CCS: The Next Step Against Global Warming?

Group 16

The impact of anthropogenic greenhouse gases, emitted when burning fossil fuels to generate energy, are generally accepted and have risen global temperatures by 1℃, affecting climates across the world (Worldbank 2020). Even so, fossil fuel power stations provide 80% of the energy used around the world for heating, transportation and electricity (Shell 2020).

The challenge we therefore face is how the energy sector can meet constantly rising energy demands, whilst minimising the production of GHG. Carbon Capture and storage is a method of capturing waste carbon emissions from fossil fuel power plants and depositing them in a storage site where it will not enter the atmosphere, this is a new technology which offers a different route to mainstream renewable systems. Although all climate change technology has the potential to cause harm, as Brown states, “these potential harms need to be balanced against the innate risks of impending global warming” (Brown 2003).

Mitigate or Adapt

Within the scientific and ethical community it is generally acknowledged that we should take action against global warming by two methods, mitigation and adaptation (Gardiner 2004). It is also generally agreed that a large part of this should be mitigation as adaptation does not suffice (Stern 2008). CCS would therefore be considered as a form of mitigation in this context, as a retrofit technology for fossil fuel power plants to reduce GHG released into the atmosphere.

Using mitigating technology such as CCS is seen by Littlecott as a way of justifying our ongoing reliance on fossil fuelled energy sources and perpetuates an ignorant “business as usual” attitude, detrimental for developing a society with completely clean energy sources (Littlecott 2008)(Wuebbles 2001).

Although the world is moving towards this goal as it is capable; a global increase in population means, discontinuing the use of fossil fuels will have a negative impact on human well-being (Hughes 2009). The problem in this argument therefore becomes a question of comparing energy longevity for future generations by adapting to alleviating the suffering of current generations through mitigation. CCS would therefore be a technology to allow the continued use of fossil fuels which can improve the current energy impoverished societal groups and the general comfortability of the world’s population. In this respect CCS should not be seen as a barrier to cleaner energy sources but a step towards finding more time to achieve them.

Energy Penalties

Adapting fossil fuel power stations with CCS technology incurs an energy penalty, which equates to an increase in GHG emission. CCS reduces the energy efficiency of a power plant as it requires power input to compress, transport and process CO2 on top of initial installation; this means more fossil fuels would need to be burnt for the same level of power production (Rubin 2012). House et al estimates the energy penalty of CCS to the amount of “15-20% reduction in overall electricity use”, such a significant energy waste would be detrimental to developing countries, however recent researchers have identified CCS as vital to any technology combating climate change (House et al 2009)(Liang et al 2011).

Similarly a major disadvantage of storing CO2 is leakage, especially considering the long time period. Shafer suggests a leakage rate of 1% per 10 years would be enough to cancel out the initial benefits implementation would offer (Shaffer 2010); however, allowing 100% of the emissions to enter the atmosphere would surely be worse.  Clearly analysing the inherent risks of new technology such as CCS, with accuracy, is a complex task and applying this to the public perspective even more so. Risks are heavily dictated by the distinction between objection and societal constructs, Huijets shows that people can accept risks with clear benefits depending on the perceived severity and irreversibility to themselves and friends (Bradbury et al 2009) (huijts et al 2007). Taking this into account applying CCS technology would have to find a balance between local immediate impact, long term risks to the environment and potential overall benefits to global warming.

As of 2019, only 17 large industrial plants have installed CCS. This partly stems from the research and development costs being carried out to the consumer, but since there are no strict policies which mandate the use of CCS, this remains high. The research period for CCS to take place is constrained by the limits set by de Coninck et al, who says “the usefulness of the technology is predicated on it being well established by 2030”(de Coninck et al 2009). Similarly to paragraph four, critiques have argued that the cost of CCS can be seen as a delaying strategy, so that the cost of adapting technology is left as a burden for future generations; however as Nordhaus states the current climate should be valued much more highly due to uncertainty in economic growth and human nature (Nordhaus 2007). Taking this into consideration,CCS would therefore be a justifiable means for research in order to reduce the cost of the devices to a commercial level and solidify the technology as an acceptable forerunner in mitigating technology.

As seen in the arguments above it is clear that CCS is a young technology, with an undefined status in the public eye due to a lack of research and media coverage. In order for fossil fuel power plants use a high cost mitigating technology the long term perceived benefits and intentions need to be clear, as currently CCS is not an option within the topic of climate change. 

References

Bradbury, Judith, Isha Ray, Tarla Peterson, Sarah Wade, Gabrielle Wong-Parodi, and Andrea Feldpausch. “The Role of Social Factors in Shaping Public Perceptions of CCS: Results of Multi-State Focus Group Interviews in the U.S.” Energy Procedia 1, no. 1 (2009): 4665-672.

Brown, Donald A. (2003) “The Importance of Expressly Examining Global Warming Policy Issues through an Ethical Prism.” Global Environmental Change 13, no. 4: 229-34.

Gardiner, Stephen m.(2004) “Ethics and Global Climate Change *.” Ethics 114, no. 3 : 555-600.

De Coninck, H., Stephens, J. C, & Metz, B. (2009) “Global learing on carbon capture storage: A call for strong international cooperation on CCS demonstration.” Energy Policy 2161-2165.

Gary Shaffer. “Long-term Effectiveness and Consequences of Carbon Dioxide Sequestration.” Nature Geoscience 3, no. 7 (2010): 464-467.

House, Kurt Zenz, Charles F. Harvey, Michael J. Aziz, and Daniel P. Schrag. (2009)”The Energy Penalty of Post-combustion CO 2 Capture & Storage and Its Implications for Retrofitting the U.S. Installed Base.” Energy & Environmental Science 2, no. 2 : 193-205.

Huijts,N.M. A.,Midden, C. J. H., & Meijinder, A.L., (2007). “Social acceptance of carbon dioxide storage” Energy policy, 2780-2789.

Hughes, L. (2009)“The Four ‘R’s of energy security, Energy Policy” 2459 – 2461.

Liang, Xi, David Reiner, and Jia Li. “Perceptions of Opinion Leaders towards CCS Demonstration Projects in China.” Applied Energy 88, no. 5 (2011): 1873-885.

Littlecott, C. (2008)“A last chance for coal: Making carbon capture and storage a reality. London: Green Aliance.

Wuebbles, Donald J, and Atul K Jain. (2001) “Concerns about Climate Change and the Role of Fossil Fuel Use.” Fuel Processing Technology 71, no. 1-3: 99-119.

Nordhaus,W.D.(2007). “ A review of the Stern review on the economics of Climate Change.” Journal of ecnomic literature, 686-702.

Rubin, Edward S, Hari Mantripragada, Aaron Marks, Peter Versteeg, and John Kitchin. (2012)”The Outlook for Improved Carbon Capture Technology.” Progress in Energy and Combustion Science 38.5 : 630-71. Web.

Stern, Nicholas. (2008)”The Economics of Climate Change.” American Economic Review 98, no. 2 : 1-37.

“Fossil Fuel Energy Consumption (% of Total).” Data. Accessed April 2, 2020. https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/eg.use.comm.fo.zs.

Shell.com. 2020. [online] Available at: <https://www.shell.com/energy-and-innovation/the-energy-future/scenarios/shell-scenarios-energy-models/world-energy-model/_jcr_content/par/textimage.stream/1510344160326/2ee82a9c68cd84e572c9db09cc43d7ec3e3fafe7/shell-world-energy-model.pdf> [Accessed 2 April 2020].

30 thoughts on “CCS: The Next Step Against Global Warming?

  1. A good topic but one that really needs ethical support. You’re looking at this as engineers, explaining what the issues are. you need to look at this from the point of view of “Should we employ CCS?” and use the four theories to argue For and Against.

    1. thank you for your comment and I agree with your statement, a more explicit approach to how the four theories apply to this argument would benefit the reader. Do you think this article has provided enough information for the readers to apply their own point of view to however? and would this provide some beneit over an explicit ethical arguement?

      1. There are two replies to your comment:

        1. The official one – you need to show where the four theories support the arguments For and Against. Failure to do so costs you marks! Make sure you do this for Assignment Two!

        2. Informal reply – it’s not a good idea to write an opinion piece such as this and leave the readers to make up their own minds BECAUSE readers will do just that anyway. Give your readers your view as that gives them something to work with/against.

  2. Good article that explores a different perspective on the issue of global warming and greenhouse gases. It clearly explains how Carbon Capture and Storage works, and the issues and challenges that it will face to become the mainstream technology in the energy sector. shining a light on CCS as alternative method to mitigate the effects of global warming rather than renewable energy is a fresh take on well worn idea.

  3. Can CCS technology adapt with the increase of demand? For example, if more energy is needed to be generated, can the CCS technology deal with the resulted increase of carbon emission and only the allowable percentage will be sent outside?

    1. Thank you for commenting,

      It is true, as we stated in the article, that installing CCS would negatively affect the net power output. As a result, more fuel would be burned to keep energy demand.
      But we believe that the world can adapt to this change, especially as fossil fuels provide clean energy when combined with CCS.

      of course that penalty would decrease over time as more research is devoted to CCS.

      Thank you for your comment

  4. Interesting article, CCS can really prove to be beneficial in the future. I understand that the energy penalty in power plants is currently sitting around 20%. Does the reduction in total CO2 output from the power plant due to CCS outweigh the extra energy needed?

    1. Thank you for your comment Niallinio,

      We believe the reduction in CO2 output does outweigh the extra energy for two reasons:-

      1- CCS technology is not fully developed yet, so the 20% penalty would most likely decrease if more research went into CCS.

      2- We believe that the transition from fossil fuels to CCS is more likely compared to the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy. That is because governments as well as energy companies have invested billions into fossil fuel power plant across the world. so giving that we are near the point of no return, we think that the current 20% penalty can be endured to mitigate the effects of global warming.

      Thanks

  5. I have just completed reading your article on Carbon Capture and Storage. It was an exceptionally well-written article and created many interesting suggestions on the subject.

    I particularly liked the fact that it was an objective look at the issue, pointing out the advantages and disadvantages of ccs.

    I would like to thank you for both a well researched and well-written article.

  6. Good article, i wish you have talked about energy subsidies and how they have boosted the use of renewable energy. Prices of renewable energy would have been a lot higher and uneconomical had subsidies not been used.

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