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Yes, Virginia, There is CCS

David Hone's picture
David Hone 7353
Chief Climate Change Adviser Shell International Ltd.

David Hone serves as the Chief Climate Change Advisor for Royal Dutch Shell. He combines his work with his responsibilities as a board member of the International Emissions Trading Association...

  • Member since 2018
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  • Dec 26, 2014

In 1897, Dr. Philip O’Hanlon, a coroner’s assistant on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, was asked by his then eight-year-old daughter, Virginia, whether Santa Claus really existed. O’Hanlon suggested she write to The Sun, a prominent New York City newspaper at the time, assuring her that “If you see it in The Sun, it’s so.” So with thanks and apologies to “Is There a Santa Claus?“, September 21, 1897, The New York Sun, staying true to the original text where possible and in the spirit of the festive season . . . .


We take pleasure in answering thus prominently the communication below, expressing at the same time our great gratification that its faithful author is numbered among our friends:

Dear Editor—

I was at COP20 in Lima. Some of my friends in Lima said there is no CCS. But many big companies say, “It’s now a commercially available technology.” Please tell me the truth, is there CCS?

Virginia from Lima

Virginia, your friends are wrong. They have been affected by the scepticism of a sceptical age. They do not believe what they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men’s or children’s, can ask such questions. In this great universe of ours, man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.

Yes, Virginia, there is CCS. It exists as certainly as amine separation, compressors and drilling rigs exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life energy and mobility. Alas! how dreary and warm might the world be someday be if there is no CCS! It would be as dreary and warm as if there were no wind turbines. There may be more extreme weather then, to further concern us in this existence.

Not believe in CCS! You might as well not believe in 100% renewable energy. You might get your friends to watch all the chimneys in case some CO2 escapes, but even if you did see some CO2 being released, what would that prove? Nobody sees CO2, but that is no sign that there is no CCS. The most real things in the world are those that tend to be hidden away. Did you ever see a vinyl-chloride monomer plant? Of course not, but that’s no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.

VCM Process

You fret that the continued use of fossil fuels will damage the atmosphere such that even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived could not repair. But fear not, as carbon pricing develops so too will the deployment of CCS, such that we really can have net zero emissions by the end of the century? Ah, Virginia, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.

No CCS! Thanks that this technology has now been developed. A decade from now, Virginia, nay 10 times 100 years from now, it will continue to make glad the CO2 level in the atmosphere.

Merry Christmas

See you in 2015!

David Hone's picture
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Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Dec 26, 2014

David, regarding the fairy tale of CCS:

  • In what way does it contribute to net-zero emissions if it extracts as much carbon as it sequesters?
  • Agreed that “Nobody sees CO2, but that is no sign that there is no CCS”. What can Virginia rely on as a sign there is CCS?
  • Also agreed that “The most real things in the world are those that tend to be hidden away.” Does that apply to the motive behind deceptively trumpeting CCS for enhanced oil recovery as a solution to climate change?

I hope your Christmas was a merry one David, but con-man Santa is exposed sooner than later.

David Hone's picture
David Hone on Dec 27, 2014


i agree that much of the CCS activity to date has involved EOR, but that is not always the case. Three projects in the pipeline that Shell is involved in do not involve EOR; Gorgon in Australia, Quest in Canada and Peterhead in Scotland  are all storage projects.


Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on Dec 28, 2014

According to the EIA, electricity from coal with CCS still costs 50% more than nuclear power; significant new builds therefore would appear unlikely.  Replacing the coal with biomass should not lower the cost, so it is hard to see this working out either.

The EIA predicts that gas-fired combined cycle plants can be fitted with CCS and produce power for slightly less than the initial cost of nuclear (assuming it runs baseload, at 87% capacity factor); the fuel cost is 5.6 ¢/kWh, so in the long run will cost much more than nuclear.  The capital cost is high enough that it becomes unattractive for peaking.  When the gas plant is run at 50% capacity factor and combined with wind and/or solar power, the combined average cost of electricity is again higher than the cost of nuclear power (this is true even before we include the cost of wind and solar curtailment or added transmission).

So fossil fuel with CCS for electricity only makes sense for countries that don’t mind paying extra for fossil fuel energy, or those who have locked-in fossil fuel use by use of high penetration solar and wind without adequate energy storage.

On the other hand, fossil fuel with CCS is currently the cheapest way to make carbon-free fuels (hydrogen and ammonia).  

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on Dec 28, 2014

As an environmentalist, I consider industrial scale energy from biomass to be a terrible idea in most cases (due to the large land footprint required).  The only exceptions I think are prudent are for liquid fuels that absolutely must have carbon (e.g. fuel for long range air & space travel), and as a part of carbon negative energy systems.

The IEA isn’t convinced carbon-neutral energy systems will be adequate, hence the interest in biomass with CC&S to provide carbon-negative energy (see this IEA BECCS presentation).

Regarding adding capacitance to the grid: that is important and is well understood by utility engineers.  It is also nearly unrelated to high renewable penetration (it has more to do with long and heavily loaded transmission and distribution lines).  The time frame of energy storage provided by grid capacitors is 1/120th of a second, whereas integrating variable renewables involved a time frame of minutes to hours or days.

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on Dec 29, 2014

As environmentalists, we must face the challenge of supporting the recommendations of the scientific community, and if you read what the IEA is saying, CC&S (and nuclear) should be included in a low carbon energy future.

The other factor to consider is that in some locations, the fossil fuel companies have far too much influence of the public and the government in order for a fossil fuel phase-out to be credible.  For example, the science clearly states that the elimination of coal and lignite combustion should be a top priority, but the German public believes that it is nuclear power that should be eliminated first.  Without CC&S, Germany has zero chance of moving to a low CO2 grid.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Dec 29, 2014

Nathan, non-EOR CCS has never breached one-tenth of one percent of the world’s fossil fuel emissions, but the IEA is making the extraordinary logical leap this unproven (and unprovable) technology is remotely practical at scale.

Until CCS is made 100% verifiable it’s more of a hindrance than a help. To set up a CCS repository which accomplishes a fraction of what is claimed would be an investment in the perfect excuse for Germany’s lucrative coal industry to continue BAU – while announcing CCS milestones which don’t, and will never, exist. And the earth gets warmer.

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on Jan 15, 2015

Thank you for the really excellent, very special story about Santa Claus in the New York Sun.
We all need such hope!

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