What is Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS)?
Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) is a geoengineering technique that suggests that carbon capture could be used to grab carbon dioxide directly out of the air – so-called ‘direct capture’. The form of CCS that is most familiar is related to fossil power stations. Installed on a power plant, the idea is that the technology will capture the carbon emissions directly from the source.
There are different types of carbon sequestration:
- Ocean Sequestration: Carbon stored in oceans through direct injection or fertilization
- Geologic Sequestration: Natural pore spaces in geologic formations serve as reservoirs for long-term carbon dioxide storage
- Terrestrial Sequestration: A large amount of carbon is stored in soils and vegetation, which are our natural carbon sinks. Increasing carbon fixation through photosynthesis, slowing down or reducing decomposition of organic matter, and changing land use practices can enhance carbon uptake in these natural sinks.
The IEA and IPCC agree that CCS will be necessary to meet ambitious climate targets. As a technology applied to gas plants, it could play a key role in a low carbon shift, and will be necessary for many “negative emissions” technologies. However, the high costs associated with carbon capture and CCS and the risk of leaks both present large challenges.
The Cost of CCS
In theory, CCS should be a game changer for the environment. However, CCS technologies come at a cost that not everyone wants to pay. The CCS process requires a lot of equipment.
It also raises the fuel needs of, say, a coal-fired electricity plant by 25–40%1. Moreover, the further away the storage location is, the more expensive it will be to apply the technology to the existing plant.
High-level capture cost estimation is tricky and cost varies from plant to plant, but the general consensus is that CCS comes with a pretty hefty price tag. However, a new carbon capture process to make fuel at an industrial plant claims to have brought the cost down to between $94 (£76) and $232 (£188) per ton, compared to previous estimates of $600 (£486) per ton2 – so whilst CCS is expensive, we are seeing progress.
Why not CCS?
Carbon capture and storage cost is, undoubtedly, one of its main setbacks. The financial requirements of CCS isn’t exactly an attractive prospect to investors, especially when you consider the monetary benefits of other green alternatives. For example, electric cars and solar power energy are great for saving energy, but they also have cash profits.
Several power plants that have tried to implement CCS have had issues – industrial–scale, low emissions coal–fired power projects incorporating CCS are not currently economic. With this in mind, CCS needs additional incentives – or funding – to become a true climate change winner.
The Future of CCS
It’s not all doom and gloom for CCS. In 2018, U.S. Congress passed a tax credit that rewards companies for each metric ton of CO2 they safely deposit. New California laws aim to reward companies for carbon sequestration, which may see a new incentive. Over in the UK, the recent Conservative manifesto pledged £800 ($987) million towards funding CCS technologies. The support for CCS isn’t non-existent – it’s just a little harder to find.
- Understanding carbon capture and storage (CCS). British Geological Survey. https://www.bgs.ac.uk/discovering-geology/climate-change/carbon-capture-and-storage/. Accessed November 2, 2020.
- Danigelis, Alyssa. New Carbon Capture Technology Slashes Cost Per Ton. Environment and Energy Leader. Published June 11, 2018. Accessed November 2, 2020.
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