Global energy demand will rapidly grow into the foreseeable future. Even with significant reductions in fossil fuel reliance, commitments to a two degree emissions limit cannot be met unless the fossil fuels we continue to use are properly abated.
Emissions reduction will require a full suite of responses: increased use of renewable energy, greater energy efficiency, fuel switching, and the use of carbon capture and storage as the major technology to curb industrial emissions.
Carbon capture and storage (CCS) uses a group of known technologies to capture, transport and store carbon emissions from fossil fuel power plants and energy intensive industries like cement, steel and chemical production.
The International Energy Agency (IEA) states that CCS could reduce global carbon dioxide emissions by 13%, and that fighting climate change could cost 70% more without CCS.
Emissions are separated from industrial processes through solvent or membrane technologies that capture the carbon dioxide (CO2). The CO2 is then cooled and compressed to where it can be efficiently transported, either by pipeline or other means.
The CO2 is then injected deep underground into a specifically mapped geological formation, where the carbon will settle and remain for 1000 a years or longer. Read more on this process here. To provide ongoing assurance to the community that the CO2 remains where it is expected, it is monitored as part of the storage program.
The technologies involved in CCS are not inherently new having been applied in various forms for decades in the oil and gas industry, however their application to emissions reduction is relatively recent.
The IEA state that the level of fossil fuel energy in the global energy mix in 2013 was 81%. To keep global temperature rise below 2oC this will need to decrease to 40% of primary energy use by 2050. This will require 95% of coal fired power plants and 40% of gas fired power plants to be equipped with CCS.
A mix of carbon reduction technologies is required to reduce global emissions.
CCS is not just limited to power generation, but can be applied to other industrial sources, such as natural gas processing, fertiliser production, hydrogen production, and iron, steel and cement making. The carbon emissions of industrial processes are around a quarter of global carbon emissions. There is also the potential to apply CCS to bio-fuel generation to achieve negative emissions.
The first step in carbon capture and storage (CCS) is separating the carbon dioxide from other gases in the exhaust stream and, in the process, capturing the carbon dioxide (CO2).
CO2 capture can be applied to industrial sources of CO2, using a variety of CO2 capture technologies. Industrial processes such as the manufacture of some fertilisers, natural-gas processing and cement manufacturing are all industries that could lower their CO2 emissions with carbon capture technologies.
Most of modern industrial society’s emissions of carbon dioxide come from fossil fuel-fired power stations, which can have flue-gas carbon-dioxide concentrations as low as 10 to 15 per cent. Separating such low concentrations of carbon dioxide from an exhaust stream is a complex and, with today’s technology, expensive process. CO2CRC is conducting extensive research into CO2 capture technologies to reduce this cost.
Unless the source of separated carbon dioxide lies directly above or next to a site for injection, it is necessary to transport the carbon dioxide to the site, usually by pipeline, although ships could in some circumstances be used for large distances.
The carbon dioxide will normally be compressed to a supercritical state (a temperature and pressure at which it shows properties of both liquids and gases) before transport. Because of its potential corrosive effects, water (and possibly some contaminants) is removed before transport.
Carbon dioxide can be stored geologically:
The main geological conditions required for secure storage of carbon dioxide are:
Studies have shown that around the world there is enough geological storage for hundreds of years of global carbon dioxide emissions.