Policy - 16/November/2018

Carbon storage struggles with costs

Carbon capture and storage may be needed to decarbonise highly polluting sectors such as steel production, but the power sector would be best advised to focus on renewables and efficiency given the significant costs of the technology

For over 45 years the oil and gas industry has been injecting carbon dioxide into oil fields to enhance production. The techniques developed are part of a suite of technologies known as carbon capture and storage. Pushed by proponents as essential to radical, short-term decarbonisation, CCS struggles to demonstrate that its potential value to the transition from fossil fuels to renewables is worth its cost

Carbon capture and storage (CCS) describes a variety of technologies aimed at capturing carbon dioxide gas (CO2) emitted from industrial processes and permanently storing it deep in the ground. For two decades, various energy experts have heralded the technique as a way of reducing the anthropogenic CO2 emissions that are largely responsible for climate change. Technological, cost and societal issues have stopped it from taking off, but as scientists warn that time is running out for humanity to have a chance of keeping global warming below dangerous levels, the clamour for CCS to be part of the solution is growing.

The capture of CO2 can either take place pre-combustion, such as when it is stripped from natural gas prior to the gas being burned, or post-combustion, in which it is taken from the flue of a power station or an industrial cement or steel factory. Captured CO2 can be transported by pipeline, ship or road haulier. It is then injected several kilometres beneath the earth’s surface into suitable locations such as former gas and oil fields and porous rocks filled with salty water known as deep saline formations.

Closely related to CCS is carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS), in which CO2 is used prior to storage and the primary motivation is economic gain rather than climate mitigation. In this case, the CO2 is mainly used in enhanced oil recovery (EOR), a technique pioneered in the 1970s by the US oil and gas industry, whereby CO2 is injected into an already exploited oil field to allow more oil to be extracted. “In the US, 70-80% of the CO2 in EOR is from natural CO2 wells,” says Samantha McCulloch of the International Energy Agency (IEA). “But there is a market and an opportunity to really grow the use of CO2 from anthropogenic sources.” ...

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