Carbon Capture and Storage: Pros and Cons

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Carbon Capture and Storage: Pros and Cons

Source: Clean Air Task Force

Carbon capture and storage (CCS) provides a pathway towards reducing fossil fuel-related emissions and bolstering hard-to-abate carbon intensive industries. Additionally, it provides benefits like economic growth and job creation and can be crucial to the global low-carbon shift. However, questions remain regarding its high costs and varying effectiveness.

08 March 2023 – by Eric Koons   Comments (0)

The Pros and Cons of Carbon Capture And Storage

The pros and cons of carbon capture and storage (CCS) are an ongoing debate, especially since the technology has gained significant attention as a way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and mitigate the effects of climate change. The process involves capturing carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from sources such as power plants and industrial facilities and storing carbon dioxide underground. Additionally, direct air capture is receiving more research funding to reduce the existing CO2 in the atmosphere.

According to the Global CCS Institute, there are currently 30 commercial carbon capture storage facilities in operation, with another 153 in different stages of development worldwide. When all these facilities are in operation, they will provide a total capture capacity of around 244 million tonnes of CO2 per year. While the total amount of CO2 captured by these facilities represents only a small fraction of global emissions, many organisations see CCS as a critical technology for achieving long-term climate goals.

However, while carbon capture and storage presents several benefits, various cons weigh into its effective implementation. Understanding both sides is crucial to the use and improvement of carbon capture technology.

Here are some important advantages and disadvantages of carbon capture and storage:

Advantages of Carbon Capture and Storage – Pros

1. Mitigating Climate Change by Capturing Carbon Dioxide

As global carbon dioxide levels rapidly increase and exacerbate climate change, carbon capture and storage provides a solution that slows the process. By directly capturing carbon emissions at the source, it reduces new emissions going into the atmosphere.

In most cases, CCS is paired with fossil fuel power plants to reduce these fossil fuel-heavy energy sources. With nearly two-thirds of the world’s power still coming from fossil fuel energy facilities, this can impact global emissions significantly. 

Global enery mix.
Source: Forbes

Also, CCS can be essential in hard-to-abate industries like cement, steel and chemical production. Cement and steel production alone accounts for 14% of global CO2 emissions. These industries rely heavily on fossil fuels for high-temperature energy and feedstock, making them challenging to electrify with renewables. Pairing these facilities with CCS is a way to reduce emissions while waiting for the development of more viable solutions.

Another use case for CCS is direct air capture (DAC). DAC captures carbon dioxide already present in the atmosphere and sequesters it underground – similar to post-combustion CCS. With the world already projected to exceed the Paris Climate Agreement target unless there is rapid change, removing excess carbon from the atmosphere will be essential in the coming decades. DAC is relatively new and requires significant research to become cost and energy efficient. However, initial projects are in place, like the Climeworks Orca DAC facility in Iceland.

2. Job Creation

As with all energy transition technologies, there is opportunity for job creation and economic growth. The Global CCS Institute estimates that if we implement CCS technology in line with the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) recommendations, there is an opportunity for up to 100,000 construction jobs and 40,000 long-term facility operator jobs by 2050. Additionally, there will be countless other opportunities in the CCS supply chain.

Furthermore, CCS may facilitate economic growth through new low-carbon industries and innovation. The New Climate Economy found that climate action and its associated infrastructure, technology and research have the potential to generate economic benefits of USD 26 trillion by 2030. CCS technology will be a critical part of this progress by reducing emissions from existing fossil fuel facilities.

3. Facilitating The Energy Transition Fossil Fuels to Renewables

CCS limits emissions during the transition phase towards a net-zero future. Pairing CCS with existing fossil fuel-powered infrastructure allows countries to rely on the existing infrastructure while renewable energy capacity is under development. In this scenario, older fossil fuel infrastructure supported by CCS will be phased out as renewables come online. The use of CCS reduces the emissions from these fossil fuel systems in the interim phase.

Additionally, CCS paired with natural gas or hydrogen generation helps facilitate investment in both energy systems. First, this allows natural gas to be used effectively as a transition fuel with lower emissions. Secondly, it facilitates the development of hydrogen energy infrastructure, which relies on natural gas.

As low-carbon hydrogen generation technologies grow, natural gas can be phased out. Meanwhile, the existing infrastructure to transport, store and use hydrogen energy can be used for green hydrogen.

Disadvantages of Carbon Capture and Storage – Cons

1. High Cost

CCS costs vary greatly depending on the concentration of CO2, type of technology and industry. However, the price remains one of the technology’s largest challenges. Significant development of CCS requires infrastructure, transport and storage systems. Then, as fossil fuel plants paired with CCS are phased out in the upcoming decades, the new CCS infrastructure becomes a stranded asset.

2. Varying Effectiveness

The efficiency of carbon capture projects is not consistent across the board. While some projects claim that CCS removes 85% to 95% of carbon emissions, other studies find much lower reductions. Also, CCS is an energy-intensive process, so energy input is a consideration when determining total emissions reductions. The CCS system sometimes consumes 30% to 50% of a power plant’s total energy output.

Cost of carbon capture and storage technology is a major con.
Source: IEA

3. Prolonging the Energy Transition

Any carbon capture technologies that facilitate lower emissions from fossil fuel power generation run the risk of extending the transition to renewables. Countries may become complacent with their existing infrastructure due to the use of CCS, as it may reduce the incentive to transition to renewables quickly. However, a rapid transition is necessary to limit the worst impacts of global warming, and reducing emissions from existing systems is not enough.

by Eric Koons

Eric is a passionate environmental advocate that believes renewable energy is a key piece in meeting the world’s growing energy demands. He received an environmental science degree from the University of California and has worked to promote environmentally and socially sustainable practices since. Eric’s expertise extends across the environmental field, yet he maintains a strong focus on renewable energy. His work has been featured by leading environmental organizations, such as World Resources Institute and Hitachi ABB Power Grids.

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