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Carbon Capture and Storage – The Reality

This week we’re talking about carbon capture and storage, or CCS (sorry, these TLAs are not my fault).

Here’s why carbon capture and storage is a hot topic. If we could only capture the CO2 that is emitted when we burn fossil fuels, we could keep burning fossil fuels forever. Hooray – especially if you’re in any business related to fossil fuels, which is a pretty big chunk of our economy. Taking it one step further, if we could capture the CO2 that is already in the atmosphere, we could potentially reverse the earth’s global warming trend.

 

CCS is a fairly straightforward technology, and has been in use for about a hundred years. Billions of investment dollars have been going into scaling up various CCS processes for decades. CCS works best at the source of emissions, such as electric power plants and industrial processes (making steel and cement).

When I look at CCS from a thermodynamic, economic and technological maturity standpoint, it is a dead end. Here’s why:

  • First, CCS requires a lot of additional energy to remove CO2 from power plant exhausts, and even more from the atmosphere. Remember where that CO2 comes from: when we burn hydrocarbons (natural gas, coal or oil) we release a lot of energy, along with water vapor and CO2. It takes a lot of energy to re-capture the CO2.
  • Second, the extra energy is expensive. The efficiency of CCS power plants is about 40% lower than ordinary power plants. So the energy from these clean CCS plants costs 40% more.
  • Third, in spite of billions of dollars and decades of intensifying research, there are ZERO power plants or industrial processes in the world that are ready to scale up.

So why is there so much investment and interest in CCS? If the technology were to work at scale we could keep burning fossil fuels. I have nothing against R&D of various CCS technologies; maybe someday there will be a breakthrough.

The problem is that we are betting on a CCS breakthrough in the future, while continuing to burn fossil fuels now. While the fossil fuel industry lobbies for a CCS miracle, other more economic and workable technologies are not being deployed. It reminds me of a person addicted to smoking cigarettes, who knows about the risks of lung cancer, but keeps smoking in the hopes that science will find a cure before he dies.

I’m convinced that pursuing CCS as a solution to global warming will INCREASE our CO2 emissions over the next 20+ years. We would be on a faster, cheaper course to solve global warming by focusing on currently viable and scalable technologies.

To learn more about the science behind carbon capture and storage, their economic realities, as well as practical energy alternatives, please join us on this week’s Energy Show Podcast

© Cinnamon Energy Systems - The Energy Show

Barry Cinnamon's picture
Thank Barry for the Post!
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Roger Arnold's picture
Roger Arnold on Mar 6, 2021

I don't want to take time to respond to this post in detail. It wouldn't be appropriate anyway. It would be much too long for a comment. Just call this a flag for the benefit of any reader who imagines that a strong case has just been made here against CCS. It hasn't. 

That's only my take, of course. I'm an advocate for intelligent use of CCS. No financial interest, just what makes sense to me. Anyone is free to form their own opinion -- hopefully after a bit of research. If I have time, I'll try to get back with some good links.

Gord Olson's picture
Gord Olson on Mar 10, 2021

You may want to look at what is being done in Alberta and Saskatchewan. Look into  Shell Quest, NWR Redwater, Nutrien Redwater Alberta Carbon Trunk Line, Wolf Midstream, Sask Power. The lowest Carbon Foot Print Oil Production in the WORLD is at Clive Alberta using CO2 Miscible Flood for Tertiary recovery. The Shand Plant in Saskatchewan is decades old and was the first industrial scale CO2 capture. I will just leave this here at that.

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Mar 10, 2021

The lowest Carbon Foot Print Oil Production in the WORLD is at Clive Alberta using CO2 Miscible Flood for Tertiary recovery. 

My interest is piqued. I found this fact sheet about what I believe the project is you're talking about, but I can't find numbers on it. Is there reporting on what the actual quantifiable emissions reductions being experienced with capture in this area are? 

Mark Silverstone's picture
Mark Silverstone on Mar 10, 2021

I´m afraid that I agree with Barry´s pessimistic view of CCS.  There are successful CCS projects in the sense that they can be made to store more CO2 than they generate.  Norway once made CCS a strategic national goal and has had some success.   But, the economics still don´t work unless there is a substantial "bounty" or carbon tax offset offered to make it a going venture.  

But I am also always hopeful that a technological breakthrough can be achieved. So, my interest is always piqued!

Carl Bozzuto's picture
Carl Bozzuto on Mar 24, 2021

I'm afraid this article misses the point.  CO2 is being captured every day.  Oil and gas processing has been capturing CO2 since the 1950s.  Most of it is vented.  The real point is that there is no point in capturing CO2 unless there is someplace to put it.  Some oil fields are amenable to CO2 EOR.  AlkaSeltzer (sodium bicarbonate) is made from captured CO2.  The problem right now is that there are not enough uses for CO2 to soak up all of the CO2 that could be captured.  That has been the basis for interest in capture and storage.  Some of the CO2 that is captured will have to be stored.  The world doesn't use 40 gigatons per year of anything.  Then the question becomes whether or not it would be cheaper to do something else.  The current range of costs for CCS are $60 - $80/ton, perhaps $100/ton at the outside.  There are two power plants in the US that have been capturing and using CO2 since the late 80s and early 90s.  The Gates Foundation is working with a company in Iceland that claims to be able to capture CO2 for $25/ton.  Of course, without a carbon tax or a cap and trade system, nobody will want to pay $60, or $80, or $100 per ton.  They don't have to.  Never the less, some estimates for the cost of CAFE standards are as much as $600 per ton of CO2 reduced. That is just a hidden cost.  Certainly, CCS is cheaper than that. Also, the energy requirements that were cited are bogus.  MEA started out at  28 - 30% of the power plant energy.  Developments since then have reduced that figure down to a range of 17 - 20%, probably still too high.  Technologies under development are looking at a 10% penalty, which would certainly be doable.  There is no silver bullet to this problem.  The likelihood is that 10 - 20% of the overall emissions reductions by 2050 will have to come from CCS.

Barry Cinnamon's picture
Barry Cinnamon on Mar 25, 2021

Thanks Carl. Your point is that there is no benefit to CCS unless there is a place for the CO2. We could make a lot of Alka Seltzer, but that would be expensive. Finding enough reservoirs for the CO2 is also expensive

We both agree that the process of sequestering CO2 is expensive. When these expenses (including a carbon tax) are added to the cost of the energy produced, that energy is therefore more expensive than renewables. As battery costs continue their rapid decline, even using fossil fuels for night time generation will be more expensive.

As a result, I see zero applications for future power generation based on fossil fuels and CCS. Moreover, when we look at the many years it will take to ramp up any form of cost-effective CCS, we would have been much better off by deploying more renewables and storage.

Carl Bozzuto's picture
Carl Bozzuto on Mar 25, 2021

If you store the CO2, you don't pay the tax.  That is the real point.  There are not enough uses and you still need to get some CO2 out of the atmosphere.  Solar and wind have poor capacity factors.  Batteries alone do not solve that problem.  Here in New England, roof top solar has an 11% capacity factor.  In  order to get a full Mw out of roof top solar, one would have to build at last 10 times the amount of solar generation, plus the cost of the batteries, plus the cost of the transmission upgrades.  That is not going to be cheaper than natural gas plus CCS.  Some CCS will be needed.

Barry Cinnamon's picture
Barry Cinnamon on Mar 26, 2021

I agree.

What is cheaper now, CCS or green hydrogen?

Carl Bozzuto's picture
Carl Bozzuto on Mar 29, 2021

The answer to that question will depend upon where the green hydrogen is being made and where it will be used, as well as where the CO2 is captured and where it will be stored or used.  Currently, there are 4500 miles of CO2 pipelines in the US.  There are no dedicated hydrogen pipelines.  If the CO2 that is captured happens to be located near one of the existing pipelines, then CCS is cheaper than green hydrogen.  On the other hand, if the hydrogen is produced next door to a refinery and the refinery agrees to take the hydrogen when it is produced and does not demand 24/7 production of the hydrogen and the refinery is not near a CO2 pipeline, then green hydrogen would likely be cheaper than CCS.  However, it is more likely than any CO2 that is captured will be vented as that will be cheaper than either approach.  There is no "one size fits all solution" to this problem.

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