Carbon capture and storage (CCS) used to be a dirty word for environmentalists. Criticism of CCS as a distraction employed by fossil fuel companies has hampered its integration into environmental policy.
However, the warning from Amima Mohammed (UN Under-Secretary-General) to “act now before it is too late” as COP26 draws closer, suggests that a reconsideration of options to tackle the problem. climate change is necessary.
Avoiding a climate crisis will require a concerted global effort involving a variety of sectors and stakeholders. There is an urgent need to reduce emissions and eliminate the carbon dioxide (CO₂) that has already accumulated in the atmosphere. CCS, which refers to the process of capturing CO₂ and injecting it into storage sites to prevent re-entry into the atmosphere, will play an important role in achieving this.
For many, CCS invites a level of skepticism. There are currently only small-scale projects underway, which prevents this method from significantly reducing global emissions. In addition, financial and technological challenges have hampered the move upmarket in the past.
An MIT review says the failure of large-scale projects has exacerbated doubts surrounding the technology. Petra Nova, a coal-fired power plant in Texas equipped with CCS, is a key example. Although the project was an example for the modernization of existing infrastructure, the costly process of carbon separation caused the plant to fall 600,000 metric tonnes below its carbon capture targets (IEEFA) and was put on hold in May 2020 due to a drop in energy demand during the pandemic.
Moreover, public opposition has played a role in blocking the upward trajectory of the CSC. A report by GlobalData identifies how CCS aspirations in Europe were derailed when German citizens protested against a proposal to modernize Vattenfall’s Schwarze Pumpe coal-fired power plant in 2009-10.
Instead, nature-based solutions provided a more acceptable option for removing carbon from the atmosphere. However, the potential of climate change to destabilize these natural carbon stores suggests that a combination of approaches is needed. CCS has the potential to fill this gap.
A work in progress
A GlobalData report indicates that CCS is poised for growth in the future with a multitude of large projects planned beyond 2021. The process of separating carbon dioxide from emissions is also becoming more cost effective with economies of scale and technological development reducing the amount of compulsory energy.
The Biden administration’s commitment to 100% pollution-free electricity by 2035, with a focus on CCS modernization of power plants, represents an opportunity for this technology. Open-air carbon capture will also receive funding from Biden’s $ 3.5 billion infrastructure bill, reflecting how CCS is increasingly becoming a priority for politics.
In response to these movements, a report by GlobalData finds that a number of oil companies have positioned themselves as leaders in the CCS market. The multiple stages of capture, transport and injection / storage capitalize on the skills and expertise of the major oil companies. CCS also allows the biggest polluters to gradually wean themselves off fossil fuels.
Although CCS has been criticized for being used by fossil fuel companies as a distraction, a combination of technological development, funding, and political will makes CCS prospects more real. CCS is poised for growth, demonstrating the potential to play a major role in tackling climate change.