This week the UK government announced a new initiative to promote the development of Carbon Capture & Storage (CCS) technology, after the total flop of the last scheme. The CCS roadmap can be split into three distinct parts: the first provides research and development funding, the second grants for the construction of plants and the third funds the running costs, which makes this an attractive scheme for industries looking to develop CCS.
Heralded by the government and fossil fuel companies as a panacea for CO2 reduction; they say it’ll enable polluting fossil fuel plants to run with ‘zero’ carbon emissions (an 80-90% reduction), a view many will question. Now I will try and answer some key questions: what are the merits of CSS, will it actually work on an industrial scale and what part does it have to play in reducing global warming and aiding theUK in meeting its 2020 and 2050 targets?
As you may know, the idea behind CCS technology in power generation is to enable the stripping of CO2 from the emissions from fossil fuel fired power plants (pre or post combustion) and to then store it , normally very deep underground or under the sea. The technology behind CCS is largely unproven on an industrial scale and the storage component is an unknown element. The injection of CO2, and essentially the storage of CO2, has been used to prolong the life of oil wells in enhanced oil recovery but if this method of storage is stable is unknown.
What has to be remembered is that with CCS we are still producing vast quantities of CO2 by burning non-renewable fossil fuels, it doesn’t reduce emissions we’re just storing them away. We do not know how reliable the storage of CO2 is, and whether or not it will escape or dissipate and rise to the surface adding to global warming in the future. Also, it’s virtually impossible to measure the success of the storage solution and/or any CO2 escape from deep sea storage. This is also not to mention the problems that may be caused to the pH level of the sea and the effects that it may have on sub-sea ecosystems.
Ok, so if there are so many uncertainties surrounding CCS, and potential pitfalls, what place should it have as one possible solution to reach our 2020 and 2050 emission targets? Well while I do not under any circumstance see this as a long term solution to reducing emissions, especially as we will run out of fossil fuels before long, I do think in the short term it does have a key part to play if we want to have any hope of achieving the targets set for 2020 and 2050 as we are woefully behind with our development of low carbon and renewable energy.
While this new scheme will be welcomed by investors and will aid in meeting the UK’s targets in reducing CO2 emissions we all have to remember that it still involves burning a fast depleting finite resource where security of supply is a significant concern. CCS isn’t the solution to climate change, or the energy gap, but it may have a supporting role.