Avoiding climate change is still possible. It will cost more than twice as much if we don’t have plenty of carbon capture and storage (CCS).
If the world is going to avoid global warming then CCS is going to play an important role.
The opening of the world’s first major power station CCS project at Boundary Dam in Canada is being hailed as a historic milestone in efforts to tackle climate change.
Boundary Dam is significant because it’s the first commercial scale power station to use the technology, even if CCS is fitted to just one of its generating units.
How much carbon will be captured?
There are 22 CCS projects that are operational or under construction worldwide.
North America has the largest number of CCS projects.
The USA boasts 16 of the 22 operational or under construction schemes and the lion’s share of capture capacity.
There are five planned CCS projects in the UK but none has reached the construction phase.The UK government have pledged of £1 billion in funding.
Only three of the 22 active global projects are power stations. The remainder include nine industrial facilities manufacturing iron or processing tar sands, for instance. Then there are ten projects at natural gas processing facilities.
16 of the schemes will pump the captured carbon dioxide underground to force more oil out of oil wells. This set-up allows companies to actually make money from capturing carbon rather than it just being a financial burden. But it does raise interesting questions about the net climate impacts.
The Global CCS Institute says these 22 projects will be able to capture 40 million tonnes of carbon dioxide annually, once they are all operational.
Global emissions are due to reach 40,000 million tonnes this year, with nearly 16,000 million tonnes from coal alone. We need to reduce this.
From the 22 CCS projects – once they are up to speed – will be removing 0.1 per cent off global emissions each year.
What scale does CCS need to reach if it to play its part in avoiding dangerous climate change? The International Energy Agency thinks that by 2020 CCS capacity needs to reach a fairly modest 30 operational projects, capturing over 50 million tonnes
That’s not too ambitious given the projects that are already underway and a further 34 in the planning stages.
But after 2020 the scale of the industry needs to grow rapidly, to capture at least 2,000 million tonnes in 2030, the IEA thinks. And it should expand even further to 7,000 million tonnes in 2050.
By 2050 the IEA thinks we need a CCS industry capable of capturing 7,000 million tonnes of carbon dioxide per year and storing it underground.
This far exceeds the scale of the world’s oil industry, which extracted 4,133 million tonnes of oil in 2013, according to BP data. Building a global CCS industry to match and then exceed the oil industry will be no small challenge.
There are challenges, too, in the energy overhead imposed by CCS facilities. Capturing all that carbon, compressing it and injecting it underground uses some of the power that would otherwise have gone to the grid or factory requirements.
The amount of carbon dioxide capture in CCS facilities also grows very rapidly in the most cost-effective IPCC scenarios that are consistent with a two degrees warming target.
It sees capture rates needing to increase at a “remarkable” rate through to 2030.
It posits a minimum 200 times increase in CCS capacity by 2030, and the IPCC scenarios see capture capacity grow to around 10,000 million tonnes per year in 2050.
The IPCC sees CCS capturing as much as 60,000 million tonnes in 2100, a scale 15 times that of the world’s current oil industry.
Boundary Dam, Saskatchewan, Canada
Last week’s big news relates to the $770 million Boundary Dam coal CCS project in Saskatchewan. This is the world’s first major power plant CCS scheme. It is owned by Canadian utility firm SaskPower and will capture 90 per cent of the emissions from a 110 megawatt coal unit that has been retrofitted with CCS technology.
The project will eventually capture 1 million tonnes of carbon dioxide annually from the power station’s chimney. The power station has a number of other coal units where carbon will not be captured – it has a total capacity of 824 megawatts and total emissions are 6.7 million tonnes. With CCS, 15 per cent of the power station’s total emissions will be captured.
Captured gas will be injected into a nearby oil field in order to squeeze more oil out of the ground, a technique called enhanced oil recovery. Any leftover carbon dioxide will be stored in a deep underground salt-water reservoir, called a saline aquifer.