Carbon Capture and Storage
Global warming is one of the biggest issues of our time and it is largely the consequence of growing concentrations of greenhouse gases, particularly CO2, in the atmosphere.
In 2005 there has been significant media coverage of carbon capture and storage starting with the G8 meeting in July, the release of the IPCC Special Report on Carbon Dioxide Capture and Storage in September and the UN Climate Change Conference - COP11 in December. Why this sudden interest in carbon capture and storage and what triggered it all?
Carbon capture and storage was brought to the global forefront when the US administration inaugurated the Carbon Sequestration Leadership Forum in June 2003. The CSLF set out with three realities in mind:
- fossil fuel combustion will remain the mainstay of world energy supply for decades to come
- Any sustainable solution needs to take account of the fact that the countries of the developing world cannot be expected to forego the use of their abundant fossil fuel reserves
- Carbon capture and storage is a demonstrated set of technologies
The mission of CSLF, which now has over 20 member countries, is therefore to foster international cooperation to develop CCS as a practical solution to the problem of man made CO2 and to this end the Forum has already endorsed a number of CCS projects worldwide.
Further information on the CSLF Stakeholder Processes is now available.
What is carbon capture and storage?
Carbon capture and storage is the separation, capture, transport and storage of CO2 resulting from the production, processing and burning of oil, gas and coal from power plants.
There are three main types of CCS:
- Natural carbon sinks are an integral feature of the natural carbon balance of the bio-sphere and can be augmented by human actions such as aforestation projects and the growing of energy crops.
- Enhanced product recovery includes oil recovery technology which is well established, gas recovery and coal bed methane recovery.
- Standalone waste storage includes the separation of CO2 in the LNG production process, a waste stream whose safe geological storage has now been demonstrated by the Sleipner project. It also includes the capture and storage of CO2 from power stations. Power stations represent the biggest challenge, they are a major source of human-made CO2. The capture, transport and storage technologies exist but the economic issues are yet to be resolved.
Statoil's Sleipner Project
Statoil's Sleipner Project in the North Sea captures CO2 separated from the project's natural gas production stream and injects it back into the permeable rock beneath the seabed. Sleipner avoids the release of over 1 million tonnes of CO2 per year into the atmosphere.
Graphic courtesy of Statoil
Making CCS accessible and acceptable
Carbon capture and storage should not be considered as the only solution to mitigating climate change, it is one option in the portfolio of mitigation measures that are available today to help stabilize and reduce the atmospheric green house gases. While carbon capture and storage makes use of established technologies there are issues associated with economics and accessibility, safety and acceptability.
Economics and Accessibility
Currently the aggregate cost of CCS for power generation is over US$100 per tonne, compare this to US$20 per tonne which is roughly the value on the emerging emissions trading market. If CCS is to be a viable solution then this $80 gap must close significantly. CCS must be affordable and transferable, particularly to developing countries, whose energy requirements are growing so rapidly. This topic is the subject of much ongoing work, see for example the work of VGB in Germany.
Safety and Acceptability
Gaining public acceptance will impact the global adoption rate of carbon capture and storage. The public will most likely be concerned about the safety of carbon capture and storage and the environmental impacts CCS will have on the oceans. Governments will be focused on drafting climate change regulations, creating legal frameworks and providing incentives for carbon capture and storage R&D - all of which are necessary if carbon capture and storage is to be successfully implemented.
Beyond Kyoto - what happens after 2012?
It has been eight years since the Kyoto Protocol was first opened for signatures and based on the progress to date it seems highly unlikely that the industrialized countries will achieve their targets of 2012. So what happens after 2012? Some scenarios project an increase in CO2 emissions caused by greater consumption in fossil fuels, particularly coal. If this is indeed the case we should be making a concerted effort to provide the means for accelerating the broad adoption of carbon capture and storage, now.
A presentation from the Energy Working Group meeting in Jakarta May 2006 on CCS salient issues is available.
For information on the World Energy Council's role in relation to CSS follow this link.
The World Energy Council in partnership with Oliver Wyman (global consulting firm) has over the past year worked on its third Assessment of country energy and climate policy aiming to identify key areas for policy improvements and to understand how successful policies can be transferred from one country to another. more >