Research

CCS can’t solve the climate crisis – new report

A study by climate scientists says carbon capture and storage (CCS) cannot meet the urgent need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. 

The research, by the Tyndall Centre, concluded that the technology was not a viable option for the rapid emissions cuts required in the next decade.

Continued future use of oil and gas depend on CCS, as does the proposed conversion of methane to hydrogen.

The UK government’s 10-point climate plan pledged £200m investment in CCS, while the Scottish Government announced £80m of funding to support CCS and other negative emission technologies.

But, according to the research, published today, reliance on CCS would endanger climate safety goals.

Globally, it said, there are just 26 CCS plants in operation. There are no schemes in the UK and none are expected until at least the next decade.

Friends of the Earth Scotland and Global Witness, which commissioned the study, described CCS as a “dangerous distraction” from the climate solutions that work, such as renewables and energy efficiency.

CCS was said to have “consistently failed to deliver on projections”, with a long history of over-promising and under-delivering. Several schemes that were begun were ultimately abandoned.

Two £1bn CCS competitions, run by successive UK Governments over a period of eight years, failed to produce a CCS demonstration scheme.

Key findings 

  • Global operational CCS capacity is currently 39MtCO2 per year. This is about 0.1% of annual global emissions from fossil fuels.
  • There is no operational CCS capacity in the UK yet the UK Committee on Climate Change has projected CCS capacity of up to 176MtCO2 by 2050. This would mean that the UK would need to quadruple the entire current global CCS capacity.
  • 81% of carbon captured to date has been used to extract more oil through the process of Enhanced Oil Recovery [EOR]. At this stage, CCS planned deployment is dominated by EOR.
  • The G8 group of industrialised nations committed to launch 20 large scale projects by 2010 and the International Energy Agency set a goal of 100 projects by 2020. Only five materialised.
  • Fossil fuel-based CCS cannot operate with zero emissions. Many projections assume a capture rate for CCS of 95%. But capture rates at that level are unproven in practice. This raises questions about whether fossil fuel hydrogen can be considered to be sufficiently low-carbon relative to remaining carbon budgets.

Industry defence

The Scottish Carbon Capture & Storage partnership, the largest group of CCS researchers,said it was “unhelpful” to cherry-pick methods to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The group, quoted by Energy Voice, said:

“CCS is an essential part of climate action, alongside a shift to 100% renewable energy and more efficient use of resources. All methods to reduce emissions are needed immediately and, in our view, it’s unhelpful to cherry-pick technologies.

“CCS is a transitional technology that has been operating safely and at scale for nearly 30 years. Projects being developed in the UK show how CCS can be rolled out cost-effectively and incrementally, with resulting experience and knowledge having a global value.

“Without CCS, we cannot tackle emissions arising from heavy industry, including the manufacture of steel and cement, which even the renewables sector requires.

“With a focus on fossil fuels, CCS enables a rapid transition without creating mass unemployment and social disruption. It can be deployed swiftly, since it is a proven technology, and also has roles in generating low-carbon hydrogen and enabling the removal of CO2 already in the atmosphere- in other words, negative emissions.”

Renewables and energy efficiency

Campaigners are instead calling for investment to be redirected to readily deployable renewables and energy efficiency for homes. This, they said, would create more jobs, more quickly, cut climate emissions and improve people’s quality of life.

Jess Cowell, climate campaigner for Friends of the Earth said:

“The world needs urgent cuts to climate emissions every year of this decade but CCS can’t deliver anything meaningful until the 2030s, if at all. Politicians and CCS’ backers in the fossil fuel industry want us to trust them with a technology with a long history of over-promising and under-delivering.

“The shocking revelations that the small number of existing Carbon Capture plants in existence are almost all being used to increase fossil fuel extraction must give pause to anyone who is pushing this as a realistic solution to the climate crisis.

“This report makes it clear that Carbon Capture and Storage is a dangerous distraction from the necessary action to cut climate emissions from our energy sector in this crucial decade. Instead we need a bold plan setting out steps to phase out fossil fuel extraction and use, while ensuring a just transition for workers and communities dependent on the industry. 

“Carbon is already captured and stored underground in fossil fuels. We should be leaving it there instead of spending billions trying to invent technology to solve this problem of our own creation.” 

Link

A Review of Role of Fossil Fuel-Based Carbon Capture and Storage in the Energy System
Tyndall Centre, January 2021
Photo: David J  Some rights reserved

Updated with response from Scottish Carbon Capture & Storage

11 replies »

  1. Friends,
    The research n findings of Tyndall Centre, are quite alarming n leads to do more in the area of CCS.
    Here , would like to suggest the technology used in the Gas /Naphtha cracker plants for removal of Carbon Dioxide, SO/ SO2 , n other obnoxious gases which are produced during the thermal cracking . This technolgy can be tried in power plants either using coal or fossil fuels. The gases produced are scrubbed thru’ the caustic or lime slurry of about 8-10percent . For higher content of the Carbon oxides n sulfur oxides suitable concentration of such slurry cn length of the scrubber columns in series can be designed,If found suitable can be installed in the operating commercial plants. This may not be a expensive modification.

    [Typo corrected at poster’s request]

  2. So, FOE continue to distort and distract!

    Renewables and energy efficiency?

    Have their place but are not the solution. Most who already have an energy efficient home already know that. Yes, new houses can be produced that get somewhere close, but it is recognised they are the exception, not the norm. and to change the majority of the UK housing stock will take a very long time.

    This is dangerous nonsense of a bit of double glazing and the elderly sat with hats on, whilst they get pneumonia unable to afford to put the electric fire on because of the “green” levy. Check out your local hospital-and you probably will if you try and follow that nonsense-and you will find out the sort of heating required to keep the frail, elderly, safe. Mind you, a number of the frail and elderly tied to their existing houses after they were conned to lease their roofs to solar power scams.

    And as for the nonsense about keeping stuff in the ground! OMG. How about cobalt-a known carcinogen? Perhaps if advocates of certain technology actually started to practice what they preach they may obtain trust themselves.

  3. If the technically untutored man-in-the-street, myself for example, can long harbour inchoate doubts as to the viability of CCS as a means of controlling actual emissions, let alone reducing the historic build up of greenhouses gases in the atmosphere, then how can this have escaped the technically and scientifically well-resourced fossil fuel companies, not to mention Her Majesty’s Government? The tempting answer is that it hasn’t and that this is yet another example of a deliberate attempt by said companies to appease opposition to fracking and to the continuing search for and use of fossil fuels. The EOR subterfuge would seem to support this interpretation.
    If CCS is to prove helpful in reducing the burden of greenhouse gases, then it must be one of many ‘solutions’, and the undue reliance placed upon it by those who wish to continue their destructive activities should not be granted credence. The findings in this report must surely sound the death knell for fracking, here or anywhere.
    Afforestation, soil and agricultural regeneration are, it seems, the best carbon capture and sequestration available, and they are natural, in tune with our planet’s ecosystem. Even so, they, like CCS, will not offer a total solution but should form part of the armoury.

  4. Well, 1720, I think anyone can find a few “reports” about most technology that would suggest that it can not work, based upon a few examples.

    CCS, I am certain, will play a part. At the moment those who are involved in promoting their own agendas seem to want to suggest other means of approaching the issue should not be pursued and will not work. The group who used to cart people around London by horse and cart said the same about the automobile.

    You are a good example. The findings in the report do nothing of the sort regarding fracking. There are plenty of possibilities to decarbonise fossil fuel. Some will be successful, some maybe not. That is the standard for technology.

  5. Light fuel oil at Cowes Power Station, Paul!

    Once you start asking questions, the answers are rather interesting.

  6. The unavoidable truth – reliance on intermittent renewables, without storage or reliable back-up such as gas or wood chips, will lead to an energy crisis, especially at times like this week with low wind speed and low solar supply, but very high demand.

    At the present moment the voltage in the national electricity supply is falling indicating a struggle to meet demand. There is freezing weather in China leading to very high prices internationally for LNG which will make our imports increasingly expensive. Overall the result of the government’s ill-thought out strategy to combat climate change increases the risk of blackouts and energy poverty.

  7. As Iath alludes to, this report fails to recognise the one and only successful and reliable CCS so far. It’s the one provided for free by Mother Nature in the form of trees and plants worldwide.
    This report indicates that the human contribution has so far been negligible, other than hoovering up huge quantities of welcome spondulicks in lieu of carbon…. unless Martin can provide some hard evidence to the contrary.
    The industry defence sounds remarkably like our current govt – hot on rhetoric and jam tomorrow (or more accurately in a decade or two), lightweight on detail and evidence, and with a long history of over-promising and under-delivering.

    • Microsoft tried trees. They are now burning. Trees are helpful and we should plant as many as we can, and save all we can. Trees are part of the solution but not all of it. The real need and priority is to vastly and drastically reduce our total overall use of energy. That is the only real and workable solution and option we have.

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