Quantcast
Climate

Carbon Capture: 'Only Realistic and Affordable Way to Dramatically Reduce Emissions'

Governments may no longer be investing in the capture of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. But a new study says that doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea.

It argues that the world just needs to think harder and spend more to make the technology work because, to contain climate change, it may prove the only realistic and affordable way to dramatically reduce carbon emissions.

Canadian firm Carbon Engineering is one company developing technology to capture carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Photo credit: Carbon Engineering

Many governments appear to agree and include carbon capture and storage in their plans to keep the world from dangerous climate change. But, at the same time, many are abandoning the trials that are needed to make it work.

David Reiner, senior lecturer in technology policy at the University of Cambridge Judge Business School, argued in the new journal Nature Energy that stopping trials is foolish.

Effective Answer

In a world addicted to fossil fuel energy, but threatened with catastrophic climate change driven by the greenhouse gas emissions from those same fossil fuels, he said that one effective answer would be to capture the carbon dioxide before it gets into the atmosphere and then store it.

He wrote that the only way to find out how to do this is to spend billions on a range of possible attempts at carbon capture and storage (CCS) and then choose the best one.

“If we are serious about meeting aggressive national or global emissions, the only way to do it affordably is with CCS,” Reiner said. “But, since 2008, we have seen a decline in interest in CCS, which has essentially been in lock step with our declining interest in doing anything serious about climate change.”

Just before the UN climate change summit in Paris last December, the UK government cancelled a £1 billion competition to support large-scale demonstration projects. Since 2008, other projects have been cancelled in the U.S., Canada, Australia and Europe.

But oil companies have for two decades been testing the approach on a small scale and energy scientists have been working on imaginative solutions to what promises to become a global crisis in which the same energy technologies that fuel global economic growth also threaten to change the global climate and impoverish billions of people.

While every aspect of carbon capture and storage poses puzzles—such as whether power-generating stations make the capture efficiently and where the gas could be safely stored—chemists have dreams of actually exploiting captured carbon dioxide to create new wealth and drive economies in cleaner, greener directions.

But research costs money. Solar and wind power can be tested on a small scale. To make CCS work, engineers and scientists and power-generating agencies have to think big. One single demonstration plant could cost $1 billion.

“Scaling up any new technology is difficult, but it’s that much harder if you’re working in billion-dollar chunks,” Reiner said. “At 10 million or even 100 million dollars, you will be able to find ways to fund the research and development. But being really serious about CCS and making it work means allocating large sums at a time when national budgets are still under stress after the global financial crisis.”

The other problem is that any project can fail—even one that costs a billion dollars.

“The nature of demonstration is that you work out the kinks, find out what works and what doesn’t,” Reiner added. “It’s what’s done in science or in research and development all the time: you expect that nine out of 10 ideas won’t work, that nine of 10 oil wells you drill won’t turn up anything, that nine of 10 new drug candidates will fail.

Funding or Mandates

“Whereas firms will make ample returns on a major oil discovery or a blockbuster drug, to make up for the many failures along the way, that is clearly not the case for CCS, so the answer is almost certainly government funding or mandates,” Reiner explained.

In his study, he concluded that “the initial rationales for demonstration have not been revisited in the face of changing circumstances.” But the problem CCS was intended to address has not gone away either.

He wants to see a global portfolio of new projects to share risk and possible rewards. “If we are not going to get CCS to happen, it’s hard to imagine getting the dramatic emissions reductions we need to limit global warming to 2C—or 3C for that matter,” he said.

“However, there’s an inherent tension in developing CCS—it is not a single technology but a whole suite and if there are six CCS paths we can go down, it’s almost impossible to know, sitting where we are now, which is the right path.

“Somewhat ironically, we have to be willing to invest in these high-cost gambles or we will never be able to deliver an affordable, low-carbon energy system,” Reiner said.

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE 

5 Disturbing Things Porter Ranch Methane Leak and Flint Water Crisis Have in Common

Armed Ships Embark on Secretive Plutonium Mission From Japan to the U.S.

Find Out How Close Your City Is to Going 100% Clean Energy

California to Investigate Exxon on Climate Cover-Up

Show Comments ()

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Sponsored
Animals
Lake Baikal. W0zny / Wikimedia / CC BY-SA 3.0

Wildlife Under Siege at the World’s Oldest Lake

By Marlene Cimons

Lake Baikal is the world's oldest and deepest lake. It's at least 20 million years old, and roughly a mile deep at its lowest point. The Siberian lake contains holds more water than all the North American Great Lakes combined, what amounts to more than one-fifth of all the water found in lakes, swamps and rivers. It was formed by the shifting of tectonic plates, which created a valley that filled with water. That shift continues today at a rate of around 1 to 2 centimeters year, meaning the world's biggest lake is only getting bigger.

Keep reading... Show less
Insights/Opinion
Oil rig operating next to a walk and bike way in the Signal Hill area of Los Angeles. Sarah Craig / Faces of Fracking / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

U.S. Oil and Gas Industry Is Drilling Us Towards Climate Disaster

By Kelly Trout

As the 116th Congress commences, in the wake of dire reports from climate scientists, the debate over U.S. climate policies has taken a welcome turn towards bold solutions. Spurred on by grassroots pressure from Indigenous communities, the youth-led Sunrise Movement and communities from coast to coast fighting fossil fuel infrastructure, Capitol Hill is alive once again with policy proposals that edge towards the scale required to address the crisis we're in.

Keep reading... Show less
Animals
Bumblebee on goldenrod. Jim Hudgins / USFWS

Half of Michigan's Bumblebee Species in Decline, One Extinct

Honeybees get a lot of attention for their worrisome decline, but many species of bumblebees—which are key pollinators—are also in trouble.

In Michigan, half of its bumblebee species have declined by 50 percent or more, Michigan Radio reported.

Keep reading... Show less
Popular
Bound bales of crushed plastic bottles and containers sit stacked ready to be recycled at a recycling center in the Netherlands. Jasper Juinen / Bloomberg / Getty Images

Toward a Circular Economy: Tackling the Plastics Recycling Problem

By Margaret Sobkowicz

Why has the world continued to increase consumption of plastic materials when at the same time, environmental and human health concerns over their use have grown?

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Oceans
Bleached coral at the Great Barrier Reef. The Ocean Agency / XL Catlin Seaview Survey / Richard Vevers

2018 Was the Hottest Year Ever Recorded for Our Oceans

The year 2018 was the hottest year for the planet's oceans ever since record-keeping began in 1958, according to a worrisome new study from international scientists.

The findings, published Wednesday in the journal Advances in Atmospheric Sciences, noted that the five warmest years for our oceans were the last five years—2018, 2017, 2015, 2016 and 2014 (in order of decreasing ocean heat content).

Keep reading... Show less
EPA Acting Administrator Wheeler / EPA

Senate Shouldn’t Put Wheeler at the Wheel of the EPA

By Ana Unruh Cohen

As the longest government shut down in history drags on, and the experts protecting our air and water remain off the job, the Senate is barreling forward to put Andrew Wheeler at the wheel of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). He is unfit for this public trust.

In his seven-month tenure as the acting administrator at EPA, Wheeler's relentlessly pushed to advance the pro-polluter agenda launched by Scott Pruitt, the worst administrator in the agency's storied 48-year history. Wheeler may lack Pruitt's scandals, but he's no improvement.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Health
Westend61 / Getty Images

Top 20 Healthy Salad Toppings

By Lizzie Streit, MS, RDN, LD

Salads are typically made by combining lettuce or mixed greens with an assortment of toppings and a dressing.

Keep reading... Show less
Popular
Shirley Fire, 2014. Stuart Palley

In Nighttime Shots of Massive Wildfires, a Photographer Shows Us the Light

By Patrick Rogers

During the day, freelance photographer Stuart Palley covers news events for publications like the Los Angeles Times and shoots images for advertising and PR clients. By night, he pursues his passion: photographing the wildfires that have been ravaging, with increasing frequency, the forests, grasslands, towns and cities of his native California. Over the past five years, Palley has documented nearly 75 fires, from the Mexican border to the Shasta Trinity National Forest near Oregon.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

mail-copy

The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!