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CCS AWOL?

July 25th, 2014

As recently as the Stern Review in 2006, carbon capture and storage from coal-fired power stations was seen as the most promising clean energy technology on offer. This was before the huge decline in the cost of solar PV and the more modest, but still substantial progress on wind energy. Since then, the technology has dropped off the radar, to the point that many reports don’t even mention it. But I just got an invite to a conference on the subject, so I thought I would take another look.

The blurb refers to a number of projects “Callide and Surat Basin in Queensland, CarbonNet in Victoria, and South West Hub in Western Australia”. A quick survey suggests that these are mostly at “proof of concept” stage, rather offering a technology that could actually be implemented on a large scale. Globally, the site says

The Global Status of CCS Report: February 2014 states that there are 12 large-scale CCS projects in operation globally and nine under construction. Overall, these 21 projects have a total capture capacity of almost 40 million tonnes of CO2 a year.

If my arithmetic is right, the entire global effort is about equivalent to the impact of Australia’s Renewable Energy Target:the large scale component calls for 41 000 GWH a year by 2020: my rule of thumb is 1MWh = 1 tonne CO2.

There’s also a report on CCS in the New York Times, which is optimistic, but very vague on cost.

That’s disappointing: from Australia’s point of view, a cheap, safe method of CCS would have resolved the climate change problem, at least as regards electricity, with no adverse impact on our coal industry. I’d be interested in comments from more informed readers.

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  1. July 29th, 2014 at 19:05 | #1

    @Hermit
    Hermit, you wrote, “It’s just at latitude 35 degrees south it’s missing in action roughly 84% of the time.” Do you believe that a typical rooftop solar system will produce usable current only roughly 16% of the time at latitude 35 degrees south anywhere in Australia?

  2. July 29th, 2014 at 20:29 | #2

    John, one interesting thing about the inverter I recently bought my parents. I looked up its stats on the internet and the weight and dimensions of the 5 kilowatt inverter are the same as their 3 kilowatt inverter. So it is possible that they are actually the same thing and one’s just been limited to 3 kilowatts. Now I don’t know if the savings the manufacturer would get from producing larger volumes of one kind of inverter instead of two could make that worthwhile, but I guess it is a possibility.

  3. Ben
    July 29th, 2014 at 23:37 | #3

    @John Quiggin
    Google provides free EV charging to its employees, who park their cars under PV carports.

  4. Collin Street
    July 30th, 2014 at 00:23 | #4

    > So it is possible that they are actually the same thing and one’s just been limited to 3 kilowatts.

    Power semiconductors are remarkably small: half the size of a sugarcube, even for ones handling kilowatts. It’s probably the same design, just with lower-rated transistors swapped into the same circuit-board. The heatsink would probably wind up overspecced, but aluminium extrusions are pretty cheap.

  5. July 30th, 2014 at 10:48 | #5

    Thanks for that, Collin.

  6. Hermit
    July 30th, 2014 at 11:46 | #6

    @Val
    I suggest renewables find their own level without a guaranteed 20% share. For all we know the least cost mix could have renewables at 30% or 40% since the alternatives aren’t getting any cheaper, carbon tax or not. Critics would be silenced if renewables stood on their two feet.

    The flip side to warmer winters could be hotter summers. Southern capitals have nudged 47C this decade. We could hit 50C like Baghdad. Ambulances will carting out former occupants of fibro homes. However blackouts may be less common, a result of ‘gold plating’ the network.

  7. July 30th, 2014 at 13:32 | #7

    Good news about the Energy Brix (we can’t spell) Power Station closing down in Victoria, Fran. It’s only a small generator, I think maybe 120 megawatts, but it’s still excellent news. Black coal plants and South Australia’s brown coal capacity has been shutting down or running at low capacity for years now, but Victoria’s outlandishly CO2 intensive brown coal plants have kept on chugging on and choking on. The Energy Brix Power Station was on its last legs being 58 years old, but basically all of Victoria’s brown coal capacity is on its last legs and only kept going through extensive repair and maintenance. I wonder what its decommissioning costs will be as there is a good chance the place is riddled with asbestos. Perhaps the best thing will be to seal it in a concrete sarcophagus and leave it for future generations to deal with. I sometimes wonder if it is decommissing costs resulting from asbestos which explains why certain people seem so deperate to keep Victoria’s old brown coal plants operating.

  8. July 30th, 2014 at 13:53 | #8

    Sorry, I put my last comment in the wrong thread. Teach me to have multiple tabs open. (Yes, that’s right, my computer can handle having more than one tab open at a time. Now if only I could watch a video without it stuttering – but what am I saying? We’re not living in a dreamworld here.)

  9. August 5th, 2014 at 12:34 | #9

    John – Terrific that you’re opening up discussion about CCS in your blog.

    CCS is the only method currently available that prevents carbon dioxide produced when fossil fuels are used to generate energy (and in heavy industrial processes) from reaching the atmosphere.

    But you’re right, the technology is expensive and projects have not advanced at the rate we had hoped. Significant effort is now going into reducing the costs involved in capture, in particular, as well as demonstration and deployment at industrial scale.

    We’d be delighted to have you join us at the 2014 National CCS Conference to which you refer, where the cost of CCS will be one of the topics explored. The impressive program features local and international speakers with expertise and insights into the financial challenges relating to CCS, including renowned economists Professors Jeffrey Sachs and Ross Garnaut, CEDA chief economist Nathan Taylor, UQ Energy Initiative Director Professor Chris Greig, CCS project proponents and industry representatives.

    Your contribution to the conference discussions would be greatly valued. I hope we’ll see you there.

  10. Chris Short
    August 5th, 2014 at 23:20 | #10

    Richard – what effort is going into deployment?

  11. Chris Short
    August 7th, 2014 at 18:52 | #11

    To answer my own question – Norway does deployment of CCS with several large commercial projects operating in their off-shore gas fields – driven by a ~US$50/tonne carbon price for off-shore oil and gas extraction that has been in place for well over a decade.

    But that’s for the low hanging fruit of the burying the CO2 stipped from natural gas extraction (so the capture cost is already part of the industrial process – with only compression and injection to be covered – and a US$50/tonne cost for emissions is a strong incentive for those relatively low costs. Again demonstration of what can happen with a price on carbon.

    But I’m not aware of anywhere else in the world where CCS is in a deployment mode and I’m not sure I’d classify current limited industrial, site specific, EOR based projects in the US as more than examples, rather than deployment.

    nonetheless, I had a look at the conference program your team is running – and you’ve certainly got a number of the key international analysts and project movers involved.

    Whilst some of us don’t see a lot of movement in the near term for CCS, if you wanted to know where was at internationally, it’s a good opportunity to talk to those in the know.

  12. Ikonoclast
    August 7th, 2014 at 19:33 | #12

    CCS is a completely spurious diversion. It will never work technically nor economically on a scale sufficient to make any real difference to global CO2 emissions and global warming. CCS is deliberately promoted by fossil fuel interests as a subtefurge to delay action on CO2 emissions and climate change.

    CO2 injection into oil and gas wells might be the one application that is economic as it can increase production. However, more oil and gas production is the last thing we need as the accumulated human CO2 and fugitive methane emissions load moves up to very dangerous levels.

  13. Chris Short
    August 7th, 2014 at 19:41 | #13

    Whilst one can have different views on the feasible set of technologies, I’ll make two points (i) pretty sure those views were said about wind and solar and (ii) you have your precedence order the wrong way around: without action on CO2 emissions and climate change, CCS cannot work -

  14. Ikonoclast
    August 7th, 2014 at 20:17 | #14

    @Chris Short

    A wrong prediction about A has no implications for a prediction about B if A & B are not causally related. Wind and solar power are about power generation from those sources. CCS is about removing and sequestering a waste byproduct during or after energy generation by combusting fossil fuels. This involves different technologies, different physical and chemical processes and different engineering challenges.

    The technology for solar power in particular has improved markedly and come down markedly in price this decade. It has also been implemented broadly albeit not yet on a large scale. It is now economic to implement. Can CCS demonstrate similar progress in the same timespan? The answer is “no”.

    CCS is fundamentally flawed. The energy cost in separating, piping and injecting CO2 is prohibitive. Storing CO2 safely forever in geological formations is a promise that might be made but cannot be kept. Storing CO2 as calcium carbonate would be the safest way but again the cost and scale of chemical or biological fixing processes will prove prohibitive.

    “A new research paper by Richard Middleton of Los Alamos National Laboratory and Adam Brandt of Stanford University estimates that “significant capture and storage occurs only above $110/tonne CO2 in our simulations.”

    Unfortunately, global carbon markets aren’t pricing CO2 emissions anywhere near these levels.

    The current price for carbon in the EU Emissions Trading System is just €5 per tonne. The new California CO2 allowance is $13.62 per ton, and the proposed U.S. carbon tax would be about $20 per ton.

    With the future of carbon policy so uncertain in the United States and abroad, it’s not at all clear that carbon prices will rise to the point where investing in CCS makes sense.” – (see paper below)

    http://www.smartplanet.com/blog/the-take/why-carbon-capture-and-storage-will-never-pay-off/

  15. Chris Short
    August 8th, 2014 at 09:06 | #15

    Not sure we’re looking at the problem in the same way, but looking at it from your perspective, here’s some questions and comments

    i) What’s your estimate of the current avoided CO2 cost for solar technologies (in $/tonne)?

    ii) Would any current carbon market be deploying solar?

    iii) the timespan for solar R&D is substantially longer than that for CCS – but your comment is certainly true – solar costs have come down a long way in the past decade

    iv) Yes – the thermal efficiency of power production when CCS is added on falls – and that plays out in its cost structure. But if you are very concerned about the technology properties, does the very low efficiency of solar concern you?

    v) CCS costs – haven’t read Midddleton/Brandt, but the estimate, but the implicit cost estimate in the part you quote is probably reasonable – depending on the sector it’s applied to.

    vi) Are you aware that all long term decarbonisation models have carbon prices rises well above $100/tonne? Such scenarios price price projections should be taken with a grain of salt as should carbon pricing ever become widespread, the technical possibilities it will bring forth in many areas of economic activity are not really foreseeable – but as I said before, all the credible scenarios from the neutral/disinterested model groups are consistent in those price outcomes.

    vii) The smartplanet article you point at quotes my cost estimates for CCS (see v) as evidence as to why CCS won’t happen – but holds up gas(?) as the saviour – and is primarily short term in its focus.

    viii) And whilst not addressed in your comment, CCS is supported by a large number (not all) of well credentialed green groups precisely because it is the only currently known technology available for doing negative emissions. But that time is someway off if your focus is on current costs and revenues to support a range of technologies.

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