Is carbon capture and storage a "genuine solution" to climate change? > Check the facts

Is carbon capture and storage a “genuine solution” to climate change? > Check the facts

This week an editorial in the Australian Financial Review criticised a decision by the Australian National University to end its investments in some fossil fuel companies and urged the university to “focus on finding genuine solutions, such as ­reducing the cost of carbon capture and storage (CCS).”

Coincidently, a CCS project in Canada began operations recently, prompting supporters to declare this the start of a “thriving” CCS industry and “an incredibly important event”.

This recent focus on CCS, or clean coal, is a good opportunity to see how the technology and its industry are progressing.

The Global Carbon Capture and Storage Institute, based in Melbourne, publishes a semi-annual update on the status of the CCS industry. The Institute is funded by its members, who are “governments, corporations and organisations who can demonstrate a legitimate interest in the advancement of CCS”.

The Global CCS Institute’s latest reports on the global status of CCS show that there are only 12 operating CCS sites in the world (the recent Canadian project may make that 13). Altogether, these projects have a total capacity of just 25 million tonnes per year (2013 report here and 2014 update here).

To put this in perspective, the world emitted 33,376 million tonnes of CO2 in 2011, with Australia emitting around 400 million. CCS accounts for 0.07 per cent of world emissions at present.

There are another eight or nine CCS projects which the Institute says are in an advanced stage, but the number of projects at earlier stages of planning have been falling. In 2011 there were around 60 proposals, but this has declined to 38 in 2014. The Institute says that at best CCS could capture 115 million tonnes per year by 2020.

The Institute acknowledges that in addition to a high carbon price, CCS needs to be subsidised by taxpayers. CCS is not economically viable without these policies.

Lord Stern’s team at the Grantham Institute, with the Carbon Tracker Institute, have also explored CCS. They say, “our analysis indicated that if the [International Energy Agency]’s idealised scenario is achieved, then CCS could extend the carbon budget by 12-14% up to 2050. This would require around 3800 projects to be delivered globally, and the finance in place to support this, compared to the 8 pilot projects currently underway.” Even on the idealized scenario, most of the work must be done through energy efficiency or renewable energy.

Based on the Global CCS Institute’s and the Grantham Institues publications , CCS is not likely to be a “genuine solution” to climate change issues.

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