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Carbon Capture Must Prevent 85-90% CO2 Emissions to Meet Climate Goals

coal power plantCarbon capture and storage (CCS) can help countries achieve emissions goals outlined in the Paris climate agreement — but first CCS technology must improve so that it captures at least 95 percent of CO2 emissions, according to researchers from the Sustainable Gas Institute at Imperial College London.

Currently CCS technology captures about 85 to 90 percent of these emissions; the remaining 10 to 15 percent are released into the atmosphere. If researchers can refine the technology, more of this so-called “unburnable carbon” can be used, the white paper says.

Researchers from Imperial College have developed models that predict the impact of CCS on the use of fossil fuel resources, assuming the technology continues to improve its capture rates. They calculate that CCS technology would allow more fossil fuels to be burnt in this century, while still limiting global warming to 2 degrees Celsius. However, burning fossil fuels as opposed to clean energy sources still releases other emissions.

“This report shows us a way forward, which may enable us to continue to use fossil fuels as an important part of the energy mix, while remaining in the 2 degrees Celsius limitations,” said Nigel Brandon, director of the Sustainable Gas Institute at Imperial College London, in a statement. “That said, we won’t get there unless there is greater support from governments for adopting CCS, together with more investment in improving CCS technology to reduce its residual carbon dioxide emissions.”

Previous studies exploring the impact of CCS on unburnable carbon have only considered a timeframe of up to 2050, during which time CCS would be expected to have a relatively small impact on the amount of fossil fuels that can be used.

In the new white paper, the team extended the timeframe to 2100. The modelling showed that up to a third more fossil fuel resources could be consumed globally, than if CCS was not in use, while still remaining in 2 degrees C limitations.

Calculations up to 2050 show that around 3,500 to 5,000 exajoules (EJ) could be consumed if CCS was implemented globally, but by 2100 this increases to 14,000 to 16,000 EJ. An exajoule is equal to one quintillion jules. For comparison: energy used in the US is about 94 EJ per year. 

The total global underground storage capacity for CO2 was also calculated in the report. The team estimated that there would be around 10,450 to 33,153 giga-tonnes of capacity available. At current global yearly emission rates, this would equate to around three centuries of storage capacity for the world.

The team also reported on the barriers that need to be overcome if CCS is to be successfully implemented. Some of these barriers include the initial costs of implementing the technology, the lack of market and regulatory arrangements currently in place, as well as major gaps in the overall CCS supply chain, including a shortage of skilled labor, and a cautious public perception of the technology.

To address these issues in the short term, the researchers say more research needs to be carried out to refine CCS technology.

Alongside this, researchers say government must enact new policies that support development of this technology. They believe this needs to happen at the early stage when more demonstration plants are being built and maintained right through to the application of CCS in a global mass market.

The report comes as the US Department of Energy has suspended funding for a large CCS project in Texas, the fifth such project the DOE has backed away, according to Inside Climate News.

Government policies that support carbon capture and storage are the “missing ingredient” in faster adoption of the technology, according to researchers and NGOs as well as energy majors. BP and Shell have called for a carbon price, which they say would make carbon capture economical.

Earlier this month ExxonMobil and FuelCell Energy said they are working together to advance a carbon capture technology that could “substantially reduce costs” associated with carbon capture. But commercial development is still years away.

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