CCS: An Idea Whose Time Is Way Behind Schedule!

Carbon capture and storage (CSS) is fast becoming the oil industry's favorite solution to the climate crisis, but the seductive simplicity of the idea masks a series of doubts about its viability.

But ask an expert when the technique could be deployed on a large enough commercial scale to make a significant reduction in global CO2 emissions, and the response is often less than confident.

“That's a very difficult question,” said Olav Kaarstad, a leading expert and special advisor to front-running Norwegian energy group StatoilHydro.


I say its time for this trillion dollar industry to put up or shut up.

All the technology exists as parts of other industries. I tend to believe the engineers: there is no tech barrier.

There was an interesting report on CCS in The Economist June 21 2008. Two things stood out in that for me: one, the FutureGen project in Illinois was described as the only full scale coal fired electricity generating CCS plant that was almost constructed anywhere in the world. It was announced in 2003, then delayed, postponed for redesign now cancelled this January. Two, the cost estimate was put at CCS plants 8 cents kwh, nonCCS (the normal coal fired CO2 belcher), 5 cents kwh, then this: “it would help if coal - the cheapest fuel for making electricity - were taxed to pay for the climate changing effects of the carbon produced when it burns… Certainly that is the only way to bring about the widespread adoption of carbon dioxide capture and storage”

The industry isn’t going to come up with a plant because they just don’t like to lose money. Put in a carbon tax to level the playing field and all future plants will be CCS. Coal would be less competitive then so less plants would be built than otherwise would be without carbon taxes. Perhaps that is why the industry wants to delay CCS as well.

Canada’s Prime Minister was touting CCS at the G8 recently. Supposedly Canada has taken up the torch dropped by George Bush when his DOE cancelled FutureGen. Harper announced a month after that project was cancelled that he will subsidize the Boundary Dam project which is a retrofit of an existing coal fired electricity generating plant in Saskatchewan, to the tune of $240 million with the government of Saskatchewan coughing up around three times that. Now this project was a bigger thing last year but Saskatchewan backed out of it then. Everyone is back now. Perhaps its just another shell game like FutureGen seems to have been.

Consider that it isn’t just the capital costs that are higher than a regular plant, it will be more expensive to operate the plant because as the industry spokespeople say there is an expected 20% or more penalty in efficiency as it takes energy to take the carbon out. Therefore, the ongoing generation cost after the plant is built makes the plant uneconomic even if it received a capital investment subsidy, if it has to compete in todays economic environment, hence The Economist comment that it would help if carbon emissions were taxed to level the playing field. Would you want to be the sucker in the worldwide coal industry who actually built the first one of these things or would you let someone else do it?

And consider that Prime Minister Harper is adamant that carbon taxes will not be implemented on his watch. The Liberal party opposition leader is touting his plan for carbon taxes and Harper has vehemently denounced these as something that will “ruin” any economy and “screw” everyone. Harper says he’s busy planning various other schemes to put a price on carbon that will take a lot longer to implement.

CCS will be on hold until there is a price on carbon, and the industry puppets, as Harper certainly acts like, are busy delaying that as long as possible.

Another way to look at the increased cost is to examine the work of Marc Jaccard, author of “Sustainable Fossil Fuels” who is an advisor to the British Columbia Liberal government that enacted a carbon tax recently. Jaccard says carbon can be removed from an economy like Canada’s and the cost of energy would move from being 6% of a typical family’s budget to 8%.

Now given the drastic change in the timeframe available to reduce carbon emissions and the moving goalpost target going from the widely accepted 450 ppm now down to 350 ppm as highlighted in testimony given by James Hansen to Congress recently, obviously, costs will be higher than that.

Food for thought.