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Carbon capture and storage is becoming a green strategy

With the world closely watching the climate meetings underway in Doha there is renewed interest in the only proven technology that can substantially remove carbon dioxide from the use of fossil fuels…

As demands to tackle emissions from fossil fuel power generation get stronger, green groups are giving CCS another go. David King

With the world closely watching the climate meetings underway in Doha there is renewed interest in the only proven technology that can substantially remove carbon dioxide from the use of fossil fuels; carbon capture and storage (CCS). Notably, much of that renewed interest is from environmental NGOs.

This week, the ENGO Network on CCS (an international group of environmental NGOs) released a report on CCS, advocating for its inclusion in the fight against climate change. In October at the National CCS Conference in Perth, the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) advocated deploying CCS on existing power stations.

CCS involves capturing millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide a year from gas or coal combustion, then compressing it for injection and permanent storage in deep micro-porous rocks.

Whilst CCS has been slow in coming, it could be a valuable tool in the fight against climate change. Like all large resource projects, the lead times for CCS projects can be five to ten years or more, but these large projects offer the potential to keep very large quantities of greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere in one operation.

There are eight industrial scale projects in operation around the world now and another eight in construction. There are many more on the drawing board.

With its reliance on fossil fuel use and exports, it is not surprising that Australia is one of the world leaders in such a technology. With the world’s largest CCS project in construction at the moment at the Gorgon LNG Project in Western Australia, this is an industry that we will see more of in coming years.

Last week, at its annual research symposium, the Australian-based Cooperative Research Centre for Greenhouse Gas Technologies (CO2CRC) formally closed off its second major subsurface carbon dioxide storage trial at the Otway Project in Victoria.

CO2CRC has been working on this technology for the last ten years, building a growing science and engineering capability for a new industry. It has also developed a capture technology that can reduce the cost of capture to a third of current technology and is building a demonstration pilot plant for this in Victoria’s Latrobe Valley.

The science on climate change is becoming ever-stronger and we are tracking at the upper levels of the modelling predictions on global warming. It is highly likely that over the next five to ten years we will see greater calls for action in Australia and around the world.

We will shortly reach a “tipping point” where more of the population is in favour of greater action on climate change than those against. This tipping point process plays out in many areas of major societal change and is well understood by those who study change processes. Gradually we see symptoms of change, with minority groups calling for action. This progresses to greater acceptance by a growing minority before a swing by the majority occurs. Recently we have seen some climate sceptic scientists switching sides.

Major NGOs are now demanding CCS be part of the action. It is the beginning of a policy tipping point on climate change when CCS becomes a green strategy.

With growing pressure on electricity prices and the need to cut emissions it is important that we secure the lowest cost pathway to emissions abatement. CCS is a vital part of that lowest cost pathway.

Estimates from modelling by the International Energy Agency and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (USA) show that holding the increase in global temperatures to 2 degrees Celsius will be between 45% and 100% more expensive without CCS. It is clear that environmental policies of all parties must embrace CCS as a pragmatic part of their strategy.

Currently in Australia we have some $30-50 billion of support going into renewable energy and only $3-5 billion going into CCS, despite the continuing high growth in fossil fuel use globally.

We are inching towards a major change in the way the world responds to climate change. We will increasingly hear calls for urgent action and the deployment of renewable energy. But there must also be calls for a pragmatic approach that deals with growing fossil fuel use and the massive existing fossil fuel burning infrastructure. This approach includes CCS.

It is heartening to see that CCS is becoming recognised as a necessary part of a rational green strategy on climate change.