CCS vs Hazelwood (updated)

It’s often hard to get an idea of the scale at which different technologies are operating. For example, there’s a lot of discussion about Carbon Capture and Sequestration (CCS or ‘clean coal’), though less than there used to be. To get an idea of current and near-future prospects for CCS in the power sector, I went to the Global CCS Institute list of large-scale projects. The site says

Large-scale CCS projects in the power sector are now a reality, demonstrated by:
* The world’s first large-scale power sector CCS project – the Boundary Dam Integrated Carbon Capture and Sequestration Demonstration Project in Canada (CO2 capture capacity of 1 Mtpa) – becoming operational in October 2014
* Commissioning activities on a new-build 582 megawatt (MW) power plant beginning at the Kemper County Energy Facility in Mississippi (US, CO2 capture capacity of 3 Mtpa) with CO2 capture expected to commence in the first half of 2016
* The Petra Nova Carbon Capture Project at the W.A. Parish power plant near Houston, Texas (US, CO2 capture capacity of 1.4 Mtpa) entering construction in July 2014, with CO2 capture anticipated by the end of 2016.

Tactfully ignoring the fact that the Kemper project has turned out to be a disaster, I thought I would scale this against an option that we can all comprehend, shutting down the brown coal power station at Hazelwood. According to this article, Hazelwood generates 15.7 million tonnes of CO2 per annum, or about three times the total from all CCS Power projects now in operation or under construction.

Looking further down the page, there’s a summary of all the CCS projects currently at any stage of consideration anywhere in the world

Globally, there are 14 large-scale CCS projects in operation, with a further eight under construction. The 22 projects in operation or under construction represents a doubling since the start of this decade. The total CO2 capture capacity of these 22 projects is around 40 million tonnes per annum.

There are another 14 large-scale CCS projects at the most advanced stage of development planning, the Concept Definition (or Define) stage, with a total CO2 capture capacity of around 20 million tonnes per annum. A further 15 large-scale CCS projects are in earlier stages of development planning (the Evaluate and Identify stages) and have a total CO2 capture capacity of around 30 million tonnes per annum.

So, if all of these projects were successfully completed, they would offset the emissions of six Hazelwood-sized plants. It gets worse. Many of these projects serve only to reduce the “fugitive” emissions from oil and gas fields, and most rely for their viability on using the captured CO2 in oil fields, to push more oil to the surface (enhanced oil recovery).

It’s time to bury the myth of CCS once and for all.

were implemented on schedule, the impact over the next fifteen years would be negated if we allowed Hazelwood to continue operating over that period.

33 thoughts on “CCS vs Hazelwood (updated)

  1. In any discussion about CCS, claims by the proponents about quantities of CO2 sequestered need to be qualified by the question, is that gross or net? I recall estimates that the energy required to power the process can be up to 30% of the energy generated by the headline process. Proponents may not admit this if the emissions are accounted elsewhere.

  2. The bet has to be that James Hansen is right, and that humanity will have to lower atmospheric CO2 concentrations below the current 400ppm level, rather than hoping to stabilise at 450ppm. This means we will have to sequester CO2 on the gigatonne scale. We are adding 5,300 Cheops (1) of carbon per year, so the reversal has to be on a similar scale.

    Conceptually, the major problem is: what chemistry? Existing CCS projects have tried geological injection of compressed CO2. They are failing. So we need a different approach: biochar, accelerated rock weathering, carbon-fixing cement, something. Here’s an elegantly simple approach by a chemist at GWU, which generates pure carbon at the anode of a lithium carbonate electrochemical cell, the solute regenerating itself from atmospheric CO2. I’ve no idea whether this particular Cunning Plan can work at scale. We do need much higher research priority for sequestration.

    The minor question is whether to use concentrated point sources of CO2 for sequestration or just extract it from the atmosphere. The question answers itself. If you have point sources of CO2, it will usually be cheaper to use them. If JQ is arguing that there there is little prospect of getting some CCS technology to work within the short remaining life of coal power stations, and no case for allowing any such to keep operating on the bare promise, I agree. But there are other such fixed point sources likely to be with us for much longer: gas peakers; biomass plants; steelworks; and cement kilns.

    (1) 1 Cheops = 2.5 million cubic metres = 2 million tonnes of coal.

  3. Time to just unplug old Hazelwood.

    On the demand side, we note little forecast growth. Contrary to historic expectations, electricity demand has fallen in recent years. Combined with the additional supply from new generation, there is now significant surplus capacity across the NEM… Victoria currently has 1,950 – 2,200MW of surplus generation capacity. This means Hazelwood’s 1,600MW could be switched off without breaching AEMO’s reliability standard for security of supply. Forecast surplus capacity for 2023-24 is 1,450 – 3,100MW, meaning the loss of Hazelwood’s capacity is also highly unlikely to present security of supply problems in the medium term future.

  4. link for last comment

    From the same place (hardly a detailed assessment, but…)

    In this paper we estimate true cost of Hazelwood in both private and social terms. As expected, we find very low private short run marginal costs, in the order of $3/MWh. We also find very high external costs. Our central case estimates of the external costs of carbon emissions and air pollutants are $64/MWh and $8/MWh respectively. This gives a social marginal cost of $75/MWh, and social average unit cost of $87/MWh – well above the current Victorian wholesale electricity price of ~$30/MWh…

    We find the now-repealed carbon price regime went a long way to pricing these externalities, but still fell well short of the true social cost. Using the 2013-14 carbon price of $24.15/tonne- CO2, we estimate Hazelwood’s private marginal costs rose to $40/MWh. Our analysis suggests that during the two years the carbon price was in place, Hazelwood was likely operating close to its breakeven point from its core operations, and potentially kept in the black by the government’s coal-fired generation industry assistance program.

  5. The many negatives of this “technology” should have put an end to it decisively the moment it was first imagined. The 2 most obvious are the necessity to burn more fuel to capture and sequester the waste driving functional efficiency of the energy source further towards horrendous waste, and the second is the risk to all life of a sequester leak as CO2 is heavier than air in its condensed form flowing downhill to settle in valleys until day time heat stirs the air mass to dilute any concentrate. Wide scale death in minutes is the result of CO2 leaks, and the abandonment of vast tracts of land where changes to rock structures present an imminent possibility of leaks.

  6. James, that particular method you linked to is going to be energy intensive. They are taking CO2 and removing the oxygen to turn it into a solid black carbon substance. That’s always going to take more energy than is released by taking a solid black carbon substance and reacting it with oxygen to produce CO2. In the future we may have a surfeit of renewable energy so that will be less of a problem, but this particular cunning plan is unlikely to be competitive with other cunning plans any time soon, if ever.

    Technically we can capture CO2 released from reacting solid black carbon substance with oxygen and liquify it and shove it somewhere for only a large portion of the energy released from reacting solid carbon with oxygen. However, it is still quite expensive probably not competitive with other methods. And as mentioned there are some difficulties with the shoving part.

    One of the cheapest options for removing CO2 from the atmosphere appears to be dumping biomass in deep ocean waters, appropriate areas of sedimentation (basically anywhere old wooden ship wrecks don’t rot away), or cold water lakes. Biochar may be even cheaper as it can improve the quality of agricultural land and can be a twofer by sequestering carbon in the ground and increasing the amount of living biomass the biochar amended soil can sustain. And then there is reforestation, afforestation, sea grasstation and so on. Now plants do use a large amount of energy to fix the carbon they take from the atmosphere, but the capital costs of both their solar energy collectors and carbon fixing reactors are hard to beat.

    Estimates I’ve seem for using olivine to sequester CO2 seem very high but may still beat out using electricity to make soot.

    Of course, I am just repeating things I’m sure you already know, James, but what can I say? I do love the sound of my own typing.

  7. @Ronald Brak
    That’s right, converting the CO2 back to C is going to take *ALL* the energy obtained from burning the coal in the first place, ths is the first law of thermodynamics. Trying to do this for coal is absurd, any scientist proposing that is plain out lying. It might just work for hydrocarbons, though it would be an extreme/expensive way of reducing emissions.

    It may be suitable if using renewable energy to clean up once we have switched off fossil fuels but even then this would be a monumental undertaking.

    Some of the biomass/biochar measures sound more feasible but note that in all cases some form of biomass must use as much solar energy as was released in the first place. Which means that direct burning of biomass instead of fossils will have similar potential.

  8. @MartinK
    “Trying to do this for coal is absurd, any scientist proposing that is plain out lying.” No. The energy input will come from the sun directly or indirectly (solar, wind, wave, hydro) or radioactive decay in the Earth’s core (geothermal). These sources are unlimited for practical purposes, and there is no thermodynamic constraint. I agree that it would be grotesque to keep burning coal, then stop, then recreate the coal and bury it. But we may still be forced to it.

    Professor Licht does try to have it both ways. He first proposed his scheme to make graphite, which is what you would do to sequester CO2. You would presumably site the plants in the Sahara, which you would redecorate with tens of thousands of graphite Giza-size pyramids, or on boats over deep-ocean abyssal plains, just tipping the blocks overboard. I assume the Mariana Trench is a unique biome that should be left alone and not used as a dump. Now Licht has come up with an even cleverer scheme to grow carbon nanotubes directly on the anodes. This may pay, as nanotubes are valuable. However, he is still advertising the scheme as a form of sequestration and a solution to CO2. This is clearly absurd. Even 100 million tonnes of carbon nanotubes (50 Cheops), far more than any conceivable market, would be a drop in the carbon bucket.

  9. 3.6 tonnes of CO2 per tonne of Carbon burned – about 2.8 tonnes per tonne of coal on average, variable according to carbon content – I think that is the ultimate, unassailable barrier to capture and sequestration at reasonable cost. If we develop a way of using low emissions energy to capture it out of the atmosphere it would still be better to use that energy directly and not burn the fossil fuels.

  10. One thing I’ll mention is, since fossil fuels are likely to be used intermittently in the future, with solar and wind meeting all demand for increasing periods of time, this will make the cost of capturing CO2 at power stations higher as the captial will be sitting idle for increasing periods of time. And this will increase its cost relative to other methods of pulling carbon out of the air.

    Fermentation, whether to make alcoholic beverages or liquid biofuels, tends to proceed at a steady rate and produces a mostly pure stream of CO2 and water vapour, may be a useful point source of CO2. And I’m sure we can all think of people who would like to consider it their environmental duty to drink as much as possible.

  11. @Ronald Brak
    Good point about the intermittent (hiss hiss) fossil power stations. Gas peakers in the US have capacity factors under 10% (EIA, I linked to the page before).

    I should have added breweries and distilleries to my list of point and continuous sources of CO2 to feed sequestration plants.

  12. Here in South Australia the decision has finally been taken to shut down the old (1970s/80s) brown coal Leigh Creek power plant. It was not as old as Hazelwood, yet was still not economic to continue. The State will be powered entirely by wind and gas after decommissioning.

    What is interesting is that the sky has not fallen in as a result. The number of workers affected is very small. Less than 100 people will need retraining. The impact on power prices is reportedly zero; Leigh Creek would have required an expensive overhaul to continue.

    Hazelwood is almost 20 years older than Leigh Creek. The boilers and superheated pipework must be coroded and close to failure. The cost to replace them al, would be in the hundreds of millions. Would something as simple as a thorough condition and safety audit be enough to shut Hazelwood down? I gather it was for Leigh Creek, which was found to have major problems in an engineering survey.

  13. @Socrates

    Shutting the Leigh Creek power station is not as virtuous as it seems. South Australia gets all the electricity it needs but doesn’t produce itself from Victoria, which mostly makes electricity from brown coal.

  14. @Socrates

    The State will be powered entirely by wind and gas after decommissioning.

    Careful – a statement like that could be prone to misinterpretation! 😉

  15. @Tim Macknay

    The statement is wrong. The correct statement is that all the power produced in the state will be by wind and gas. But that is not the same thing as all power used in the state.

  16. @Uncle Milton
    I was thinking that it might be taken as a critical comment on the performance of South Australian football teams, or a commentary on the general propensities of South Australians. 😉

  17. @Uncle Milton
    You are correct, there are still substantial flows over the interconnector which come from other sources. So no, SA is not powered entirely by gas and wind.

  18. @Tim Macknay

    I missed it completely. 🙂

    Mind you, the Crows are still in it, and if they win the flag (unlikely, but still), it will be one of the great sporting stories, considering.

  19. You have to be a wonk to be right up with these things, but I was intrigued, what is the story of Kemper?

    Over due and over budget by about $8 billion, yet the report indicates that it is to some degree successful insofar as its owners ambit is concerned.

    However I have read the various qualifies other poster have added and was put in mind of Koch’s brutal tar sands refining, (yes I know, different process).

    Therefore it does seem to me also that this type of hi tech stuff does seem to proceed with a hint of desperation: the crackers are so habituated to the twentieth century life style that adjustment to new realities is a monumental effort for many people. Nostalgia seems a poor medium in which to cope through innovation with today’s problems

    Am glad that the effort in SA involving wind and solar is posed as an alternative and seems pretty poor that the country hasn’t been allowed to get on quickly with alternative energy tech this century… I suppose we are just an outpost of empire and the real decision were made elsewhere, by the grown ups and guardians.

  20. @Uncle Milton
    Yes Uncle Milton.

    Car’n you Mighty Crows. Despite a sinister collusion amongst Melbourne clubs to rig the draw, this brave footy team can only be on the march to glory.

  21. Does anyone have data on net imports as share of SA electricity consumption? Is reliance on imports constant, or are there exports when wind is blowing and imports at other times?

  22. The old saying “prevention is better than cure” applies. And when you think about it this old saying has a sound thermodynamic or energetic basis.

    Closing coal mines, tar sands plant and oil wells is prevention. CCS is supposedly a “cure” although actually it is a snake oil non-cure which means it is worse than useless.

    Our real problem is the overshoot both, to date and to come, as some further overshoot is still built into the system as it were. Really, we have to go into reverse and take it back to 350 ppm CO2e or lower. Whether we have centuries to do this safely I don’t know. But practicably it probably will take centuries now.

    As first step, we must halt the rise with great urgency. We need to retire at least 90% of current levels of fossil fuel burning by 2040 IMO.

  23. The simple reality is : South Australia is closing down. Absolutely nothing happening there. No industry. No commerce. Nothing. Solar is entirely appropriate because when the sun goes down, the whole place closes.

  24. @John Quiggin
    You might find these details in the reg test for the SA to Heywood Interconnector upgrade on the AEMO website. The capacity was increased from 460 MW to 650 MW to deal with the generation spikes from wind. Flows go both ways depending on wind generation output. Also net imports aren’t relevant. It is the peak flows and the consequential spike in dispatch costs to SA consumers from not having generating capacity to meet peak demand if the wind doesn’t blow.

  25. paul walter: It wasn’t the cut in subsidies(there’s a clue) that killed the Australian car industry. It was the Australian consumer. We didn’t want to buy the cars that they were making! Have a look at the latest model falcon. Would you buy one? Did you buy one? Would you buy one at half the price? No ,no and no

  26. South Australia generates electricity from wind equal to about one third of its total consumption and about 6% from rooftop solar. The rest is generated mostly from gas, although a large contribution comes from the one operating coal power station in the state, although at the time I write this it is currently not producing anything at all.

    Because Victoria’s wholesale electricity is, quite possibly, the cheapest in the world or at least the developed world, South Australia imports a lot as it is often cheaper than burning natural gas. Basically, whenever electricity prices are lower in Victoria then in South Australia, South Australia imports electricity. And when it is vice versa South Australia exports electricity. When South Australia exports it is usually in the early hours of the morning, but it has also exported electricity in the middle of the day when wind and solar production have been high.

    In the 2005-06 financial year South Australia exported almost no electricity while importing almost 2,700 gigawatt-hours. The years since then have been less one sided. A variety of factors affect imports and exports, but one of the most important has been the increase in renewable generating capacity in the state.

    A graph of electricity imports and exports for the past 10 years can be found on page 27 of the 2015 South Australian Electricity Report, a PDF of which can be obtained here:

  27. I probably should have mentioned that in 2014-15 South Australia’s grid electricity use was 12,468 gigawatt-hours, which was down 3.1% from the year before. In addition the state generated an estimated 857 gigawatt-hours from rooftop solar which is 6.4% of total electricity use. Wind power generated 4,226 gigawatt-hours for a total of 33.9% of grid electricity use or 31.7% of total electricity use. Net electricity imports were approximately 1,600 gigawatt-hours which was about 12% of total electricity use.

  28. So today, a fine Sunday, rooftop solar provided around 30% or more of total electricity use for several hours around noon. This resulted in the state exporting over 300 megawatts to Victoria at that time. The coal powered Northern Power Station was operating only one unit at minimum capacity. Apparently a wholesale price of about two and a half cents a kilowatt-hour is below its marginal cost and not worth burning more than the minimum amount of coal required to keep the plant operating.

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