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.
- 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.
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.”
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