Carbon capture and storage schemes, a key pillar of many governments’ net-zero emission plans, are “not a climate solution”, the author of a major new report on the technology has said.
Researchers at the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) found that low-performing carbon capture projects significantly outperformed successful ones by wide margins.
Of the 13 projects examined for the study, representing about 55% of the world’s current operating capacity, seven underperformed, two failed and one was suspended, according to the report.
“Many international agencies and national governments rely on carbon sequestration in the fossil fuel sector to get to net zero, and it just won’t work,” said Bruce Robertson, author of the IEEFA report.
Despite being a technology still in development, carbon capture and storage has been featured as a key element in the UK’s plans to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050.
Proposals put forward by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (Beis) suggest that up to 30 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions will need to be captured and sequestered each year in the UK alone by the mid-2030s, if goals are to be achieved. met. Internationally, to align with goals of reaching net zero by 2050, annual CCS capacity will need to reach 1.6 billion tonnes of CO2 each year by 2030, the International Energy Agency (IEA) said.
The IEEFA report said that although carbon capture and storage is a 50-year-old technology, its results have been mixed. Since then, most CCS projects have reused captured gas by pumping it into shrinking oil fields to help squeeze out the last few drops, he noted.
This “enhanced oil recovery” (EOS) accounts for about 73% of the CO2 captured globally each year, in recent years, according to the report. About 28 million tons of the 39 million tons captured globally, according to their estimates, are reinjected and sequestered in oil fields to extract more oil from underground.
“EOR itself leads to CO2 emissions both directly and indirectly,” the report says. “The direct impact is emissions from the fuel used to compress and pump CO2 deep into the ground. The indirect impact is the emissions from the burning of hydrocarbons that could now have come out without EOR.”
Another challenge is finding suitable storage sites for carbon sequestration, where the gas will not simply be used to extract more oil. Trapped CO2 will need to be monitored for centuries to ensure it doesn’t leak into the atmosphere, the report says, raising the risk of liability shifting to the public, years after private interests have wrung their profits from the company.
The risk is that CCS technology is used to extend the life of fossil fuel infrastructure well beyond the cut-off point for keeping atmospheric carbon below catastrophic levels, the report suggests.
“Despite [there is] some indications that it could have a role to play in hard-to-reduce sectors such as cement, fertilizers and steel, the overall results indicate a financial, technical and emissions reduction framework that continues to overestimate and underperform Robertson said.
However, he added: “As a solution to address the catastrophic increase in emissions in its current framework, CCS is not a climate solution.”
A Beis official disputed the report’s claims, pointing to Norway’s Sleipner and Snøhvit sites as examples of successful carbon storage. The UK had the potential to store 78 billion tonnes of CO2, and doing so was essential to meet net-zero emissions targets, the official said.
“We are determined to make the UK a world leader in this field and are exploring the potential of CCS as part of our plans for industrial decarbonisation,” the official said. “We are supporting this through our £1bn carbon capture infrastructure fund and have committed to establishing two CCS industry clusters by the mid-2020s and a further two by 2030.”
The IEA was also contacted for comment.