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What Role Can Carbon Capture Technology Play in Reducing Future CO2 Emissions?

Alberto Levy's picture
Senior Consultant Grid Advisors LLC

Electrical Engineer in power systems, with a Ph.D. in the regulation of Public Utilities, an MBA in Finance, and more than 35 years of experience in managing complex projects, developing public...

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  • Aug 25, 2022
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Recent years have been the hottest since records began in the 19th century. The increase will be very close to the target set in the Paris Agreement to avoid an increase in global temperature by 1.5 °C. Average temperatures in 2021 have risen to 1.21 °C above what they were before the industrial revolution. The dilemma facing the world today, in view of these data, becomes even more urgent: How to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels, accepting that their demand will continue to exist in the coming decades? In the energy sector, many solutions have been proposed to completely replace fossil fuels for electricity generation, such as massive deployment of renewable energy generation and increased energy efficiency. There are many restrictions, however, to achieve this result in the medium term, ranging from technological limitations in the massive deployment of energy efficiency and renewable energies, to the political economy of countries that are unlikely to reduce their oil production and carboniferous as long as demand exists. Carbon capture and storage (CCS) offers an alternative to mitigate CO2 emissions from fossil fuel power plants, considering that, given current and future energy needs, the operation of these plants will continue in the coming years. CAC could mitigate up to 90% of the carbon dioxide emitted by the use of fossil fuels in electricity generation and industrial processes. Additionally, the use of CAC with renewable biomass is one of the few carbon reduction technologies that can be used in a "carbon-negative" mode. If biomass from fuelwood crops were used, carbon could be absorbed and simultaneously generate electricity. CCS, therefore, is a viable alternative to solve the dilemma of reducing emissions while satisfying the growing energy needs of the world.

#technology #future #energy #carboncapture #co2emissions #co2reduction #co2capture

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Mark Silverstone's picture
Mark Silverstone on Aug 26, 2022

Question: What Role Can Carbon Capture Technology Play in Reducing Future CO2 Emissions?

Answer: Very little today.  Probably very little in the future. 

Far more decarbonization of electricity supply can be accomplished, dollar for dollar, with renewables, rather than CCS.  Why is no one, not even in the EU where the price of carbon credits is about Euros 90 per tonne, generating electricity from fossil fuel generation and deploying CCS?

Yes, carbon capture and reinjection (not storage) can be used in enhanced oil recovery.  Yes, CCS is successfully used to capture CO2 from produced gas and it is injected at the Sleipner field.  (The CO2 must be separated from the sales gas anyway.) Yes, Norway is trying CCS to deal with CO2 in a "waste to energy" project (generating heat from incineration of waste and extracting the CO2 in flue gas) and it may reduce Norway´s CO2 emissions by almost one percent.

But no, despite many billions spent in trying, no one is successfully deploying CCS to reduce CO2 emissions from fossil fuel fired generation. 

It may happen. But there is a lengthening list of very expensive failures to suggest that it is not likely to happen and be more cost effective at reducing carbon emissions from power generation than renewables.

Please see this for more background and reference material.

Alberto Levy's picture
Alberto Levy on Aug 26, 2022

Thanks Mark. I absolutely agree with you. The technology is still not ripe today for profitable applications. As with other technological advances, however, commercial feasibility will come with a combination of technological advances and economies of scale. On the other hand, renewable energy cannot achieve negative emissions by itself. The proposed model, together with public policy aimed at removing CO2 from the atmosphere, might increase the value of carbon credits to the point where the technology is economically feasible.

Julian Silk's picture
Julian Silk on Aug 26, 2022

I disagree. Those with investments in technology that uses fossil fuels can use carbon capture technology to cut emissions and preserve the value of their investments. It's easy to say use only renewables. But if a firm has taken out loans or made equity promises to pay for fossil-fuel investments, the debts will still be there if the investments are dismantled, and the firm may not be able or find it profitable to use renewable energy and storage. Any sort of continuous production facility will face this problem.

Alberto Levy's picture
Alberto Levy on Aug 26, 2022

To have negative emissions, carbon would need to come from sustainably managed forests and the material used would need to be replaced, that is, if a tree is removed, a new tree would need to be planted to absorb more than the CO2 released in using the initial tree. I know, it takes time to grow a tree, but some "energy forests" grow trees in as little as 3-4 years. I also know this is not cheap, but the recently approved Inflation Reduction Act assists in this endeavor.

Mark Silverstone's picture
Mark Silverstone on Aug 28, 2022

If I understand correctly, I think you are correct. Tree planting of the right types and in the right places is a far more effective CO2 removal strategy than CCS, especially with the accompanying positive side effects around establishing and/or supporting a biodiverse ecosystem.

At the very least, the use of available funds to reduce deforestation or deterioration of  crucial and existing, ecosystems, e.g. peat reserves, would be far more effective than CCS as it exists today in combination with fossil fuel electricity generation.

Mark Silverstone's picture
Mark Silverstone on Aug 28, 2022

Those who have tried this strategy have found that continuing the CCS makes their Investments less and less profitable. They simply take the tax credits and shut down the CCS, having successfully removed almost no CO2. 
But they will have established a gas or coal fired, carbon emitting generation facility at rate payers’ expense, that is too expensive to write off and shut down, not least because of the loss of jobs. 
But, the objective, i.e. reducing the carbon footprint of the generation of electricity, will have been completely abandoned. To continue to repeat this error over and over again, with the same results is, of course, insane.


That is exactly the strategy that the CCS provision of the Inflation Reduction Act encourages. 
Sure, some genius may come up with a cunning new plan to drastically reduce costs  on one or more of the capture, transport or storage processes.  They might find a market, for example, for some of the CO2 that is not too far away to transport it, and cut their losses for the «storage» part of CCS, only to have someone else actually emit the ghg.  
 

But, for the foreseeable future, CCS improvement to the point of viability will remain in the laboratory and very small pilot projects. It is just not ready for Prime Time with fossil fuel power generation!

Rick Engebretson's picture
Rick Engebretson on Aug 27, 2022

Thanks for offering the chance for discussion of this topic.

Some basic biology first. Photosynthesis performs CO2 + H2O => CH2O (carbohydrate eg. cellulose) + O2. With atmospheric CO2 going from 280 parts per million (ppm) to 400 ppm, the growth rate limiting CO2 has "greened up" the earth, but quite obviously sucked the continents dry. Wildfire and drought are a result.

Next, the biomass conversion process is as simple as it gets. A great starting point is here;

 

Direct solar energy storage is observed with gas fuels produced, and direct CCS "biochar" soil enhancer is produced. Biomass inputs from farm waste to forest products, to sewage treatment plant "biosolids" are now used. For years (decades) I dumbed down the biophysical chemistry discussion until "copy fire" became as simple as I could make it. I'm finally glad some very good science is being done.

Lastly, the energy production and delivery system will have to change to provide more people with more electric power more reliably. The big central generating plant needs a big grid, made unstable with big variables like wind, sun and consumption. A good example of local electric power production is most every car on the road.

In about 1981, while finishing my grad work at the U of MN Biophysics dept, the politicians all wanted "super-computers." But I started a company "Lightronics, Inc." pushing a fiber optic super-network and modern science I learned completely foreign to the old big shots. Imagine a world today without your color pocket computer.

Those espousing nonsense energy science are a problem these days.

 

 

Daniel Gunderson's picture
Daniel Gunderson on Aug 27, 2022

Great Question that is vast in its potential answers.  At the highest level CCS will be the nearest bridge to lower CO2 emissions while appropriate technology and supply chains are built.  Especially when you look at spaces like ethanol and petroleum refining, the journey to lowering CO2 through transportation electrification is on a longer trajectory than I think most people are prepared for.  Battery production facilities have been constructed at an incredible rate and can still only provide a fractional amount of batteries necessary just for the passenger vehicle segment, much less medium and heavy transport (or ag), where a significant amount of emissions comes from.  So, I think it makes a lot of sense to target the population of the highest efficiency facilities for CCS in this space.  In the utility sector, there is a still a case to be made for fuel diversity and stored solid fuel, the profile and benefits of such are well recognized and this solves that CO2 issue as well...regardless of the solutions, C02 reduction will require vastly more infrastructure than we have today, so the pathways will also likely be guided on how well different solution supply chains can respond to demand...I also think the incentives in place are appropriate for the size of the solutions for CCS currently and helps to support existing infrastructure and jobs so that local communities at least have transition plans around existing facilities (whether that be petroleum/ethanol refining or power production).  

Mark Silverstone's picture
Mark Silverstone on Aug 28, 2022

Some valid points. But please do not conflate CCS applications for producing/refining and power production facilities. 
There are great examples of the former, nothing but failure of the latter. 
 

Those who tout CCS use exactly that ruse to justify public expenditure on projects that have no hope of reducing carbon emissions. The objective of what is essentially a «bait and switch» is to increase fossil fuel consumption for power generation, instead of viable renewables options.
 

Please note that natural gas reservoirs often contain up to 12% (in my experience) CO2. Refining produced natural gas  requires thorough CO2 removal to make the gas meet specifications for use, and for good reason (e.g. 1: cooling it would result in solidifying the CO2. e.g. 2: CO2 mixed with water is acidic and corrosive.)

 CO2 removal from produced natural gas is a simple, necessary, routine, well developed process.  Once it is removed, it can 1. be released 2. injected into a suitable, geologically isolated subsurface formation,  if there is one 3. Injected  into producing formations to improve production, to be reproduced, recaptured and reinjected until it no longer is effective (for production/corrosivity reasons) and then released.

The Sleipner field in Norway may be the best example of successful CCS. There is substantial CO2 in the gas. It is easily removed on the offshore  platform and, without having to transport it, is reinjected into a conveniently existing subsurface formation, ideal for the purpose. It is not free, but probably the best example of CCS.

Unfortunately, that success (ongoing) has yet to be repeated.  Without going into details (unless you ask!), the Mongstad Refinery CCS has been an expensive, abject failure, though much, we hope, has been learned from it.  The Melkøya CCS has had both success and devastating setbacks, including fires and long shutdowns. Suffice it to say, that gas powered generation without CCS is not allowed in Norway. As a result, there is no gas powered electrical generation in Norway, even when gas was really, really cheap (Those were the days! It was really hard then to make the economic case for renewables. Now wind turbines are sprouting like wild flowers in springtime, though not without controversy.) Meanwhile maximum volumes of gas are produced.  Some of the gas is processed into ammonia. The rest is exported.

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