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Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Report: CCS needed now

The ENGO Network, a global network on environmental NGOs, has issued a report on the future and potential role of carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology in mitigating climate disruption.

Perspectives on Carbon Capture and Storage offers four main arguments for the urgent deployment of CCS.  The first is that CCS provides a means to reduce emissions from the vast number of existing stationary power sources, primarily fueled by coal. The sheer size of this installed base and its projected growth makes it “a daunting proposal” to replace it entirely through efficiency and renewable energy.  The report says, with a healthy dose of realism:

“Even if such replacement is technically possible (and credible country analyses say that it is), very large economic, political and social inertia would need to be overcome for this to happen… A balanced and hedged approach, at the very least, dictates having contingencies in place in case the shift away from fossil fuels takes longer than planned or desired.  CCS offers precisely such a capability to dramatically reduce emissions from fossil fuel use both at existing facilities and at future ones.

With the advent of the global shale gas boom; however, the report notes that even natural gas’ 50% lower carbon intensity in power generation is incompatible with averting climate catastrophe, and calls for CCS to be used in natural gas applications.

ENGO’s second argument is that the scale of emission reductions needed to combat climate disruption means that no single technology will be able to deliver those reductions by itself.  A portfolio of technologies increases the probability of achieving emission reduction targets, likely at lower overall costs.

ENGO says that globally, a fifth of CO2 emitted from fuel combustion comes from industrial processes. That fact leads to their third argument – that for some industrial applications, there are few other ways available today besides CCS to achieve large emission reductions. 

Fourth, ENGO says that we are going to have to actually remove CO2 from the atmosphere to have a chance at avoiding 2 degrees warming.   An available means to do that – already providing 10 per cent of total global primary energy use, according to ENGO - is deploying sustainable biomass energy production with CCS, “such as power plants that co-fire biomass and fossil fuel, combined heat and power plants and a range of flue gas streams from the pulp and paper industry, fermentation in ethanol production and biogas upgrading processes.” 

ENGO says that CCS technology is effective, safe, and available today, enabling the deployment of the technology to begin worldwide “immediately” with the right regulatory oversight.  However, policy shortfalls must be overcome: establishing a price on carbon emissions, much stricter emission performance standards for power plants, and more government funding for R&D and early deployment.

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