tax should pay for it. Key people in Shell also propose a carbon price. Why would they do that, now ?

The strategy to charge a price for carbon, or to trade carbon credits with Africa, India or Brazil, and to feed the proceeds into Carbon Capture and Storage is to my mind the ultimate bailout for fossil fuels. I don’t think we should waste public money on that. I think we should invest in renewable energy technology instead.

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