News ID: 131389
Published: 0256 GMT November 22, 2015

Carbon capture shackled by costs

Carbon capture shackled by costs

Every credible plan to save humanity from global warming reserves a key role for a green energy technology called carbon capture and storage.

But there's a problem: no one has figured out a viable way to pay for it.

Usually just called CCS, the technology can take carbon dioxide — the dominant greenhouse gas — from major pollution sources such as power plants or steel mills and pump it deep underground, out of harm's way, AFP wrote.

CCS is crucial to many scenarios — including from the United Nation's climate science panel — for keeping global warming under 2° Celsius, considered the red line for catastrophic climate impacts.

But despite decades of testing, only a handful of the projects are actually in service.

One of the main reasons, experts say, is a very hefty price tag that has kept nervous investors at bay.

"There are 22 large-scale (CCS) operations in the world," said Isabelle Czernichowski-Lauriol, president emeritus of CO2GeoNet, a European research network.

"There has been a delay in regards to what was expected, but it has mostly been due to the lack of an economic model.”

Catching, transporting and storing just a fraction of the world's carbon emissions would require the construction of a massive new industry.

Scientist and analyst Vaclav Smil, a respected voice on environmental and energy matters, has calculated that a CCS infrastructure — to capture and store 20 percent of the world's CO2 from burning fossil fuels — would need a capacity 70 percent larger than the petroleum flow handled by the global crude oil industry.

The scale of effort needed for any substantial reduction of emissions and the operating costs "combine to guarantee very slow progress”, he wrote.

At the moment, Canada's Boundary Dam power station in Saskatchewan is the world's only commercial-scale coal-fired power plant that uses carbon capture to keep its emissions out of the air.

It is designed to grab 90 percent of the plant's CO2 gases — the equivalent of the pollution from 250,000 cars — which are then sold and pumped to nearby facilities for use in squeezing oil out of the ground.

Sale of the gas provides extra revenue for the station, which cost 1.5 billion Canadian dollars (1€ billion) to build. About a sixth came from government subsidies.

"Cost is one of the main barriers to CCS," said Samuela Bassi, a policy analyst at the London School of Economics and Political Science. "Building these plants is expensive.”

Adding carbon capture technology to coal-fired power plants pushes up their cost by 40-80 percent, and by up to 50 percent for natural gas-burning stations.

One reason carbon capture is so expensive is the technology is relatively new as a climate change solution — about a decade old — and some of the projects are one-of-a-kind.

A developing technology without a proven, viable business model is also seen as risky by investors, driving up the cost of borrowing money, analysts said.

   
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