The successful introduction of Carbon Capture Storage (CCS) technology could be essential if we are to meet global CO2 emissions targets and reverse the current levels climate change.
Some estimates suggest that CCS has the potential to take 90 per cent of CO2 emissions away from the biggest consumers of fossil fuels: power plants, refineries and heavy industry. To have such a significant impact, however, there needs to be large-scale implementation of CCS, which has thus far only been piloted on small-scale projects.
CCS joins improved energy efficiency and a shift away from fossil fuels in a three-pronged approach that leaders hope will be sufficient to stay within the 2C target of global warming. However, realistically we are decades away from making a full move away from non-renewable energy, and our energy consumption could increase 50 per cent over the next 20 years; so a lot of hope is being pinned on the introduction of CCS.
The technology is designed to capture CO2 from heavy industry, power plants, or even from the atmosphere. The idea is that the captured emissions are then transported via ships or pipelines, before being buried underground, in depleted oil and gas fields for example, up to 5,000 metres below the earth’s surface.
Within CCS, there are three main technologies designed to capture CO2: pre-combustion, before fuel is burnt; post-combustion, after burning; and Oxyfuel, which takes place during combustion.
Experts say that once buried, CO2 will remain safely and permanently captured within the rock layer. In fact, according to European technology coalition Zero Emissions Platform (ZEP), the safety of captured CO2 will increase over time.
ZEP, which aims to enable and promote CCS and accelerate R&D in the area, said we need “rapid and widespread deployment” if we are to reduce our emissions in time.
The organisation added: “We need to move from the successful small-scale CCS projects in operation today to building 3,400 commercial scale projects worldwide by 2050 if CCS is to provide 20 per cent of the CO2 reductions needed”.
Critics point to the potential high economic costs of widespread deployment. However the Carbon Capture & Storage Association (CCSA) believes it is affordable, and should be suitably supported by incentives. Costs will reduce over time too: “Recent studies conclude that the first CCS projects in the power sector are likely to cost between €60 – 90 per tonne of carbon dioxide abated, although these costs are expected to decline significantly reaching €35 – 50 in the early 2020s, primarily as a result of cost reductions for carbon dioxide capture.”
Furthermore, according to the International Energy Agency, the cost of reducing CO2 emissions without CCS will be up to 70 per cent higher globally.
The technology could be an indispensable tool in stopping the irreversible damage that is already being done to our planet. What is important though, is that until the technology exists and is viable on the scale that is needed, it must not be treated as a ‘get out of jail card’ – an excuse to continue along the same unsustainable path that we are walking now.
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