A leading researcher into carbon capture and storage (CCS) believes the extent of carbon emissions being released by developing nations means the world cannot afford to ignore the claims of the technology as part of the solution.

Cambridge University’s Dr David Reiner is positive about CCS’s ability to tackle the climate problem, saying that projects on the cusp of being completed in North America will provide more confidence to policy-makers that it is worth the investment.

Dr David Reiner

Dr Reiner told Power Engineering International (PEi) that, “when you actually look at the nature of the climate problem, the reality is that we are so far from resolving it, that we need far more of each of the technologies that can contribute to a solution. Without being too blunt, unless we see serious action involving all of these we are in very serious trouble.”

The Cambridge University Senior Lecturer in Technology Policy has advised government, industry and non-governmental organisations on energy and environmental policy, with a particular emphasis on the politics of climate change and the social acceptability of carbon dioxide capture and storage technologies. He is uniquely placed to see failures in contemporary policy when it comes to effectively what is arguably the world’s most significant problem.

Dr Reiner told PEi that policy design has not been fit for purpose in tackling the commercial, economic and technical challenges associated with CCS. All the while efforts to address the CO2 problem in developed nations are being dwarfed by the colossal emissions being produced in the developing world by nations who are understandably unwilling to sacrifice economic growth in order to reduce emissions significantly and quickly enough.

“If you look at the perspective of China which adds the equivalent of the entire UK electricity fleet every year, adding 50 to 100 GW of new coal-fired generation per year, and they have done that every year for the last 15 years, if we can’t enable CCS we’re pretty much out of luck. That’s my perspective.”

“Take China in 2011. Despite Europe and North America declining in CO2 output, global emissions increased by 1 gigatonne or 1 billion tonnes of which 720 million tonnes were attributable to China, 140 to India. China mines something like 3 billion tonnes of coal a year now so the vast majority of global emissions increases over the last decade have been driven by China.”

“I think it’s absurd that the Netherlands is building up to three new unabated coal-fired plants in the next few years. As damaging as that is, it’s nothing like what’s going on in the developing world. China is proxy for that.”

In an extended interview to be published later this week on PEi online, Dr Reiner states that the technology to facilitate subterranean and sub-sea carbon capture and storage exists, as exemplified by the oil and gas industry. He believes that rather than the relatively modest sums being allocated to developing the technology, policy makers need to do more to force it to the forefront and incentivise the oil and gas industry with its technological expertise to get involved.

“There is a lot of experience and investment and technology out there that will tell you where to store CO2. The problem is there has been a very strong profit incentive for that industry in terms of profits to do conventional oil and gas extraction really well and invest billions over many decades.”

“If we are willing to take climate change seriously then it follows that the oil and gas industry will look to where the profits are and invest significantly in it.

Dr Reiner is keen to drive home the point of what neglect of CCS technology means in stark terms:

“As one of our colleagues at the British Geological Survey likes to say, CO2 might leak out. Yes, but currently leakage is 100 per cent. If we are talking about a leakage rate that’s .1 per cent or .01 per cent, if we are hoping to successfully store something like 90 something per cent, then compared to where we are today that has to be better.”

With new projects set to be operational in North America, he feels the technology may be given the boost it needs to convince policy makers to take up its cause in a more determined way.

It’s happening already with European Commissioner Gunther Oettinger upping the rhetoric at last week’s 2030 Green Paper launch, when he told the press, “coal consumption continues to increase and gas is used for electricity and heating and also produces CO2, so we think it is essential to capture and store CCS in future use.”

Dr Reiner acknowledged that Oettinger’s statement “is clearly a recognition that Europe, which had such great ambitions of up to 12 large-scale integrated CCS projects by 2015 has failed badly to date, but at least in some quarters, there is an appetite for taking at least a few projects forward. Europe’s multiple failures are particularly striking when compared to the number of CCS projects moving forward in North America.”

For example there are currently two major CCS projects to come on stream in Canada over the next two to three years; the $1.4bn Boundary Dam project and $1.35bn Shell Canada Quest: Oil Sands Carbon Capture Storage Project, which in the process of enhanced oil recovery will see the capture of several million tonnes of CO2.

“The absence of a fully integrated project is often cited by sceptics, or those who have self-interested reasons for being sceptical, as a reason to fight against it. We are at the stage where even one major new project will be quiet important from a signalling, or public demonstration point of view.”

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