Carbon Capture and Storage: Pros & Cons

How does CCS work?

Considering carbon capture and storage’s pros and cons is central to any discussion around climate change. 

Carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies trap carbon emissions from power plants and industrial facilities.1 They thereby prevent these emissions from entering the Earth’s atmosphere. They also compress and transport the carbon dioxide (CO2), ready for storage.2 CCS can reduce atmospheric levels of CO2 and help prevent global warming.

However, CCS remains controversial as a climate mitigation method.3 Despite decades of interest, and billions of dollars in public funding, there are just 19 large-scale industrial and two large-scale CCS power plants in operation.4 An increase in carbon capture capacity by a factor of 35 by 2030 is required to meet the Paris Agreement’s goals.5 This is unlikely to be achieved as it takes six to ten years for CCS projects to complete. Furthermore, there are only 20 projects currently in development worldwide.6

Carbon capture and storage (CCS): Pros

  • CCS can capture more than 90 per cent of CO2 from a power plant or industrial complex7
  • The technology can consequently reduce the environmental impact of the energy sector
  • CCS contributes to reducing the effects of climate change

Fossil fuels and industry produce 89 per cent of all human-caused carbon emissions.8 CO2 in the atmosphere is the primary cause of global warming.9 This situation is not likely to change in the short term. Coal, oil and natural gas still supply 84 per cent of the world’s energy.10. CCS has the potential to mitigate a large portion of carbon emissions.

Carbon capture and storage (CCS): Cons

  • The slow rollout of functioning and active CCS plants
  • The captured carbon is not always stored but used for EOR
  • Investment in CCS can compete with investment into renewable energy projects
  • CCS units have underperformed and failed to hit carbon storage estimations

Global CCS facilities capture about 40 million tonnes (Mt) of CO2 per year.11 However, 80 per cent of this captured carbon is used for enhanced oil recovery (EOR).12 EOR is a technique employed by the oil industry to obtain hard-to-reach oil from deep reservoirs.13 Combustion of this oil results in more CO2 emissions and exacerbates the effects of global warming.14 Therefore, CCS is contributing to climate change – instead of preventing emissions – for the majority of the time.

CCS is also competing with renewable energy sources for funding. A major proponent of CCS, the International Energy Agency (IEA), has a history of underestimating clean energy15 and overestimating CCS.16 For example, in 2010, they predicted that globally installed solar capacity would hit about 85 gigawatts (GW) by 2017.17 In fact, the figure reached was 402 GW.18 Meanwhile, the IEA projected that by 2020, at least 30 CCS projects would be operational, capturing and storing 50 Mt of CO2 annually.19 This has not materialised.

Carbon capture and storage: Benefits & disadvantages conclusion

The world urgently needs to transition away from using dirty fossil fuels. Renewables, such as solar, wind and hydropower, are clean energy sources because they do not produce CO2 emissions.20 Significant investment in the sector is needed to prevent a 1.5°C increase in average global temperatures.21 The funding currently going towards CCS facilities could help supply this.

If we stop using fossil fuels, we will not need expensive and unreliable CCS technologies. 

Sources

  1. IEA. (n.d.). Carbon capture, utilisation and storage – Fuels & Technologies. [online] Available at: https://www.iea.org/fuels-and-technologies/carbon-capture-utilisation-and-storage.
  2. IEA. (n.d.). Carbon capture, utilisation and storage – Fuels & Technologies. [online] Available at: https://www.iea.org/fuels-and-technologies/carbon-capture-utilisation-and-storage.
  3. Whitmarsh, L., Xenias, D. and Jones, C.R. (2019). Framing effects on public support for carbon capture and storage. Palgrave Communications, 5(1).
  4. www.energypolicy.columbia.edu. (n.d.). Columbia | SIPA Center on Global Energy Policy | Net-Zero and Geospheric Return: Actions Today for 2030 and Beyond. [online] Available at: https://www.energypolicy.columbia.edu/research/report/net-zero-and-geospheric-return-actions-today-2030-and-beyond.
  5. www.energypolicy.columbia.edu. (n.d.). Columbia | SIPA Center on Global Energy Policy | Net-Zero and Geospheric Return: Actions Today for 2030 and Beyond. [online] Available at: https://www.energypolicy.columbia.edu/research/report/net-zero-and-geospheric-return-actions-today-2030-and-beyond.
  6. www.energypolicy.columbia.edu. (n.d.). Columbia | SIPA Center on Global Energy Policy | Net-Zero and Geospheric Return: Actions Today for 2030 and Beyond. [online] Available at: https://www.energypolicy.columbia.edu/research/report/net-zero-and-geospheric-return-actions-today-2030-and-beyond.
  7. Center for Climate and Energy Solutions. (2017). Carbon Capture. [online] Available at: https://www.c2es.org/content/carbon-capture/#:~:text=Carbon%20capture%2C%20use%2C%20and%20storage [Accessed 16 Mar. 2021].
  8. www.clientearth.org. (n.d.). Fossil fuels and climate change: the facts. [online] Available at: https://www.clientearth.org/latest/latest-updates/stories/fossil-fuels-and-climate-change-the-facts/#:~:text=The%20Intergovernmental%20Panel%20on%20Climate [Accessed 16 Mar. 2021].
  9. www.ucsusa.org. (n.d.). Global Warming FAQ | Union of Concerned Scientists. [online] Available at: https://www.ucsusa.org/resources/global-warming-faq#:~:text=Global%20warming%20is%20caused%20primarily.
  10. BP (2017). Statistical Review of World Energy | Home | BP. [online] BP global. Available at: https://www.bp.com/en/global/corporate/energy-economics/statistical-review-of-world-energy.html.
  11. IEA. (n.d.). Carbon capture, utilisation and storage – Fuels & Technologies. [online] Available at: https://www.iea.org/fuels-and-technologies/carbon-capture-utilisation-and-storage.
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  15. Welle (www.dw.com), D. (n.d.). Is the IEA underestimating renewables? | DW | 26.03.2018. [online] DW.COM. Available at: https://www.dw.com/en/is-the-iea-underestimating-renewables/a-43137071 [Accessed 16 Mar. 2021].
  16. IEA. (n.d.). Technology Roadmap – Carbon Capture and Storage 2013 – Analysis. [online] Available at: https://www.iea.org/reports/technology-roadmap-carbon-capture-and-storage-2013 [Accessed 29 Mar. 2021].
  17. Welle (www.dw.com), D. (n.d.). Is the IEA underestimating renewables? | DW | 26.03.2018. [online] DW.COM. Available at: https://www.dw.com/en/is-the-iea-underestimating-renewables/a-43137071.
  18. Welle (www.dw.com), D. (n.d.). Is the IEA underestimating renewables? | DW | 26.03.2018. [online] DW.COM. Available at: https://www.dw.com/en/is-the-iea-underestimating-renewables/a-43137071.
  19. IEA. (n.d.). Technology Roadmap – Carbon Capture and Storage 2013 – Analysis. [online] Available at: https://www.iea.org/reports/technology-roadmap-carbon-capture-and-storage-2013 [Accessed 29 Mar. 2021].
  20. Shinn, L. (2018). Renewable Energy: the Clean Facts. [online] NRDC. Available at: https://www.nrdc.org/stories/renewable-energy-clean-facts.
  21. Ambrose, J. (2021). Renewable energy growth must speed up to meet Paris goals, agency says. The Guardian. [online] 15 Mar. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2021/mar/15/renewable-energy-growth-must-speed-up-to-meet-paris-goals-agency-says [Accessed 16 Mar. 2021].