Let’s Talk About CO2 Baby – Carbon Capture & Storage

Well said, Salt ‘N’ Peppa, let’s talk about it: 

U.S. Carbon Dioxide Emissions, By Source

News flash: we need to curb CO2 emissions to slow climate change. While Tesla is working to clean up transportation, electricity generation and industrial production cause more than 50% of emissions. CO2 is not only a direct result of fossil fuel combustion, but also a byproduct of industrial production such as cement, steel, and paper.

We now have technology to prevent large amounts of CO2 from being released into the atmosphere. Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS): capturing CO2 produced by large industrial and power plants, compressing it for transportation, and then injecting it deep into a rock formation where it is permanently stored. You may know this as “clean coal”.

Right. Now In Layman’s Terms

CCS basically returns fossil fuels to where they came from. Here’s a simplified analogy:

Using fossil fuels is like eating McDonald’s; we do it because it’s cheap and satisfies our need for energy. But it gives us a lot of excess unhealthy calories, more than the amount our bodies need to function. CCS is like continuing to eat McDonald’s but being able to block a substantial amount of the extra calories that our bodies don’t need. 

Whoopty Do, What does it all mean?

The technology has to be further developed to reduce the cost, but it already works in 22 CCS facilities that capture carbon either pre- or post-combustion. But where do we put that extra CO2? Won’t it just go back into the atmosphere or ocean?

The captured CO2 is injected into rock formations deep underground where it’s trapped beneath an impermeable cap rock, thereby permanently removing it from the atmosphere. Iceland went a step further and successfully converted CO2 into solid rock. A project called CarbFix – not an Icelandic soccer diet – imitates the natural CO2 storage process observed in basaltic rocks.

Oil and gas industry giants including BP have used CCS technology for decades for enhanced oil recovery (EOR). This allows them to squeeze more oil out of the ground and any leftover CO2 is stored deep underground.

Although this storage process has occurred naturally for millennia (hence where we got the fossil fuels in the first place!), it remains a challenge to describe this process to the public. That’s why you’re reading this now — to get the word out about CCS.

You Know, We Could Just Plant More Trees

True. Trees are the original clean technology and forests are natural CCS systems. In fact, forests removed 22-26% of our carbon emissions in the 2000s. Unfortunately, business is booming for deforestation, which causes as much as 18% of global annual emissions.

This past Monday, White House science adviser John Holdren commented that a “keep it in the ground” movement regarding fossil fuels is “unrealistic”. Like with that colleague who rambles on and on, we’ve got to put up with coal and natural gas for a while. That’s our source of energy during this bridge phase to renewables. 

CCS can significantly reduce CO2 until clean technologies are intertwined in all industries. Here are some shareable Cold Hard Facts:

  • The 22 worldwide CCS projects will be able to capture 40 million tonnes of carbon dioxide annually…shaving 0.1% off global emissions each year.  

  • In 2014, global emissions were due to reach 40,000 million tonnes, with nearly 16,000 million tonnes from coal alone.  

  • There are around 50 CO2 pipelines currently operating in the US, which transport approximately 68 million tonnes per annum of CO2.

  • The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimates the world’s potential capacity at two trillion tonnes, although it may possess ‘much larger potential’.  

  • In 2006, Norway’ said carbon capture and storage would be the country’s equivalent of the “Moon landing”. Now, it’s the first government to consider implementing CCS by 2022.

Most of the information in this newsletter comes from The Global CCS Institute.


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Zoheb is the founder of Cleantech Rising, a newsletter delivers information about the latest clean technologies and sustainable innovations. In his work with impact investing funds, Zoheb steers capital towards environmentally sustainable companies around the world. Twitter: @humphreyzogart

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