Will carbon capture and storage ever make fossil fuels safe?

Eco audit verdict from 21st May, 2014 – Full story here

Carbon capture and storage (CCS) is a vital technology for avoiding dangerous climate change. MPs, Shell, the IPCC, the energy industry, the IEA and environmentalists all agree, with a minimum of vitriol. It’s almost eerie. Why is CCS, championed in every corner, stalling?

The large up-front cost of the test projects means governments are faced with investing billions in projects that they don’t know will work. Fossil fuel companies meanwhile, have little incentive to stump the cash themselves until carbon pricing forces their hand. This means that despite some good initiatives, enthusiasm for investment has been lacking.

Of course the unanimity surrounding CCS is an illusion. Everyone likes this, but for different reasons. Fossil fuels companies like it, because it allows their business model to have a future without being culpable for breaking the carbon budget. Green groups like it because it offers an opportunity to reduce the carbon impact of industry. British MPs like it because Britain will be able to make lots of money burying other countries’ emissions beneath the North Sea.

Perhaps the most convincing judgement is that of the International Energy Agency (IEA). Whose modelling shows that fossil fuel power with CCS is not simply a way to continue burning fossil fuels, but a key element of the cost-effective pathway to carbon abatement. A huge positive about this technology is the decarbonisation of the baseload power supply, thus complementing the impact of renewables, rather than competing with them.

Will it ever make fossil fuels safe? No. It will only ever capture most, not all, carbon emissions. And it might serve to slow the transition away from coal and gas. But it does offer the chance to make industries like steel and cement, for which we do not currently possess alternatives, much less polluting. For this reason alone it should be pursued. Further, the prospect of attaching CCS to bio-energy power plants and actually removing carbon from the atmosphere while producing electricity is a real and exciting prospect.

But today’s wisest observation, from Dustin Benton and others, was that CCS alone cannot carry our hopes for a stable climate. We must continue to invest in all abatement technologies and not put all our money on the horse that is still in the stable.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s