Carbon capture and storage

Capturing even a small portion of CO2 emissions requires a compression + transportation + storage industry with greater throughput than oil extraction; but without the benefit oil provides as an energy input.

Coal-fired plant capital costs could rise 40%-75% (as per IPCC), and their electricity consumption could rise by 30%-40% for CCS particulate removal and flue gas desulfurization. Unlikely in time to prevent a further rise in CO2 emissions; unexplored legal and NIMBY issues as well.

Cembalest, Michael. 21 Nov 2011. Eye on the Market: The quixotic search for energy solutions. J. P. Morgan

Below is an excerpt of Joe Romm’s article Carbon Capture And Storage: One Step Forward, One Step Back:

A new survey finds a sharp drop in large-scale integrated projects to capture CO2 from energy systems and bury it underground. This drop from 75 projects to 65 over the past year is yet more evidence that we shouldn’t expect large-scale deployment of carbon capture and storage (CCS) before the 2030s at the earliest, nor expect that CCS would provide more than 10% of the answer to the carbon problem by 2050.”

The 200-page Global CCS Institute study, “The Global Status of CCS, 2013,” doesn’t offer much to be optimistic about. The New York Times summarized the findings with this headline, “Study Finds Setbacks in Carbon Capture Projects.” The Times reports:… the technology for capturing carbon has not been proved to work on a commercial scale, either in the United States or abroad. The Energy Department canceled its main project demonstrating the technology in 2008.
As that story notes, one major CCS demonstration at a West Virginia coal plant was shut down in 2011 because “it could not sell the carbon dioxide or recover the extra cost from its electricity customers, and the equipment consumed so much energy that, at full scale, the project would have sharply cut electricity production.”
It finds that “while C.C.S. projects are progressing, the pace is well below the level required for C.C.S. to make a substantial contribution to climate change mitigation.”
Back in 2011, I wrote three pieces for The Economist in an online debate on why CCS can’t possibly be a stand-alone solution and why we are a long way away from CCS even making a substantial contribution:
Let’s start with “the daunting scale of the challenge,” as Vaclav Smil explained in “Energy at the Crossroads“:
“Sequestering a mere 1/10 of today’s global CO2 emissions (less than 3 Gt CO2) would thus call for putting in place an industry that would have to force underground every year the volume of compressed gas larger than or (with higher compression) equal to the volume of crude oil extracted globally by [the] petroleum industry whose infrastructures and capacities have been put in place over a century of development. Needless to say, such a technical feat could not be accomplished within a single generation.”
No doubt that’s why the pro-CCS debater, Barry Jones wrote “The international community aims to deliver 20 demonstration projects by 2020, applying CCS to various kinds of industrial sectors. The idea is that CCS then becomes a commercial reality and begins to make deep cuts in emissions during the 2030s.”
CCS simply hasn’t yet proven to be practical, affordable, scalable, and ready to be ramped up rapidly.
Even a very small leakage rate of well under 1% a year would render the storage system all but useless as a “permanent repository”.

U.S. Carbon Plan Relies on Uncertain Capture Technology

Eli Kintisch Science 27 September 2013: Vol. 341 pp. 1438-9

Talk about unfortunate timing. On one side of the Atlantic Ocean last week, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) chief Gina McCarthy was unveiling a landmark proposal to require new coal-fired power plants built in the United States to capture and store at least some of the carbon dioxide they emit. Meanwhile, in Norway, government officials announced that they were scrapping a long-anticipated $1 billion effort to test carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology on a massive scale at an oil refinery.

The so-called Mongstad project was just the kind of CCS demonstration project that specialists say will be critical to making the technology practical, allowing coal-fired power to satisfy the proposed U.S. regulations. Its cancellation, after the project went 50% over budget, was part of a discouraging pattern. Over the past decade, “a lot of programs were put in place” to develop CCS, says chemical engineer Howard Herzog of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge. But “the bad news is they hit a wall.” Herzog has documented more than 25 other major CCS projects around the world that have been canceled or put on hold in recent years.

Such setbacks pose a major challenge to President Barack Obama’s plans to use CCS to help reduce carbon pollution and curb global warming. If last week’s proposal is ultimately adopted, for instance, it would require U.S. utilities building new coal-powered plants to cap carbon emissions at 500 kilograms per megawatt hour—roughly half what an average coal plant emits. CCS could enable a plant to comply, and EPA officials say there are a variety of existing and nearly ready methods companies could use. But few full-scale CCS installations—which could trap about half a million kilograms of carbon dioxide per year or more—have been built to test those technologies.

Not that governments and the power industry aren’t interested. Congress has given the U.S. Department of Energy some $6 billion to spend on CCS R&D since 2008, with a goal of bringing five large-scale demonstrations online by 2016. That investment has borne some fruit, says Jeffrey Phillips, who manages the CCS research program for the Electric Power Research Institute in Palo Alto, California. It has helped cut by more than 10% the amount of energy that it takes to run state-of-the-art CCS processes, for instance, which is a major issue in the industry. But “is that enough to convince an energy executive to spend $2 or $3 billion” on a new coal-fired power plant with CCS? “Absolutely not,” he says.

Skyrocketing prices for commodities, such as steel, have made building new coal-fired plants more expensive than ever—and CCS can add an estimated 30% to the price tag. CCS would also increase operating costs. One pilot project in New Haven, West Virginia, suggested that power produced by a full-scale CCS facility would cost 50% more than from a traditional coal plant. And regulators are reluctant to pass such extra costs on to consumers.

At the same time, the plummeting price of natural gas has made gas-fired plants more attractive, putting even conventional coal plants at a disadvantage. (The proposed rules cover natural gas plants, too, but most are already clean enough to qualify.) Such trends—combined with the rules proposed by the Obama administration—”could mean that [U.S.] power generation companies may completely give up on coal” for new plants for the foreseeable future, Phillips says.

Others are more optimistic. The new proposal—now out for public comment and certain to face legal challenge—also provides incentives to develop CCS, says John Thompson, an analyst with nonprofit Clean Air Task Force in Boston. “Flexible” rules allowing power generators to phase in CCS over time, for instance, could give firms an opportunity to experiment and innovate.

In the short run, “these regulations don’t change much,” Herzog says, because no new coal plants are on the drawing board. He says a second Obama proposal, which will restrict emissions from existing coal plants, “could be more consequential.” That is expected next year.



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