Carbon Capture and Storage: A Coal and Electricity Industry Pipedream

The bottom line is that Carbon Capture and Storage is not ready for prime time

Well they’re at it again.

The coal industry has found yet another way to greenwash coal as an environmentally sound source of electricity through a concept called, “Carbon Capture and Storage” (or Sequestration), CCS.

This complex technology is not only decades from commercial viability or implementation, but it is costly, risky and inefficient.

Greenpeace campaigns around the world to shut down old polluting power plants and stop new dirty coal plants from being built. But its not just about protesting at coal plants, we have to have evidence and analysis.

In May 2008, Greenpeace produced a peer-reviewed report surveying the published literature on CCS finding that while coal and electric utility companies are confidently trumpeting CCS and the false hope of “clean coal”, there remain significant questions about the technology, especially as a proposed solution to global warming.

The Greenpeace report, False Hope, Why carbon capture and storage won’t save the climate concludes:

CCS cannot deliver in time to avoid dangerous climate change

Climate scientists and industry agree that CCS will not be ready for commercial scale deployment until 2030 whereas to avoid the worst impacts of global warming, scientists say greenhouse gas emissions have to start falling by 2015.

CCS wastes energy and water

CCS technology uses between 10-40% of the energy produced by a power station to split the coal into gases and compress and transport the CO2. For example, an energy penalty of 20% would require the construction of an extra power station for every four built in order to produce the same amount of electricity. This also means more coal has to be mined and transported. And not only that, power plants that use CCS technology will require 90% more freshwater than a traditional plant.

Overall, wide-scale adoption of CCS is expected to ERASE the efficiency gains of the last 50 years and increase resource consumption by one third.

CCS is a risky bet

While it is not even certain that we have the ability to capture and store the carbon dioxide necessary to implement wide-scale CCS technology, leakage remains a risk. If continuous leakage were to occur at rates as low as 1% per year, it could complete negate climate mitigation efforts.

CCS is expensive

A US Department of Energy study found that installing CCS technology will double the costs of a traditional power plant. This would result in electricity price increases of 21%-91%.

The bottom line is that CCS is not ready for prime time, nor will it be ready in time to help solve the climate crisis, yet it is being used as a ‘free ride’ ticket to build new polluting coal plants that are labeled “carbon capture ready”. To continue to build power plants that may or may not some day be retro-fitted to include carbon capture technology is like intentionally contracting a disease in the hope that medical science will one day provide a cure. Coal is an inherently dirty technology. Any investment that banks on future CCS development is money not invested in deployment of renewable clean energy alternatives and energy efficiency that exist today.