10 Jun 09 Eddie's Blog Global

Carbon Capture and Storage

I read that Ernst & Young have brought out a carbon capture attractiveness storage index. I am surprised that a firm of its eminence (they are the auditors to Mainstream Renewable Power) would dignify carbon capture and storage with an “attractiveness index”.

E & Y’s attractiveness for renewables is a worthwhile venture and it fulfils a role for companies and Governments.

Firstly carbon capture and storage is not carbon capture and storage. It is CO2 (carbon dioxide) capture and storage. Carbon is solid at room temperature and as such is readily storable. Carbon dioxide on the other hand is a gas, it nearly always comes mixed with nitrogen and this is inherently virtually impossible to store using known technologies.

I always think it is important to examine where the idea for carbon capture and storage comes from. It emerged from the oil industry where carbon dioxide mixed with other gases is pumped into oil wells to extract more oil than would be otherwise available. It has been embraced by the coal industry and by foolish politicians. Coal industry magnates simply want to go on selling coal and so they point to the nirvana state of carbon dioxide, capture and storage as their get out of jail card.

I have heard politicians say that China needs to use carbon capture and storage because of its huge reliance on coal.

Here are just a few of the difficulties associated with trying to capture carbon dioxide. In all conventional power stations, coal is burnt in air. Air has three molecules of nitrogen for every molecule of oxygen so the gasses coming out from the back end of the counter contain three molecules of nitrogen for every one molecule of CO2.

The E & Y attractiveness index gives a list of three potential technologies that can be used to separate the CO2.

They are amine based chemical solvents, physical solvents or membrane technology. This is all very interesting. None of these exist as a large scale chemical process or as a diffusion process. They have to be yet invented. Nobody has any idea about the costs. What we can say is that if any of these processes are attached to the back end of a boiler the efficiency of the power station is reduced. That means you have to use more coal to get the same electricity out.

I have heard that one eminent company has suggested that pure oxygen be used in the power generation processes. They propose that air be separated into its elements, oxygen and nitrogen and that pure oxygen be taken from this process and that carbon is burned with pure oxygen in the boiler.

Of course this process can be done but it is incredibly expensive and you still lose efficiency because you have to take the gasses at the back of the boiler and pump them down a pipe.

The Ernst & Young index treats us to what happens next.

· Onshore Pipeline
· Offshore Pipeline
· Road/rail tankers
· Ships incl converted liquefied natural gas tankers.

I was thinking about what this would mean for the Moneypoint Station in Ireland.

We have no suitable holes in the ground here. So we would have to build a pipeline or have a ship call at Moneypoint and collect the CO2. The ship would then have to travel at least 600 miles around the North Sea to discharge its cargo. In addition to the shipping capital costs and the reduction of inefficiency in the boiler and the chemical reagent costs, you now have the diesel costs of running the ship.

The effect of all this would be, I suspect, to double the carbon burn of making a unit of electricity. In conversation with some of my Japanese friends, I was told that CO2 could be pumped down 3000 metres into the sea where it would turn into a liquid and blanket the seabed. Of course all life there would then be killed.

So in addition to not having done an energy balance over the entire capture and transport of CO2 nobody has done an ecological balance.

Finally we come to storage itself.

At the end of the great chain of events we are supposed to believe that the CO2 can be locked up indefinitely in the ground.

How real is this proposition?

As I write these words my amazement intensifies. I like reading science fiction and I love watching a well made science fiction movie. What I don’t like is when science fiction gets mixed up with research and commercial reality and when people start to spend hundreds of billions of euro or dollars at it.

This is all done to preserve the status quo.

Go ahead and burn coal to your hearts content and somebody somewhere will find a way of dealing with the carbon dioxide you produce. It is worse nonsense than the hydrogen economy which thankfully everybody is too embarrassed to mention these days.

The world is in a once off transition to sustainability. The liquid and gaseous fossil fuels have a finite life span of 20 – 40 years respectively. We should be spending the money on the electricity economy and on how to get the electricity from the places where the rich renewable resources exist sustainably in great abundance to where the people live.