Carbon capture and storage

Carbon Capture and Storage, past present and future
Stuart Haszeldine, Professor of Carbon Capture and Storage
SCCS, School of GeoSciences, University of Edinburgh
There is strong evidence that industrialization by humans has led to greatly
increased rates of carbon emission to atmosphere. Some consequences
predicted, and measurable from that, include global warming, sea level rise and
ocean acidification. The extraction of fossil carbon continues to increase
annually, and 2014 was the warmest global year in human records. Warming
rates linked to CO2, and the impacts of consequences from causes are debated.
Low cost fossil carbon is pervasively used for energy and feedstock, thus carbon
capture and storage (CCS) offers a multi-sector way of using the benefits from
carbon whilst greatly reducing emissions. This requires capture at sites of large
emissions, separation and purification, followed by transport to injection 1km or
greater below ground, for storage on timescales longer than 10,000 yr. Storage is
proven, safe and secure. CCS can have impact in multiple sectors of an industrial
economy, it is the least-cost decarbonisation option. Including CCS with
efficiency, and no-carbon electricity, means some 2.5x less cost (£ 50Bn/yr) for a
low-carbon UK in 2050, than its omission. Cost-reduction requires serial build,
and that will take many years, which requires government patience and belief.
In EU terms, the UK is a very high-carbon economy. Fortunately, the UK is
advantaged for CCS because there are multiple industries which can benefit, and
the UK has huge potential storage for CO2 offshore using geology within, and
between hydrocarbon fields. Practical construction of CCS in the UK has faltered
since 2005, because of its high entry cost. Government action has now enabled
legal and regulatory permissions, funding for FEED design and, uniquely, a feedin premium Contract for Difference to refund higher operational costs. Four
methods of industrial-sized capture are operating or in construction. Two
examples will be given of current power plant bids, and two examples of
propositions by large industrial complexes. In Canada and the USA, a handful of
power plants and industrial facilities are already using CCS. China has operated
many CCS tests.
The future outlook for CCS depends on political actions on climate. USA, China
and the EU all have top-level plans for emissions reductions. But the legislation
to force, and the funding to encourage, CCS to become conventional business are
not clear. The pipeline of global projects falters in the early 2020’s. There is clear
benefit for industrial CCS in retention of skilled jobs, and some capture methods
are low cost. Electricity is persistently the primary target, but very slow to
develop CCS because of commercial competition. Extractors of fossil coal, oil, and
gas have escaped liability – with the exception of divestment. It is very likely that
global emissions will force greater than 2°C warming and acidification. Air recapture of CO2 will then be required at an unimaginablely large scale, industrial
chemistry pilot projects are already operational in Europe, UK, USA and Canada.
Such geo-engineering currently lacks regulation and political or social debate.