The Sensible Impossibility Of Giant Scale Carbon Seize And Storage – Watts With It?

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By Steve Goreham – May 2, 2023

“CCS has been slow to catch on due to the cost of capture and the limited salability of carbon dioxide as a product. 39 CCS plants are now capturing CO2 worldwide, totaling 45 million tonnes per year, or about one-tenth of one percent (0.1%) of the industrial emissions produced globally.”

The Environmental Protection Agency is working on a new rule that would set strict limits on carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from US power plants. Energy suppliers would have to retrofit existing plants with carbon capture and storage technology (CCS) or switch to hydrogen as a fuel. Others call for the use of CCS to decarbonize heavy industry. But the cost of capture and the amount of CO2 that proponents say needs to be captured dashed any notions of feasibility.

Carbon capture and storage is the process of capturing carbon dioxide from an industrial facility before it is released into the atmosphere, transporting it and storing it for centuries to millennia. Capture can be achieved by filtering it from combustion exhaust streams. Pipelines are proposed to transport the captured CO2. Underground reservoirs could be used for storage. Over the past two decades, proponents have proposed CCS to reduce emissions from coal-fired power plants and steel, chemical and other hard-to-decarbonize industries to combat human-caused climate change.

CCS has been slow to catch on due to the cost of capture and the limited salability of carbon dioxide as a product. Thirty-nine CCS plants now capture CO2 worldwide, totaling 45 million tonnes per year, or about one-tenth of one percent (0.1%) of the industrial emissions produced worldwide. Of these, 20 live in the USA or Canada, six in Europe and five in China. Twenty-four of these plants use captured CO2 for enhanced oil recovery. Captured CO2 is injected into oil wells to increase oil production,

News from these facilities has been mixed. Many fall short of their carbon capture targets or incur costs well over budget. Nonetheless, Australia, Canada, China, Japan, the US and European nations are now offering billions in direct subsidies or tax breaks to companies for capturing carbon emissions and building pipelines and storage facilities. Over 300 large and small capture projects are planned worldwide that, when completed, can increase capture to 0.5 percent of man-made emissions.

Illinois, Iowa and other states are grappling with issues related to carbon pipeline plans. Ethanol plants and other facilities are proposing to capture CO2 and need a new network of pipelines to transport the gas to underground storage facilities. These pipelines face strong opposition from local communities due to the use of farmland and safety concerns in the event of a pipeline rupture.

Carbon capture and storage is very expensive. An example are plans for CCS in Wyoming, the US’s leading coal state. Wyoming produced 41 percent of U.S. coal in 2020, and coal-fired power plants produced about 85 percent of the state’s electricity. With plentiful coal deposits and good opportunities to store CO2 underground, Wyoming appeared to be an excellent candidate for CCS deployment. The state passed House Bill 200 in March 2020, directing utilities to produce 20 percent of electricity from coal-fired power plants equipped with CCS by 2030.

In response to the law, Wyoming’s two major energy companies, Rocky Mountain Power and Black Hills Energy, analyzed alternatives for their operations and submitted comments to the Wyoming Public Service Commission in March 2022. However, the comments were not favorable to CCS. Black Hills Energy determined that adding CCS to two existing coal-fired power plants would cost an estimated $980 million, or three times the capital cost of building the plants. Rocky Mountain Power stated that adding CCS to its existing assets is “not economically feasible at this time.”

Aside from the cost, the amount of carbon dioxide that advocates say needs to be captured is huge. Globally, the amount of CO2 produced by industry is small, only about five percent of what nature releases into and absorbs from the atmosphere every day. But the amount of industrially produced CO2 is still enormous by human standards.

For example, an empty Boeing 747 jumbo jet weighs 187,000 kg (412,300 pounds). Its maximum fuel weight is 433,195 pounds (196,494 kg), more than the aircraft’s empty weight. When fuel is burned, two oxygen atoms are taken from the atmosphere and attached to each carbon atom. For every kilogram of kerosene burned, 3.16 kilograms of carbon dioxide are produced.

Consider the Drax power station in North Yorkshire, England, the third largest power station in Europe, which has been converted to use two-thirds biomass fuel. The factory is experimenting with CCS to reduce emissions. The plant uses around 20,000 tons of wood pellets every day, which are delivered by 475 railway wagons. Imagine the volume these railroad cars would transport, and then more than double it to get an idea of ​​the amount of CO2 that needs to be captured and stored each day.

The world’s heavy industries consume vast amounts of coal, natural gas and oil. Ammonia, cement, plastics, steel and other industries produce billions of tons of materials for agriculture, construction, healthcare, industry and transportation every year. Capturing, transporting and storing CO2 from these processes would require trillions of dollars and many decades of investment.

The International Energy Agency calls for 9 percent of global CO2 emissions to be captured and stored by 2050. Today we have a mix of 39 larger and smaller separation plants in operation. The IEA estimates that by 2050, 70 to 100 large-scale capture plants will need to come online each year to meet this goal. Even 20 percent of the target is unlikely to be met, despite spending hundreds of billions of dollars.


A popular speaker on energy, environmental and political issues, Steve Goreham is the author of three books on energy, sustainable development and climate change. His previous post at MasterResource was Green Energy: Greatest Wealth Transfer to the Rich in History.

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