Carbon capture and storage schemes, a key plank of many governments’ net-zero plans, “is not a climate solution,” the author of a major new report on the technology has said.
Researchers for the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) found underperforming carbon capture projects considerably outnumbered successful ones by large margins.
Of the 13 projects examined for the study — accounting for about 55 per cent of the world’s current operational capacity — seven underperformed, two failed and one was mothballed, the report found.
“Many international bodies and national governments are relying on carbon capture in the fossil fuel sector to get to net-zero, and it simply won’t work,” Bruce Robertson, the author of the IEEFA report, said.
Despite being a technology still in development, carbon capture and storage has been put forward as a key element in the U.K.’s plans to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.
Proposals put forward by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (Beis) suggest that up to 30 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions will need to be captured and sequestered every year in the U.K. alone by the mid-2030s if targets are to be met. Internationally, to align with goals to reach net-zero by 2050, annual CCS capacity will need to reach 1.6 billion tonnes of CO2 every year by 2030, the International Energy Agency (IEA) has said.
IEEFA’s report said that although carbon capture and storage is a 50-year-old technology, its results have been varied. Most CCS projects have since reused captured gas by pumping it into dwindling oilfields to help squeeze out the last drops, it pointed out.
This “enhanced oil recovery” (EOR) accounts for about 73 per cent of the CO2 captured globally each year, in recent years, according to the report. Roughly 28 million tonnes out of the 39 million tonnes captured globally, according to its estimates, are reinjected and sequestered in oilfields to push more oil out of the ground.
“EOR itself leads to CO2 emissions both directly and indirectly,” the report said. “The direct impact is the emissions from the fuel used to compress and pump CO2 deep into the ground. The indirect impact is the emissions from burning the hydrocarbons that could now have come out without EOR.”
The technology, put forward as part of the U.K.’s net-zero strategy, could extend the life of fossil fuel infrastructure, according to the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis. #IEEFA #CCS #ClimateChange #NetZero #FossilFuels
A further challenge is finding suitable storage sites for carbon sequestration, where the gas will not merely be used to push out more oil. According to the report, trapped CO2 will need monitoring for centuries to ensure it does not leak into the atmosphere — raising the risk of liability being handed over to the public, years after private interests have extracted their profits from the enterprise.
The risk is that CCS technology will be used to extend the life of fossil fuel infrastructure long past the cut-off point for maintaining atmospheric carbon at less than catastrophic levels, the report suggested.
“Although [there is] some indication it might have a role to play in hard-to-abate sectors, such as cement, fertilizers and steel, overall results indicate a financial, technical and emissions-reduction framework that continues to overstate and underperform,” Robertson said.
However, he added: “As a solution to tackling catastrophic rising emissions in its current framework, CCS is not a climate solution.”
A Beis official disputed the report’s claims, pointing to Norway’s Sleipner and Snøhvit sites as examples of successful carbon storage. The U.K. had the potential to store 78 billion tonnes of CO2, and doing so was essential to meet net-zero emissions targets, the official said.
“We are determined to make the U.K. a world leader in this field and are exploring the potential of CCS as part of our plans for industrial decarbonization,” the official said. “We are supporting this through our £1-billion carbon capture infrastructure fund and have committed to establishing two CCS industrial clusters by the mid-2020s and a further two by 2030.”
The IEA was also contacted for comment.