Interest in carbon capture and storage (CCS) has intensified in the wake of the Paris Climate Agreement. CCS refers to a suite of technologies that pull CO2 from a smokestack before it escapes into the air. It is then sequestered in some fashion, most commonly by burying it deep underground. CCS is a much-needed technology, if for no other reason than the fact that fossil fuels are likely to be with us for years to come.
There have been a number of notable achievements in the area of CCS in recent years. According to Victor Der, executive advisor and acting general manager of the Americas, Global CCS Institute: “Up to 28 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions will be captured by existing operational carbon capture and storage projects this year.”
There are now 22 CCS projects that are either operating or under construction in 2016 representing a 100 percent increase in the last ten years and 14 more projects are in the advanced planning stages. Ion Engineering completed a pilot project using its proprietary technology in 2015. According to the company, Ion’s CCS process was able to capture more than 99 percent of the CO2 from a coal-fired facility. Another older carbon capture project in Port Arthur, Texas succeeded in capturing more than one million tons of CO2. This process was able to capture more than 90 percent of the CO2 from two commercial-scale stream methane reformers.
One of the early CCS projects was one by the Midwest Geological Sequestration Consortium (MGSC). In 2011 they started a three-year trial to pump more than one million tonnes of CO2 underground. The US Department of Energy has invested and continues to invest significant sums of money into CCS. According to Environmental Leader, so far, DOE projects have stored almost seven and a half metric tons of CO2.
Shell’s Quest carbon capture and storage project is already operating at a commercial scale in Alberta, Canada. The Quest project is designed to capture one-third of the emissions generated by the refinement of oil sands amounting to one million tons per year. The world’s first steel plant with large-scale CCS was launched in Abu Dhabi in 2016. The project is a joint venture between Masdar and the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC), and it will sequester 800,000 metric tons of CO2 annually.
Also in 2016 Aker Solutions announced a carbon capture project at a waste-to-energy plant in Norway which the company expects will capture 90 percent of the CO2 emitted. CCS is an integral part of mitigation planning. Countries like the United States, Europe, and Canada are counting on CCS to enable them to meet their INDC pledges. The European Commission’s 2030 climate and energy policy framework depends on CCS and Canadian reports indicated that CCS is essential. Although the US Environmental Protection Agency has also offered some guidance on the subject, it has yet to be demonstrated cost-effectively.
A CO2 Solutions project at Salaberry-de-Valleyfield, Québec came at a cost of $28/metric ton, the lowest demonstrated cost in the industry. However, the real-world reality at present puts the cost of CCS on a coal plant at around $100/ton. While no one denies that carbon capture is technologically possible, the major obstacle has always been cost. This view is eloquently rendered in a 2016 article by Mike Barnard titled, Carbon Capture Is Expensive Because of Physics, “Carbon capture and sequestration is expensive because it has three components, each with its own expensive challenges: capture, distribution, and sequestration.”
In March 2015 the Global CCS Institute said: “The next 18-24 months will see CCS deployed across a range of industries and storage types. Two other large-scale CCS power projects are in construction in the US – the Kemper County Energy Facility in Mississippi and the Petra Nova Carbon Capture Project in Texas. Both projects are expected to be operational in 2016. Also in the US, the Illinois Industrial CCS project slated for launch later this year will capture CO2 from the Archer Daniels Midland corn-to-ethanol plant in Decatur, Illinois for storage in an onshore deep saline formation.
As explained in a December 2015 report titled Closing the Gap on Climate: Why CCS is a Vital Part of the Solution, governments need to enact supportive policies. This report indicates that CSS is essential to keep us within the 2 degrees Celsius upper threshold limit. Governments need to pass laws, support regulations, and provide incentives to help advance CCS including sequestration tax credits on a per-ton basis.
The goal is scale as we will need thousands of facilities around the world to make a difference.
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