If as few as 3,200 carbon sequestration projects were in operation around the world, that would be enough to provide more than 15% of the emissions reductions needed for a livable climate for the next generation, says Juho Lipponen, who heads the CCS unit of the International Energy Agency in Paris.
At least 25% of the 30 billion tons or so of new human-caused CO2 emitted each year comes from burning coal to generate power.
If we can limit the rise in CO2 to 450 parts per million by 2050, then we have a 50% chance of keeping global warming below 2 degrees (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) by 2100, say scientists. (While 2 degrees is far from an ideal target, it is politically the most achievable target that is not completely catastrophic.)
However, globally there are now fewer than half a dozen full-scale CCS projects in operation around the world. There were as many as 235 proposed CCS projects globally, 45 of them full-scale. Now there is one in the US (Wyoming), two in Norway, one in the Netherlands, one in Canada, and one in Algeria. All but one of these capture carbon from natural gas, which has only about half the greenhouse gas emissions of coal – because that is easier and cheaper to do. Coal is where the greatest need is.
But with the collapse of climate legislation that would have put a compulsory cap on carbon, polluter-pays funding for potential projects is now non existent in the US. Most of the eight or nine projects under way in the United States are now in doubt, says Howard Herzog, who researches sequestration at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge.
“A lot of the momentum that has been built up is just going to grind to a halt,” he says. “My hope is that we will see a few projects go ahead and serve as an example of what can be done when the politics turn around.”
Here’s an example: Nature reports on one US project:
American Electric Power (AEP) is trying to scale up a small sequestration demonstration project at its Mountaineer power plant in West Virginia, but state regulators have declined the company’s request to increase electricity prices to help raise the US$670 million needed. The US Department of Energy has committed to paying 50% of the funds, but that isn’t enough to keep the project moving, and Morris says that regulators don’t see why local customers should pay for what is supposed to be a national demonstration project.
Now, if there were Cap and Trade, then AEP would still have to pay for the carbon capture project. That is no different than what the state regulators are asking AEP to do now. But AEP is asking regulators to shift the costs to customers, and when denied, is using this as the excuse to do nothing. But if we had Cap and Trade, where all carbon must be capped at certain limits, and ratcheted down each year, then AEP would have no choice. Nor would any of its competitors. They would all be on a level playing field.
That is why Michael Morris, chief executive of AEP, says: “The energy industry needs a signal from politicians in Washington DC”.
- AEP must decide by May 11 how to make up for unlawful charges (dispatch.com)
- DOE Invests in Greenfire’s CCS that Makes Geothermal Cheaper (cleantechnica.com)
- Summary Box: AEP 1Q net income up 3 percent (seattletimes.nwsource.com)
- Energy: A Special Section: Tucking Carbon Into the Ground (nytimes.com)