Monday, December 3, 2012

Carbon Capture and Storage Viability?

I had an argument with my friend over the viability of carbon capture and storage (CCS) at a dinner party Saturday night. To avoid public humiliation we'll give my friend the fake name Thor because nobody could really have that name. Thor has a phD in Chemistry. He's sensible and intelligent but he took the position that CCS is a farce and I immediately took the position that its only a few dollars a GJ and the only reason we aren't seeing it is cost. Thor is right and I am wrong but Thor is still wrong and I am still right because if I wasn't I'd have lost the argument. The biggest hurdle we all face in this battle and many others is the fact that reality is complex. So complicated is the world that we need to defer to scientists and engineers who make studying these things their life's work. Thor dismissed Carbon Capture and Storage as a farce based on what a smart guy he knows said. And I was too quick to take offense to that and react with my claim that the only reason we aren't capturing carbon is cost. Truth is I don't know much about CCS. Turns out after only 15 minutes of research on my part Sunday morning that there's a little truth to what Thor was saying and there's a lot of truth to what I was saying. Or maybe its the other way around? Its not straightforward. There are no published viability numbers and that means the numbers aren't pretty. I was quite wrong to think it was just a matter of a couple of dollars per GJ stopping us from localized CCS and an electric car future full of easy transportation solutions. Thor was also wrong that CCS isn't part of the broad base of solutions that will be needed moving forward. Its real. It works sometimes in certain situations and the mitigation effects can be fantastic but not anywhere and everywhere. You need to be careful where you store the CO2 and how. The viability of the site itself is crucial to the success of projects case by case. Just do your own search on carbon capture viability, cost, economics, whatever and you'll soon see that this is a huge field. Oil companies are involved. The Weyburn oil fields in Saskatchewan are semi depleted so to extract more oil (enhanced oil recovery) Cenovus have started injecting CO2 and it has greatly enhanced oil production. They are actually piping CO2 from the US to this facility and buying the CO2. Storing it in exhausted oil fields is one of the safest and easiest methods it turns out and there is no cost in this one case because it enhances oil production. There are many other examples of major investments in CCS going on worldwide. The ocean storage option has to be done at low depths (pressure resistance to absorption) and there are lots of issues. In some schemes CO2 leakage and re-emission is a problem that is being studied and has been for 20 years. 1700 people were asphixiated in Cameroon in 1986 when naturally sequestered CO2 rose up from a lake after a volcanic event. Mechanical sequestering does cost energy. One case I just read about said sequestering reduced overall capacity of one coal plant 25%. That doesn't make the coal plant useless. That does raise the cost and reduce the capacity. That was my point in our little debate. There is a cost associated with carbon capture and few are going to pay that cost if they don't have to. The lack of a carbon cost or proper regulation greatly restricts adoption of all things clean-tech. How can we compete against free?