OMG WTF’s CCS?
You might well ask.
In the heady world of acronyms CCS stands for Carbon Capture and Storage. Hailed as the new “silver bullet” by Governments across the world, CCS is apparently the only way we can have ‘clean coal’. Let’s get one thing straight from the beginning-clean coal is a misnomer. It.does.not.exist.
So what exactly is it?
Carbon Capture and Storage is an unproven, but currently being researched and tested, system to capture the carbon that power plants emit, turn it into liquid or a high pressure gas, and pump it underground. Some existing holes created by oil extraction (most of them under the sea) would be used to store the carbon. The chambers are then sealed and left to their own devices. (although monitored for leakages because large of amounts of CO2 erupting into the ocean would have a catastrophic effect on the sea life as the acidity of the water would increase suddenly.)
With the prospect of this process, and its potential to excuse our excessive use of coal, the EU, US, China and Australia are expending lots of energy researching and desperately trying to prove a working model that can be applied to all the new coal fired power plants that are being made ‘Carbon Capture-ready’ (litrully just a hole for a pipe and some space on the other side!), and also to retro-fit existing power plants.
Sounds great, what’s the catch?
well. The problem of rising emissions needs to be addressed NOW. Waiting for the test results of the EU’s pilots to be released in 2015 is just not good enough.
- It has been proven that renewable energy could power 100% of Britain’s (and others) energy demand. They are the obvious solution to the challenge of curbing emissions because, they are proven technology, they can be applied on varying scales (large wind farms, but also a single community wind turbine have equal position in the solution.) and, they can exist and create energy for as long as they are maintained. CCS requires a fuel which gives out CO2 to function-otherwise it has no purpose. Therefore, the money ploughed into CCS to make it effective is only a short term investment compared to renewables, seen as coal is a finite resource. So, this investment would lock us into high carbon technologies for decades to come. It’s short term crisis management rather than long term planning.
- CCS is a very energy intensive process. CCS uses 900grammes more CO2 per KWh than renewables such as solar and thermal. 40% of the power plants energy would go on powering the CCS process. It’s a bit like a leech sucking some blood but filtering it for greater well being- attached to the power station!
- The storage part of CCS requires large amounts of gas to be transported to sites where it can be stored-continuously. Therefore, there needs to be a large network of pipelines (the same as those used for transporting natural gas) which would require large amounts of investment in this infrastructure because, according to industry experts whilst we could make use of the current pipelines, a lot of them are over 40 years old and would not withstand the pressure. Also, they don’t necessarily connect up with the holes that need filling!
- The storage aspect of CCS has two main possibilities: either we use the plundered oil and gas fields which have ready made cavities that could be filled and sealed successfully-medium capacity-in the UK we have the capacity to store the next 40-50 years worth of CO2 we produce, in our own oil and gas reserves. OR we pump the CO2 into aquifers. By definition these aquifers are permeable rock like sandstone, which store sea water, which could potentially also store CO2. Whilst this has the largest storage potential, it is the most unproven method so far. oh dear.
- The price of CCS will affect energy prices, at least initially, it will go up.
- The legitimisation of coal use, and therefore it’s mining, is having devestating effects on communities such as Merthyr Tydfil in South Wales. In Merthyr they have to contend with not only the largest abattoir in Europe, but also the largest open cast coal mine in Europe! Because the mining is done on the surface of the land rather than deep underground, the nearby town and houses (nearest one 50m away) get covered in coal dust, suffer increases in asthma, are woken at 5am to diggers beginning work. It’s just not on. Leave the coal in the ground.
Recently I went to a Parliamentary group presentation on CCS from a CCS company. I went there all fired up and kitted out with awkward questions prepared. An hour later I was sitting there speechless, disarmed and dazed! The speaker had been from a pro-CCS man, from a CCS company, but he stood there, layed the facts bare to us all, showed both the pros and cons of CCS and concluded that CCS is only very marginally worth it!
I quote “there is an awful lot of lack of clarity”. Too right there is. “It is uneconomical for consumers.” Too right it will be. “Unless the Government writes a blank cheque for research into CCS, it won’t get done.” Too right it wont.
So why are Environmentalists up in arms about the CCS industry?!
It seems clear to me that it’s the Government that’s the problem. They have latched on to the CCS industry like a parasite, urging it to develop because Governments need it to service our coal addiction. It’s like putting a mango on the windowsill in the hope it will get ripe sooner than it otherwise would.
What’s behind this push for CCS rather than renewable energy?
You will find that most countries are heavily reliant on many kinds of fossil fuels. 96% of Poland’s electricity is generated by coal combustion! Britain uses mostly coal and natural gas to power it’s electricity, with currently less than 10% of our electricity coming from renewable sources. Most Governments today are not going to put a moratorium on coal fired power stations. (well except the Maldives who have committed to going carbon neutral.) Particularly countries like the UK and Poland who still have vast reserves of coal ready to be extracted. It’s easy, cheap, we know how to do it already, and we need the jobs. Coal seems like the obvious answer, hence the enthusiasm for CCS.
so that’s a bit of the backround behind CCS, keep your eyes peeled on the newspapers like The Guardian and The Independent for updates, as well as this blog for any international developments under the Kyoto Protocol.