CCS Carbon Capture and Storage – the facts.

Dear Oliver,
You’re not alone in your scepticism!
However, you’re wrong about the CO2 emissions. The reality is that coal +CCS as currently defined/mandated emits significantly less CO2 than NG CCGT without CCS (‘unabated’), because authorities in the UK (and most countries except Japan) are demanding c.90% CO2 removal from coal, whereas CCGT emits about 50% of the CO2 of coal power. This is entirely inequitable/indefensible and a daft situation. If you were a UK power Co. CEO right now and had the opportunity of either investing in coal +90% CCS with a 50-year+ low cost fuel supply at capital cost ‘x’, or a non-CCS gas CCGT plant with only a 10-year affordable imported gas fuel supply at 1/4-1/3 of that capital cost, and pocketing your share (in personal bonuses) of that several billion £ avoided capital spend, when you had no intention of being in the job in 10 years’ time to be called to account, which would you do? (…when the correct policy for ‘UK plc’ should be a moratorium on all new gas plant construction, now that the UK N. Sea is largely exhausted). It’s ‘the perfect crime’ because the CCGT plant owners will always be able to blame someone else (‘those wicked Russians’) for the future imported gas price increases and resulting power supply crisis, while the guilty parties are busy enjoying their ill-gotten gains in early retirement on some foreign island. I eyeballed some of these gents at the recent APGTF London power Workshop, busy justifying why CCGT was the best thing to build now because of the projected 2016-20 blackouts crisis, due to past government/industry plant investment inertia. (“Oi wouldn’t be starting from here, Sir”, in my best ‘Irish yokel’ accent).
I agree with you that (as the big issue is CO2 reduction and security of supply, rather than renewables ‘per se’) the most equitable situation would be a flat  across-the-board carbon price, set by auction of permits and raised upstream on production of fossil fuels. (This is what the EU ETS carbon trading system was supposed to do, but has signally failed to raise either an adequate, or stable, Carbon ‘floor’ price because of too ‘loose’ CO2 caps due to lack of political courage). Permits would be rebated for secure CCS and other forms of safe CO2 storage. Then let the market decide the technology it wants to go for. But I predict a very different outcome;  shorn of the massive, market-distorting double-ROC subsidies, I don’t think that utilities would go for unpredictable, intermittent, expensive wind+marine renewables at all, but for reliable, controllable, fuel-storable fossil + CCS as a significantly cheaper /more reliable method of CO2 reduction. The IEA’s definitive study on this topic last year formally concluded that on a global scale, a mixed generating/industrial portfolio including fossil+CCS would reduce the cost of achieving global 2050 CO2 reduction targets by c.30%vs. renewables.  But if the gov’t were sensible, it would also layer-in the right future pricing signals(or ban)  to deflect that long-term (50-year) fossil plant investment away from short-term gas on to sustainable (for the life of the specific plant …which is allit needs), cheap coal. The decision to ‘bite the bullet’ on more expensive renewables (with all their difficult intermittency /backup/ power storage problems) for the longer haul could be deferred for another 40-50 years, reaping the benefit of  a further 50 years of renewable technology R&D. In my opinion, the only thing holding back CCS in the UK now is that it is not being offered any general operating (per output kWh) subsidy at all, apart from a barely adequate capital grant for 4 very modest demo plants. In this situation, the ridiculous, unjustified claimed ‘unprovenness’ of CCS technology ‘requiring further R&D’ is a very convenient joint  public ‘fable’ between the gov’t and the power companies, because it conveniently defers awkward spending decisions. Coal gasification/IGCC has been proven at full scale since 1982 and CO2 capture technology has been routinely used in the chemical industry since c.1900, while gas injection underground has been widely used on a huge scale for natural gas storage in USA since c.1950.

I am not pretending that coal does not have other serious environmental impacts throughout its whole mining, transport + utilisation chain, or that 100% CCS capture is economically feasible (although 99.999% capture is already both technically feasible and routine, as practised at the inlet of everyLNG plant worldwide… little-known fact!). However, as Fred well knows, and described in my paper to the Oct 1997 Claverton Conf (on the website – ‘Squaring The Circle’), adoption of the less popular gasification-IGCC option can dramatically reduce (by about 10-fold) the powerplant-based non-CO2 pollution impacts of using coal, while co-firing biomass into these plants would give further proportional reductions (in fact, Biomass +CCS is probably the only truly affordable proven large scale CO2-negativegeneration option – infinitely more economic than any of the crazy ‘geo-engineering’ proposals). This clean performance was all abundantly demonstrated at the very first large IGCC demo plant , at Cool Water at Barstow in the Mohave Desert, California right back in 1982(!). This intensively-monitored plant, right from the start, performed well within its very strict emission permits, in some cases by a factor of 10, while the surrounding desert broke the same strict limits (for suspended dust) on several occasions!


Chris Hodrien

See also……..

 Squaring the Circle on Coal – Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) – Detailed technical desctripion of options experience issues concering ccs carbon capture and storage and sequestration. Claverton Energy Group conference Bath oct 24th 2008

» 88.5 KiB – 195 hits – 6 November 2008
2008 Conference: “Carbon Capture and Sequestration” by Fred Starr


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