I’m sure many of you have, at some point in your journeys through the energy and renewable world heard the term ‘carbon-capture and storage’, or more simply ‘CCS’, but might not have known fully what it was, how it works or why it is being given such prominence in modern policy discussion. Well here’s my attempt at giving you a brief but hopefully in-depth look at the technology and the science surrounding some of the obsession associated with big oil companies, the Republicans and general economists.
CCS does mostly what it says on the tin; it aims to capture carbon or CO2 from the fumes and emissions given off by dirty industry, such as oil, coal or gas burning power plants, usually by grabbing the stuff out of the air with scrubbers or biological substances, before condensing it down into liquid form which can be easily transported. This lovely carbon-ooze is subsequently pumped elsewhere, generally far from the source, and deep into the Earth’s crust, within depleted fossil fuel reserves or geologically appropriate formations, such as aquifers or rock beds.
Via this technology, it is greatly hoped that carbon emissions from our already well-established dirty fossil industries can be hugely reduced, without radical changes in attitude and infrastructure required. We’ll see why this is not the grand idea is sounds to be.
The whole science of capturing the CO2 has been relatively well-tested on a small scale, with multiple projects spanning from the start of the millennia, such as simple scrubbing of power plant chimneys. However, capture on a larger scale has proved a much more ambitious and expensive venture, with price-tags commonly running into the hundreds of millions if not billions just for the initial CCS stages. Examples of these include projects in Denmark through Vattenfall, pilot capture facilities in Sweden and Norway and greater Europe, with plenty more in the planning stage (http://www.bgs.ac.uk/qics/). Unfortunately practically all of the projects currently in play, whether they’re still in planning or near-completion, only involve the ‘capture’ part of CCS, merely test-beds for working out the kinks in collecting the stuff for subsequent storage, with the resultant carbon being released into the atmosphere once the experiments are complete. Only eight (in 2011) CCS plants were actually injecting CO2 back into the ground worldwide, with at least three of them acting purely as partners to deep-sea offshore drilling platforms, collecting their waste and pumping it back into the seabed, to no real net gain to society.
As for the larger scale storage aspect of CCS, nearing 100 projects are in place since mid-2012, but current financial and political woes have all but put the majority of these on the shelf, no doubt for the indefinite future, seen as far too expensive, risky and a distraction from the real issue at hand. Specifically, the EU recently slashed its fund for CCS from a prospective £4.8bn to just £1bn, with finalised figures coming in a month or so, meaning that the 12 projects originally guaranteed funding are no in serious jeopardy. Similar issues are being experienced by the industry globally, as the idea of big, high-risk, high-dollar energy resources such as nuclear rapidly fall out of favour with both the public and professionals.
This however does not seem true in the US, where the [unfortunate] boom in shale gas extraction has fuelled great interest in ways to reduce the already disgustingly damaging practice of fracking and shale prospecting. Shell has been a major player in this region of the world, jumping on the natural gas bandwagon without hesitation, setting up shop in Alberta, where one of the world’s largest reserves of shale gas resides. Just google this yourself and switch to images and before long you will understand why myself and many others recoil at the very idea of extracting this utter mess. Anyway, back on topic.