CCS is ‘unattractive but vital’ to meeting carbon targets

Carbon Capture Storage (CCS) can be a suitable solution for reducing carbon emissions but high costs and a challenging implementation process are making it unattractive to those in the energy industry, says Carbon Trust chairman, James Smith.

The mitigation technology, which transports CO2 via pipelines and is stored offshore in deep underground structures, has received a mix response over the last few years, with many saying that the process is not a solution because the development of fossil fuels will continue.

However, others argue that it will help reach our carbon mitigation targets while supplying the growing population with its increasing energy demands.

Speaking at the Carbon Show in London yesterday, Smith said that it was little surprise that CCS had not taken off and argued that the technology must become more ‘attractive’ to the energy sector if it is to be embraced.

“It’s not because it can’t be done but for anyone who looks at it, CCS is just a nuisance”, Smith said.

“You know that if you’re going to put CCS on an existing power plant it’s going to cost. It’s going to cost more in capital terms, more in operating terms and it’s going to be more problematic”, added Smith.

Smith was unaware of why CCS was receiving such bad press and why it was not being widely incorporated into power plants until he discussed the barriers and challenges with someone in the power sector.

“He said ‘why can’t we just do nuclear and CCGT [combine cycle gas turbine]’ that would bring down, on average, 150 grams of CO2 per kilowatt hour. He added ‘isn’t that good enough from the power sector?’ And you can see why that sort of thing is quite attractive; it’s very familiar to them”.

Smith explained that there are several reasons why the energy sector has been reluctant to get on board with CCS, including the difficulty in implementing the technology.

“Those in the power sector ask what sort of technology CCS is and when they hear that it is chemical engineering technology they quickly explain that they don’t do chemical engineering, they do electrical engineering and civil engineering – so you’re asking them to learn a new technology”, he added.

Equally, gas companies are not favouring the technology as it drains there most vital resource, said Smith.

“Gas companies don’t like it very much because now in order to sell their product they are going to have to put scarce resources into petroleum engineering, which are about the scarcest resource there is in an oil company. Now you’ve got to devote that resource to putting CO2 back into the ground, whereas what they would like to be doing is devoting it to getting oil and gas out”.

“So it’s not surprising to me, now that I realise it, that investment in CCS looks unattractive and yet I advocate that it’s vital. So we won’t fix climate change if we don’t fix CCS because gas and coal, however marginal, will get burned anyway so we have to capture the carbon whether it’s in this country or anywhere else” he added.

Leigh Stringer

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