Carbon Capture Make Renewables Look Better, Suggests Swedish Report

Norway has lots of reasons to back CCS - it already sequesters 1 million tons annually.

Carbon Capture and Sequestration (CCS) seems to give the power industry a warm, fuzzy feeling. Vattenfall, Sweden's state-owned power utility has embraced the technology and has opened a pilot plant in Germany, where it runs a number of coal-fired plants - 64 percent of its generation is from brown coal in Germany, just one percent from renewables (and it has zero coal-fired plants in Sweden). But now a Swedish Air Pollution & Climate secretariat has released two reports that suggest that as the premise of CCS sounds too good to be true - just collect carbon at big sources and force it back into the earth! - it probably is, for a number of reasons.

"Capture ready" an excuse for new coal plants
The authors of the report are not necessarily against carbon capture technology per se; what they do have a problem with is the industry using the concept as a way to continue with business as usual. To that end, the idea of "capture ready" coal plants is nonsense - instead all new coal plants should be required to have "real, working" CCS from the start, the report says. Of course, that poses some problems. Read on for CCS' downsides.

First, the numbers
CCS can reduce the carbon from coal-plants by as much as 88 percent - though life cycle analysis suggests the long term reductions are between 65 and 79 percent. That's not CO2-free. CCS also does reduce the efficiency of coal plants, ironically requiring more fossil fuel and more water use to run the capture systems and make up for lost efficiency of a non-CCS system. And there's the costs. Depending on the system used, carbon capture can increase initial investment on a coal-fired plant from 30 to 50 percent - for pulverized coal as much as 77 percent. Those costs make CCS equivalent with some renewable technologies, according to the report, such as solar thermal.

Who wants CCS?
From a climate perspective, coal is the worst choice, the authors say, and some plants are beginning to be rejected on that ground. But coal-rich and oil-rich nations are backing CCS with a lot of research money, money that could be spent on furthering the efficiency, reliability and affordability of renewable technologies. The authors believe that it is either CCS, and keeping the business as usual paradigm, or renewable technologies with the paradigm shift that that requires. Right now, the oil and coal industries are betting on CCS. But if we all understand that we should only talk about the lower cost of coal-fired generation with CCS included, then we can more clearly see which technologies are sustainable.

Have we got the time?
CCS is supported by environmental NGOs such as Norway's Zero Emissions Resource Organization (ZERO). That's in part because Norway is a fierce backer of CCS, and has a success story to tell - at the Sleipner gas field in the North Sea, over a million tons of carbon dioxide are injected yearly. The Vattenfall pilot CCS project captures the carbon for a 30 MW portion of the plant - Vattenfall's planning for coal-fired generation without CCS is 3,155 MW, the report says. The amount of carbon storage required to reduce emissions on the scale that some think is necessary will take a long time to be real, the authors point out. Many governments like to think CCS will be prime time ready by 2020 - the authors of this report predict the more likely time frame is around 2030.

Lastly, Norway's unabashed embrace of CCS has put a damper on other efforts to reduce GHGs, say the authors of a separate Secretariat report, especially in the transport sector. The country's enormous wind power potential and its pitiful wind development scene are another good example. Even more interesting is the fact that Norway intends to be "carbon-neutral" by 2030 and will achieve this for the most part by buying carbon offsets from outside its own borders. Yet the report say Norway has no need to wait for CCS or spend billions in order to work out the technology's kinds to fulfill this particular promise. Just two weeks of "surplus" revenues from the country's state-owned oil and gas extraction would pay for the entire carbon emissions load! Via: Air Pollution & Climate Secretariat
Read more
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Tags: Carbon Dioxide | Carbon Emissions | Carbon Offsets | Coal | Norway | Oil


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