08 Mar 11 News Global

More on carbon capture and storage

It is always useful to review options when new evidence presents itself. This is particularly true in energy where the commercial options are so few.

On a recent visit to Norway I was told that the Ecofisk field was engaged in CCS. Actually what happens is that CO2 comes up with oil.

The platform operator is able to easily separate the pure CO2 from the oil. The CO2 is re-injected into the well. This technique allows more oil to be recovered than would otherwise be the case. There is clear economic benefit from this activity. The paymaster for the activity is the extra oil that is recovered.

Therefore according to the fossil fuel companies CCS is a good thing.

It works to enhance oil recovery so why can't it be used to create clean natural gas burning or indeed clean coal?

That is where the analysis breaks down. Where is the paymaster for all the extra cost involved in separating the stream of gases at the back end of a power station? Using CCS in electricity production has no economic advantage, except that if it worked some of the vast amount of CO2 made from burning fossil fuels would be buried.

So it comes down to a comparison of the benefits and costs. There is however one other factor. Does anyone rationally believe that CCS will allow China to go on burning 2,600,000,000 tonnes of coal per year? That India, Indonesia, the US, etc can continue to destroy the biosphere on the promise of a CCS technology becoming commercially available at some time in the future?

Just to revert to the problems of capturing carbon dioxide at the back end on a power station.

80% of the gases coming off the back end of a coal boiler are nitrogen (N2).

The CO2 has to be separated from the mixture. Apart from the vast investment that would have to be done to carry out this gaseous separation, the efficiency of the power station would be reduced by between 10 and 20%. Then the CO2 has to be compressed, or frozen and transported to a hole in the ground. At the hole there would be a further expenditure of energy to pump it underground...

And then there is the smell test.

If that hole was under your garden, would you believe that the stuff would stay buried forever? Particularly when you know that it is heavier than air, and that in certain weather conditions it would blanket the ground and do away with the local supply of oxygen.

The misled ones, those that believed that it was possible to commercialise CCS were lulled into a sense complacency. Coal fired generation took on the mantle of a technology whose time was about to come again.

Worse, CCS was grant aided by all the big democracies.

Am I concerned? Not really. Over the next few years CCS will be let slide into the obscurity whence it emerged. It is the lessons we learn that are important.

There is no quick fix. There doesn't have to be. Wind and solar are enough. They work. They are getting cheaper. We can build a sustainable future using them alone as the source of primary energy.