Articles from 2013
CCS reality check
- Written by Nick Grealy
- Published: 15 July 2013
Despite what some may think, being a shale enthusiast doesn’t make me dismissive of any competitors in power generation. Unlike the 'all carbon fuels are evil' school of some green groups, such as the Fiends about the Earth, (thanks to auto correct on Twitter for that uncannily accurate description) I don’t dismiss any actual- or theoretical- power sources out of hand. Over the years, I will admit to consistently describing Carbon Capture and Storage as a Completely Crackpot Scheme, despite my respect for scientists like the BGS’s Mike Stephenson,James Verdon of the University of Bristol and Ivan Pearson of Bellona, enthusiasts of both shale and CCS.
I have a number of problems with CCS. So do people with money:
- CCS doesn’t "solve" CO2. It hides it somewhere else. If shale gas is a Ponzi scheme, CCS is Three Card Monte. Making sure it stays there is problematic and as some observers have noted, uninsurable. Perhaps we will see earthquakes in the distant future leading to a sudden belch of hundreds of years of stored CO2 for example. I find that unlikely, and I’m happy to run the risk - it appears no less likely than shale polluting water hundreds of years in the future.
- CCS could be a distraction from the main issue wiser Greens quite rightly point out: CO2 mitigation is as much as about reducing consumption as it is about production.
- CCS started out, as far back as the seventies, as a solution to carbon from coal. CCS would allegedly (no one has yet to prove this at scale), lead to reducing CO2 from coal by 85% or so. Today replacing coal with the most modern natural gas plants that dispatch power efficiently could lead to CO2 savings of over 60%. That means the billions and trillions of investment, already doubtful at 85% reduction, are even more so if they only produce CO2 savings of 20/30%.
- Using the natural gas network to build a network of flexible gas power plants close to consumers will mean further savings by avoiding transmission losses of power. CO2 capture is constrained by geology and pipelines. If it works, it will work in the largest power plants, but are we approaching the end of big power anyway? The future could/should be one of smaller flexible gas, renewable and possibly smaller sized nuclear power generation. Building a new network to ship CO2 hundreds of miles seems especially pointless, although it does go a long way to explaining why European grid operators are invariably CCS fans.
- As I don’t cease pointing out, we already have scientifically effective 100% coal CCS via leaving it in the ground. The issue now is that we need to make the economics of that policy work. That task will be complex, but surely no more so than the economics of mass CO2 capture.
In short, CCS is being blindsided by shale reality.
Two further complications are that there has been very little research on removing CO2 at scale in gas power stations. Again, the economics of CO2 lend themselves, if at all, to the economics of big power, not small. CO2 storage in distributed generation is even more unlikely.
The other issue is what to me seems rather self-defeating: The only proven CCS projects are ones involving enhanced oil recovery. CO2 is pushed back into the reservoirs, or neighbouring ones, to produce more oil. Which of course contains 30% more CO2 than gas.
This recently from Penn State on using gas CO2 to produce gas would make more sense, but one would have to be far better scientist than I to think of the overall CO2 impact. Even with gas, I can’t quite get my head around it: one tantalizing prospect could be that it’s actually sustainable over time or is it perpetuating the issue? That I leave to the scientists.
What we are trying to do is develop and analyze the protocols to help us really understand the efficiency of sequestering carbon dioxide in shale reservoirs," Ertekin said. "These reservoirs have been holding a different gas for millions of years in a secure way. They may turn out to be a dependable repository for us to sequester carbon dioxide in a secure way."
But so far, both me and the markets aren’t being convinced. The problem is not lack of investment. The fact that this is a technology that they can’t even give away money to push forward surely tells us something. We’ve seen in the UK that DECC found no takers for the £1billion in funding for CCS projects they have been trying to spend. Recently, the same problem came to pass in Europe, with the only project passing through the first stage being one of the world’s largest CO2 emitters, Drax Power in Yorkshire.
Going back, I’m happy for CCS to work at Drax, if the economics make it so. But perhaps we should just close it down one of these decades instead?