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Challenges to CCS deployment

posted Aug 15, 2017, 4:13 AM by Alwynne Hanna McGeever   [ updated Aug 15, 2017, 6:33 AM by IE Nets ]

Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) is the process of capturing carbon dioxide (CO₂) from flue gasses when burning fossil fuels or biomass/biofuel and compressing and transporting this CO and injecting it into an underground geological storage site. This technology is heavily relied upon in most scenarios to achieve a target global warming limit of “well below 2°C” over pre-industrial, recently agreed to by 141 parties in the Paris agreement. Examples of working CCS facilities can be seen in Canada, Iceland and Norway. Successful large scale deployment of CCS could increase energy security, significantly reduce negative impacts of climate change and support the economy. Further, if combined with BioEnergy (so called “BioEnergy with Carbon Capture and Storage” or BECCS) it could theoretically allow actual net removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere (“negative emissions”). However there are many technological, economic and social challenges to deploying CCS on a large enough scale to reduce CO levels enough to achieve the global warming limit of well below 2°C. 

Technology

One major limit is that CCS is not technologically mature and has not been tested on a large scale. This results in uncertainties and risks. Most of these risks are associated with selecting an appropriate storage site. Seismic activity or CO leakage from using the wrong type of storage site could have significant negative environmental or human health impacts. Each potential site will have its own unique geology that will need to be characterised in detail. Therefore careful selection and assessment of storage sites are a high priority for CCS.

Cost

There are two economic limitations to using CCS, one that the cost is too high and one that the cost estimates are too uncertain. Both of these hamper designing policies for CCS.

CCS is expensive due to the technical components required and the reduced efficiency of plants using CCS. The larger part of the cost has been estimated to be incurred at the separation and compression stage. CCS cost is uncertain because there are many different ways it can be done and the cost varies depending on multiple factors. Currently the only way CCS would be affordable would be if it was heavily government funded or the cost was offset by using injected CO to increase oil recovery (though, unless constrained to combustion in CCS-enabled plant, such additional oil extraction would exacerbate rather than mitigate the overall climate change challenge). In the EU there had been an expectation that carbon pricing, under the EU Emissions Trading System (ETS) could make CCS (more) cost competitive. However, to date, carbon pricing in the ETS has been too volatile, and recently too absolutely low, to significantly incentivise the long term investment needed for CCS deployment. Direct funding support has also been available through the EU: for example, the NER 300 programme made available an award of €300M to support the proposed White Rose CCS project in the UK. However, the UK government subsequently withdrew its own support and the project is now in abeyance.

Public Opinion

Political will tends to be driven by short-term priorities and public opinion. Public acceptance and support for CCS, particularly at a local project level, will be an important driver of political will to implement it. However, in order for public opinion to drive political action, the public needs to be aware of CCS. Currently public awareness of CCS is very low with a recent study finding only 28% of Europeans had heard of CCS. Careful, consistent communication about the costs, benefits and risks associated with CCS must be achieved to raise public awareness and support to drive political will and deploy CCS successfully.

Deploying CCS

Uncertainty around the risks and cost of CCS makes political action difficult. High cost and lower efficiency makes commercial deployment unattractive. New mechanisms need to be proposed to make CCS possible. These could include the use of subsidies, co-benefits (such as increased oil recovery) and market mechanisms to incentivise CCS research, development and deployment.

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