The potential role of ‘Carbon Capture and Storage’ (CCS) seems to be shrinking, as shown in a new report commissioned by Friends of the Earth Scotland and Global Witness and written by the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research.
The research finds that current operational global CCS capacity is 39 megatonnes of carbon dioxide per year, roughly 0.1% of global annual emissions. The UK-based research organisation also found that the country would need to quadruple the entire global CCS capacity by 2050 to achieve its net zero targets. A collection of global modelling reports lean heavily on the usage of CCS to capture carbon in the future, instead of proposing more rapid cuts in fossil fuel burning in the short term paired with more bullish deployment of renewable energy.
“The technical feasibility of CCS was demonstrated in 1996, however, deployment has been slow and sites under development have consistently failed to materialise”, writes FoE. “According to the Global CCS Institute, less than a fifth of CCS capacity under development in 2010 was operational by 2019.”
“Despite this, CCS features prominently in many future energy pathways with a stark contrast between projections and the current capacity globally of just 39MtCO2 a year across 26 plants”.
The report highlights that the majority of global CCS capacity is, surprisingly, used for the purpose of enabling more extraction of fossil fuels. “Enhanced oil recovery” (EOR) is a process by which “captured carbon pumped underground to push previously unreachable fossil fuels up for extraction, extending the life of oil fields”, meaning that this process may indeed increase emissions, and depends heavily on a high oil price. In 2020, when oil prices fell due to COVID19, the Texan Petra Nova CCS site was mothballed.
“Clearly, Petra Nova was never the money maker the company had hoped”, wrote the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis.
The report comes after a major incident at the Gorgon LNG plant in Western Australia, where sand clogged up the country’s only operating CCS project. As part of the process of storing carbon in an undersea deposit, water must first be extracted. The plant’s owners, Chevron, found that a large volume of sand is blocking the flow of water from the facility. Chevron faces a large bill for missing capture targets for the Gorgon facility.
A recent report from the Global CCS institute showed that old predictions of CCS growth from Australian coal lobby groups were badly missed by the technology, and a large pipeline of construction was cancelled before ever being built, over the last decade.
The Australian government is investing heavily in CCS as part of its climate policies, such as the “Technology roadmap” and adjustments to the mandates of clean energy bodies to fund fossil-related projects like CCS. Other reports show that CCS could increase emissions, and that its use could make new fossil power stations six times more expensive.