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Let’s Call The Bluff On
Carbon Capture And Storage

By Marianne de Nazareth

13 October, 2009

It seems to be a highly risky concept if you turn your head around the technicalities of Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS). Think about it - Carbon is emitted into the atmosphere (as carbon dioxide, also called CO2) whenever we burn any fossil fuel, anywhere. The largest sources are cars, trucks and power stations that burn fossil fuels: coal, oil or gas. To prevent the carbon dioxide building up in the atmosphere which is probably causing global warming and proven ocean acidification, CCS means catching the CO2 and sinking it away from the atmosphere. As we would need to store thousands of millions of tons of CO2, we cannot just build containers, but must use natural storage facilities. Old oil and gas fields, such as those in the North Sea apparently are ideal for this kind of use.

Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS), or carbon sequestration, is a means of separating out carbon dioxide when burning fossil fuels. This carbon is collected and subsequently “dumped” underground or in the sea. CCS is an integrated concept consisting of three distinct components: CO2 capture, transport and storage. All three components are currently found in industrial operation today, although mostly not for the purpose of CO2 storage.

By far the most energy intensive portion of the CCS process - carbon capture, produces a concentrated stream of CO2 that can be compressed, transported and eventually stored. To date, there has not been a single application of CCS to large scale (> 500 MW) power stations. Since every ton of coal burned produces 3.7 tons of CO2, the sheer volume of CO2 that must be disposed of makes CCS inherently impractical and extremely expensive.

Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) aims to reduce the climate impact of burning fossil fuels by capturing CO2 from power station smokestacks and disposing of it underground. The development of this technology has been widely promoted by the coal industry as a justification for the construction of new coal-fired power plants. However, the technology is largely unproven and will not be ready in time to save the climate says a study conducted by Greenpeace.

"CCS cannot deliver in time to stop climate change, it's unproven and it's risky, both environmentally, and for investors. It's being used as an excuse for building new coal-fired power stations when we need to be shutting them down. So on all levels, CCS is not the answer to solving climate change." Says Emily Rochon, Greenpeace International climate campaigner

The report, circulated by Greenpeace after independent scientific research shows that:

* CCS cannot deliver in time to avoid dangerous climate change. The earliest possibility for deployment of CCS at utility scale is not expected before 2030.1 To avoid the worst impacts of climate change, global greenhouse gas emissions have to start falling after 2015, just seven years away.

*Storing carbon underground is risky as safe and permanent storage of CO2 cannot be guaranteed. The possibility of leakage would negate all mitigation efforts.

*CCS is expensive and therefore it could lead to a doubling of plant costs, and an electricity price increase of 21-91%.

* Money spent on CCS will divert investments away from sustainable solutions to climate change.

*CCS carries significant liability risks. It poses a threat to health, ecosystems and the climate and the severity is an unknown.

The world is reeling under a climate crisis that requires urgent action. Climate scientists warn that to avoid the worst effects, global greenhouse gas emissions must peak by 2015 and then start falling by at least 50% by 2050, compared to 1990 levels. Coal is the most polluting of all fossil fuels, and the single greatest threat to the climate. If current plans to invest hundreds of billions of dollars in coal plants are realised, CO2 emissions from coal will have risen by 60%, by 2030. Concerns about the feasibility, costs, safety, and liability of Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) make it a dangerous gamble. A survey of 1000 climate decision makers done by Greenpeace around the world reveal substantial doubt in the ability of CCS to deliver.

It is a proven fact that the real solutions to stopping dangerous climate change lie in renewable energy and energy efficiency that can start protecting the climate today. Huge reductions in energy demand are possible with efficiency measures. Technically accessible renewable energy sources- such as wind, wave and solar- are capable of providing six times more energy than then world currently consumes – forever. And save our fragile planet.

(The writer is a fellow with the UNFCCC and teaches a module on Climate Change in Bangalore, India)

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