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6 February 2020

Time to call bullshit on Carbon Capture

Not only does carbon capture technology fall short of the standards to significantly reduce carbon emissions, but it’s likely that using the technology could actually see fossil fuel plants pump out a greater amount of CO2 than if the technology isn’t fitted.

Carbon capture and storage (CCS) has long been the elusive solution to the climate crisis. Here at Rethink Energy we have been skeptical about how effective it could be at removing carbon from the atmosphere and a recent study from Stanford University has reaffirmed our worries. The research published in the journal Energy Environmental Science has highlighted that the low capture rates of the technology, along with the energy required to power a carbon capture system, mean that both air pollution and social cost are increased versus a plant with no capture (See below).

Rather than going through natural methods of carbon capture like forestation, synthetic direct air carbon capture and storage (SDACCS) encompasses most artificial ways of removing CO2 directly from the air. After a chemical reaction using the carbon capture technology, the CO2 is either sequestered (stored underground or in a usable material) or sold as CO2 for industry.

Historically the industry has assumed that by using a process which only demands 25% more energy in the first place, CCS could remove between 85% and 90% of CO2 from the exhaust fumes of fossil fuel plants.

However, Professor Mark Jacobson from Stanford University highlights that, in testing, as little as 10.5% of the CO2 is removed over a 20-year period with only between 20% and 31% captured over 100 years. In his report, Jacobson summarizes that “spending on capture rather than wind replacing fossil or bioenergy always increases social cost. No improvement in equipment can change this conclusion while fossil emissions exist. Once fossil emissions end, carbon capture’s social costs must be evaluated against those of reforestation and reducing nonenergy halogen, nitrous oxide, methane, and biomass burning emissions.”

With this being the case, there really is no excuse for selecting carbon capture technologies, except in lobbying fossil-fuels in resistance against the transition to renewables.

Last week we wrote about Drax, and the company’s persistence in burning stuff to make money, using false promises of carbon capture in its route to be ‘carbon negative by 2030’. Drax is an absolute case in point that the technology has yet to show any signs of proving its worth, seeing plume emissions reduced by as little as 10% at its UK-based facility.

However, the problem is far more widespread. The ability of companies like Drax to pursue carbon capture is a result of continued support from leading organizations, which claim to be on the right side on the fight against climate change.

The IPCC, the guiding voice on limiting climate change, has stated that CCS can help reduce 75–90% of global CO2 emissions, with all but one of its pathways to net-zero emissions detailing a largescale buildout of carbon capture technology.

Regardless of the lack of technical success, support has persevered. Despite being a world leading organization, the IEA has become renowned for underestimating renewable technology – in light of market growth it has had to more than triple its expectations for the solar market up to 2040 between its 2014 and 2019 forecasts. With the same situation for wind power, you’d expect the same again for carbon capture, if it truly is a part of a decarbonized future.

You’d be wrong. In the IEA’s first roadmap for CCS in 2009 it predicted that the technology would be used in 22 GW worth of projects by 2020 – and as of yet we’ve not even reached half a GW.

It’s now clearer than ever that investing in carbon capture is a vain attempt to flog a dead fossil-fuel industry, when greater returns are certain from renewables. Carbon capture will not be part of a decarbonized energy mix – and pumping money in from any angle can only be considered as ‘greenwashing’ which will leave the fossil fuel sector with a plethora of stranded assets and economic losses in years to come.