Catch Me If You Can

From Climate Scepticism


Carbon Capture, Usage & Storage

Another email from the Westminster Energy, Environment and Transport Forum (“WEET”) popped in to my in-box this week. It’s headed “Next steps for CCUS development in the UK” and is due to take place on 17th April 2023.

I’ll take a look (below) at the various conference sessions and the helpful notes accompanying the email, that enable interested parties to keep up to date with recent developments. First, however, I want to remind readers of an article that appeared on the website of The Conversation on 23rd November 2021 with the heading “Why the oil industry’s pivot to carbon capture and storage – while it keeps on drilling – isn’t a climate change solution”. Normally I find myself in direct disagreement with pretty much everything I read at The Conversation but, for once, this is an article where I found myself nodding along as I read it.

The authors point out that CCS takes different forms. One form is to try to capture CO2 as it is emitted by power stations. They refer to seven such large-scale CCS projects in the United States, and point out that despite receiving hundreds of millions of dollars in subsidies, they were either cancelled before they reached commercial operation, or were closed down because of financial or mechanical problems. Reference is made to one ongoing CCS project in Canada, where CCS is used on a coal-fired power plant. Apparently the CCS equipment cost $1.4 billion, of which $240 million was contributed by the Canadian taxpayer. We are then told that the captured carbon dioxide, both in Canada and in a number of smaller-scale CCS projects in the US, is used to assist enhanced oil recovery. Naturally, this doesn’t play well with the authors, who are worried about climate change and who are hostile to fossil fuels. They tell us that CCS at coal power plants, which utilises the captured CO2 for enhanced oil extraction, involves putting 3.7 to 4.7 times as much CO2 into the atmosphere as it removes in the first place, when modelling the the full life cycle of this process. I’m not a fan of models, and I don’t share their instinctive concern about climate change, nor their hostility to the use of fossil fuels, but I still take the point. CCS is expensive, generally it has failed when attempted on a large scale, and where it is in place in the US and Canada, it is used to enhance oil extraction, with the net result that more – not less – CO2 is emitted overall. It’s not a good look.

How else might CCS work? Well, systems might be designed to pull CO2 directly out of the atmosphere. However, the authors tell us that such projects have huge energy requirements. Where is that energy to come from? There’s the rub:

The only type of direct air capture system in relatively large-scale development right now must be powered by a fossil fuel to attain the extremely high heat for the thermal process.

Further, we are told that a:

study of direct air capture’s energy use indicates that to capture 1 gigaton of carbon dioxide per year, this type of direct air capture system could require up to 3,889 terawatt-hours of energy – almost as much as the total electricity generated in the US in 2020.

One gigaton is

about 3% of annual global carbon dioxide emissions. The U.S. National Academies of Sciences projects a need to remove 10 gigatons per year by 2050, and 20 gigatons per year by century’s end if decarbonization efforts fall short.

Assuming these studies are correct, it’s difficult to see that any of this can be feasible at the scale we are told is needed. And it’s not just the practical feasibility that is an issue – there is also the question of cost. It is likely to cost trillions of (US) dollars, or so we are told, if scaled up to the extent where it might make a measurable difference to the climate. In addition, once captured, it has to be transported, either to be buried, or to be used (e.g. in enhanced oil extraction). We are told that 66,000 miles of pipelines would be required “to begin to approach one gigaton per year of transport and burial.

Of course, one doesn’t have to agree with the analysis of the authors of the article in The Conversation, but it would need a compelling counter-argument to suggest CCS is worth pursuing further. Which brings us back to the WEET conference, since it seems that UK politicians are still pursuing CCS as part of their desperate scatter-gun approach to the problem of making net zero achievable somehow.

Looking at the list of speakers, it is clear that there is no shortage of people with an interest in CCS. An important attendee at the conference is the Deputy Director for Power CCUS, at the amusingly-named Department for Energy Security and Net Zero. There is a representative of the Carbon Capture & Storage Association. According to its website it is “the lead European association accelerating the commercial deployment of CCUS through advocacy and collaboration.” They “work with members, governments and other organisations to ensure CCUS is developed and deployed at the pace and scale necessary to meet net zero goals and deliver sustainable growth across Europe.” Furthermore, “CCSA runs the secretariat services for the Zero Emissions Platform (ZEP). ZEP is the technical adviser to the EU on the deployment of CCS and CCU.” I may be doing them a disservice, but their website reads like the website of a lobby group and little more. Also attending the WEET conference is the Global CCS Institute, who are a thinktank. And, needless to say, there is an All-Party Parliamentary Group on Carbon Capture, Utilisation and Storage, one of whose MPs will also be in attendance.

There’s clearly lots going on, involving a lot of time on the part of civil servants, and presumably taxpayers’ money too. We learn that a CCUS Cluster Sequencing Programme has been launched:

The strategy highlighted that bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) applications in the power sector could be deployed by the late 2020s, and help deliver our Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) by 2030. Engineered removals are likely to be located within or near industrial clusters, benefiting from access to CO₂ transport and storage infrastructure, essential to support delivery of net-negative emissions.

The Cluster Sequencing Process aims to deliver a minimum of 2 clusters by the mid-2020s and 4 by 2030. The recent Phase-2 shortlist identified the power CCUS, CCUS-enabled hydrogen, and industrial carbon capture (ICC) projects that will proceed to the next stage of due diligence.

Perhaps inevitably, there is a CCUS Investor Roadmap. It strikes me as being the usual delusional stuff:

The UK is ideally positioned to lead the global development and deployment of CCUS, with the world class industrial experience and world leading capital investment landscape to enable innovation, development, and growth. It has one of the largest potential CO₂ storage capacities in Europe (an estimated 78Gt of CO₂ storage capacity in the UK Continental Shelf), making it one of the most attractive business environments for CCUS technology.

This investor roadmap summarises the current engagement of government and industry and outlines further opportunities to deliver on national CCUS objectives in collaboration with investors.

At least the infrastructure problem is to be discussed at the conference, with the notes referring to “overcoming practical barriers around transmission and storage – grid and pipeline connections – storage capacity and availability – improving options for transportation”. Other issues are recognised too – “CCUS clusters within the wider energy market: integration in the context of current system challenges – minimising costs to consumers – engaging investors”.

A section on “incentives” mentions “assessing how the conceptual framework can incentivise the availability of low-carbon, non-weather-dependent, dispatchable generation capacity”. A good question!

Another section on “addressing barriers” talks about “overcoming challenges to deployment at the pace and scale necessary in the later 2020s”. However, since I won’t be attending the conference, I can’t let you in to the secret as to what the magic solution will be.

As with so much to do with the net zero agenda, the cost and likely lack of viability of CCUS at scale bothers me greatly, but so far as I can see our politicians aren’t phased by the cost, problems and impracticability of it all – not in the least. I wonder if any of them have read the article in The Conversation? Meanwhile, the great net zero circus continues to roll forward. Will it ever run out of steam?