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Credit: CREA

Climate Change

China Pushes Ahead With Carbon Capture While IPCC Warns Against It

China is crowing about two new carbon capture projects while adding dozens more coal generating stations to its electrical grid.

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China wants everyone to know that it is taking global heating seriously. Last week, its first offshore carbon capture and storage project went online. Located in the South China Sea, the project is installed at the Enping 15-1 oil platform, approximately 125 miles (200 km) from the city of Shenzhen, where carbon dioxide captured from the country’s coal fields is injected into a dome-shaped geological structure nearly half a mile below the sea bed.

According to Interesting Engineering, deep saline aquifers and depleted oil and gas layers typically serve as subsurface storage options. These are large structures with diameters exceeding six miles (10 km). When carbon dioxide is injected into them, it rises to the top and is secured in the dome-shaped structure. Storing 1.5 million tons of carbon dioxide is equivalent to planting 14 million trees.

Also last week, the China Energy Investment Corporation, also known as China Energy, confirmed that its carbon capture and storage facility (CCUS) is now operational at a coal-fired generating station in the East Jiangsu province. That project is designed to capture 500,000 tonnes of carbon every year and is the largest CCUS facility in Asia. Globally, it is the third largest such facility, surpassed only by similar installations in the U.S. and Canada.

The East Jiangsu facility uses an amine absorbent that binds with the carbon dioxide collected by pipes located in the smokestacks of the coal-fired facility. The amine absorbent developed by Chinese researchers is capable of capturing one ton of carbon dioxide using less than 90 kW of electricity. When heated, the absorbent releases almost pure carbon dioxide gas, which can be pressurized and stored in containers. Using the absorbent has also resulted in reducing energy consumption by 35 percent, China Energy said in a report.

Since the carbon captured has a high purity, it can be deployed for a vast array of applications ranging from dry ice applications to shielding gases for welding. The cost of producing a ton of carbon dioxide is about $35 (270 yuan) and it can also be used to make carbonated beverages. It can also be sold to nearby regions or exported to other countries.

Curb Your Enthusiasm

carbon dioxide

Credit: Center for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA)

Before you get all giddy about this new push by China to capture carbon dioxide, here are a few things you might want to keep in mind. According to the Center for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA), coal power plant permitting, construction starts, and new project announcements accelerated rapidly in China in 2022, with new permits reaching the highest level since 2015. The coal power capacity starting construction in China was six times as large as that in all of the rest of the world combined — around 50 GW.

Whatever carbon dioxide is captured or stored by these two new projects, it won’t amount to a piss hole in the snow when compared to the massive amounts of new carbon dioxide — billions and billions of tons — those new coal-fired generating stations will add to the atmosphere each and every year for the next 50 years or so, which is the normal useful life of a coal-powered facility.

CREA points out that a rapid expansion of renewable energy installations can compensate somewhat for the increased carbon dioxide from those new power plants, but the politically influential owners of the new power plants will have an interest in protecting their assets and avoiding a rapid buildout of clean energy and a phaseout of coal.

While China is making rapid progress in scaling up clean energy, the country’s power system remains dependent on coal power for meeting electricity peak loads and managing the variability of demand and clean power supply. The continued addition of new coal power capacity implies insufficient emphasis on overcoming the power system and power market constraints that perpetuate dependence on coal, CREA reports.

The worst case scenario is that the pressure to make use of the newly built coal power plants and prevent a steep fall in utilization leads to a moderation in China’s clean energy buildout, and the promotion of energy intensive industries to consume the electricity. This could mean a major increase in China’s CO2 emissions over this decade, which will not only undermine the global climate effort, but could put China’s climate commitments in danger.

IPCC Issues A Warning About Carbon Capture

Hoesung Lee, chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, said this week that using technologies that capture carbon dioxide or remove it from the atmosphere is “no free lunch.” He suggest that countries looking to carbon capture to lower their carbon emissions should be wary of the technology.

“Carbon dioxide removal methods will be much in demand if overshoot occurs,” Lee said. Overshoot will happen if average global temperature increases more than 1.5° C above pre-industrial levels. Some scientists think we may have already passed that point.

“But there will be a cost to doing that. There’s no free lunch. And that cost includes that the longer the period of overshoot, there will be additional global warming, and there will be consequences of increased warming. There is also the possibility of positive feedback from that additional warming, creating more losses and damages during the overshoot period,” he warned. “So one wishes to avoid such an overshoot scenario.”

Such brilliant understatement. Lee means to suggest we will be screwed six ways to Sunday if the 1.5° C barrier is breached, but as an international spokesperson, he is too polite to say so.

Governments must make their own decisions on whether to use carbon capture and storage technology, Lee said, as the IPCC advises only on science and is neutral on policy. “CCS technologies are all part of the solutions,” he told The Guardian in an interview.

The weasels who speak for the fossil fuel industry have argued the latest IPCC report justifies the continued production of oil and gas, citing a finding that a small amount of oil and gas production in 2050 was compatible with the need to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions by that date.

But one IPCC author told The Guardian that while the IPCC had found some oil and gas could still be produced in 2050, while sticking to the 1.5°C limit, fossil fuel producers should not conclude from this that they could keep operating. “We need to reduce fossil fuels drastically,” the author said.

Mark Maslin, professor of earth system science at University College London, said, “Just because there is an understanding that complete removal of fossil fuel use would be almost impossible in this century is no justification to expand production.” He said we need to halve production in the coming decade and get it “as close to zero as possible by 2050.”

Professor Michael Mann, a climatologist at the University of Pennsylvania, told The Guardian that oil producers were misrepresenting the IPCC’s findings if they argued for a continued use of fossil fuels. “The IPCC doesn’t weigh in what energy sources will or will not be needed decades from now. While low levels of carbon emissions could be offset with negative emissions technology by 2050, there is no room in such scenarios for substantive reliance on oil, gas, or coal decades from now if we are to achieve the necessary reductions.”

Lip Service In High Places

Lots of people refer to IPCC research, but few incorporate its findings into their thinking. China needs coal power plants to manufacture solar panels. Oil and gas companies bend and twist the plain words of the IPCC reports to continue doing what they have always done. Politicians are petrified of telling voters the truth, and so they continue to utter the same old platitudes about geoengineering and carbon capture.

Instead of profiles in courage from our leaders, we get cowardice and lies. They rage against gays and immigrants and poor people and young girls who cannot control their own bodily functions enough to avoid pregnancy. We demonize Jews, Sikhs, Muslims, Hindus, and Rastafarians because they do not accept the teachings of Jesus Christ while never stopping to ask how Jesus would treat those same Jews, Sikhs, Muslims, Hindus, and Rastafarians if He were to walk among us today.

We willingly and blindly cling to a vision of the past in which white people rule and all others are subservient. We worship the plantation economic model where there is one authority and everyone else obeys the word of the master. We prattle on about carbon capture as if a few million tons of carbon dioxide sequestered will somehow save us from ourselves. In the words of William Shakespeare, “Lord, what fools these mortals be!”

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Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. He is proud to be "woke" and doesn't really give a damn why the glass broke. He believes passionately in what Socrates said 3000 years ago: "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new."


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