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Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Whither CCS? More questions than answers

Shifting politics. Lack of community acceptance. Technical challenges. Geomechanical roadblocks. Regulations. Budget cuts. These are some of the challenges that continue to plague the nation’s (and the world's) efforts to advance carbon capture and storage technology. This excellent summary of those challenges, if anything, understates the situation - and certainly understates the dogged, dedicated efforts of the nation's regional carbon sequestration partnerships that labor against long odds

Can those challenges be overcome? Not without a national - indeed, global - commitment.

Some hope that the latest information about the forthcoming IPCC report will spur action on CCS. That's debatable, since it reportedly contains no revelations beyond near-unanimity of scientific opinion that human activities are the cause of global climate disruption. After all, this record consensus was reached a year after carbon dioxide emissions reached a new record high. Will moving from 90% confidence to 95% really propel action – rather than continued smallish-scale research - on CCS, or green energy, or efficiency?  

Will near-certainty give urgency to applying CCS to the immense - and growing - global coal-fired power fleet? Or to applying CCS to natural gas plants (a better bet than coal)? Or spur the invention of new technologies with hyperbolic claims? Or drive the development of last resort technologies like Direct Air Capture?

Can the long-run interests of the natural gas industry or markets for CO2 like enhanced oil recovery (EOR) or enhanced gas recovery (EGR) – using fossil fuel production to save us from the effects of fossil fuel combustion - leverage faster development of CCS? Could the development of carbon sequestration networks be an answer to the CCS conundrum?

Time will tell how - or whether - we answer these questions.  But from the standpoint of preserving a habitable climate, time is clearly running out.

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