Friday, June 04, 2010

Environment: The Carbon Capture myth

By Brenda Sorensen
Republished courtesy of
IDN-InDepth NewsAnalysis
Photo Credit:

High expectations are being placed on a new technology that would capture and store carbon and help mitigate climate change. But a new report says that the technology known as 'Carbon Capture and Storage' (CCS) cannot work wonders and bring about required reductions in CO2 emissions that are known to contribute to global warming.

Repeatedly referred to as an important 'bridging technology' connecting a dirty fossil fuel present with a bright green future, CCS is designed to play a major role in future climate policies all over the world.

"But this is a false picture," says the report released on June 2 by NOAH / Friends of the Earth Denmark. "It will take a very long time before CCS would be able to deliver any significant reductions."

Countries such as China, the U.S., Germany, Spain, Australia and South Africa, among others, plan to use CCS to try to mitigate the contribution of fossil fuel emissions to global warming.

The 27-nation European Union has set large sums aside to finance 12 demonstration plants over the next 10 years. The climate law proposed in the U.S. has similar provisions for CCS.

As far back as 2008, Jose Manuel Barroso, President of the EU Commission said: "We have to make CCS the norm for new power plants and establish 12 demonstration plants by 2015."

"The world will fail to halve emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) by 2050 without the deployment of technology to capture and store the emissions spewed out from fossil-fuel burning power plants," maintained Stavros Dimas, EU Commissioner for the Environment, also in 2008.

The same year G8 + 3 (Britain, Canada, Italy, Japan, France, Germany, Russia, the United States + China, India and South Korea) said: "We strongly support the recommendation that 20 large-scale CCS demonstration projects need to be launched globally by 2010 ... with a view to supporting technology development and cost reduction for the beginning of broad deployment of CCS by 2020."

In 2007, UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) Executive Secretary Yvo de Boer said: "The IPCC has identified carbon dioxide capture and storage (CCS) as the most promising technology for the rapid reduction of global emissions: up to 55% by 2100. As part of a portfolio of solutions, CCS is an important bridge to a more sustainable energy system, and therefore a key solution for combating climate change."

But the NOAH report cautions that if CCS is chosen as a major strategy to mitigate carbon emissions from coal power plants and coal fuelled industries, nearly 90% of emissions expected between 2010 and 2050 from the large coal fuelled plants would reach the atmosphere anyway,

Palle Bendsen, spokesperson for NOAH / Friends of the Earth Denmark that commissioned the report, said: "When CCS technology is observed over time and across the sectors where it is planned to be applied -- when we watch the whole film as opposed to the single snapshot of one power plant or a single year in the far future -- it is obvious that CCS cannot deliver. Institutions like the International Energy Agency and IPCC must take into consideration the whole picture and review their assessment of this dubious technology."

NOAH points out that the available global carbon budget is so small that worldwide emissions "must peak before 2015 if we want to avoid catastrophic climate change". That is a clear message from recent scientific studies.

The 'carbon budget' is a way to express the amount of CO2 and other greenhouse gases that the world (or a country) can emit within a certain timeframe in order to stay within a certain limit of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere.

According to the report, from 2015 onward, emissions must decline rapidly. Any mitigation tool must be seen from this perspective. However, carbon capture and storage cannot fit into such a scenario because it is impossible to deploy early enough. "On top of that, CCS will be ineffective and extremely costly."

Palle Bendsen said: "Financing CCS is doomed to be a huge misuse of public funds. Our report shows why. EU and governments should direct their subsidies exclusively to energy conservation, energy efficiency and renewables, as well as finance development of sustainable energy supply systems in developing countries. That’s the way to secure decreasing emissions."

"CCS will lock in coal. Though far from being commercially ready, CCS is being used as an excuse to continue to build coal power plants that are 'CCS-ready.' But such plants will be preserved unchanged for many years to come. ‘CCS-ready’ is a meaningless term," he added.

"It is obvious that CCS is competing with renewables for R&D resources and capital, thus preventing the rapid development of sustainable energy supply systems. What we need is a fossil free future. We must reduce energy demands in rich countries with high emissions, and we must increase energy efficiency," Palle Bendsen added.

The Stockholm Environment Institute in partnership with Friends of the Earth Europe has developed an alternative scenario without CCS. The joint study titled 'Europe's Share of the Climate Challenge: Domestic Actions and International Obligations to Protect the Planet' says that emission reductions of at least 40% below 1990 levels within Europe by 2020, and cuts of 90% by 2050, are possible without CCS, nuclear, agrofuels and offsetting.

The NOAH report points out that more than 350 billion tonnes CO2 will be emitted from coal plants to the atmosphere despite a fast deployment of CCS in a scenario with CO2-emissions decreasing to 50% by 2050.

Emitting 350 billion tonnes of CO2 will make demand on 90% of the remaining budget for CO2 from all fossil fuels 2010-2050. (Coal represents only 42% of emissions from all fossil fuels).

Only 46 billion tonnes of CO2 or 11% of CO2 emissions will be avoided between 2010 and 2050. Until 2030 only 7 billion tonnes of CO2 will be avoided despite a fast deployment of CCS.

See also Sydney Irresistible and Mike Hitchen Unleashed
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