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Why carbon capture is key

Author : Alan Franck, Editor, HazardEx

20 August 2013

Since the 1997 Kyoto agreement, world CO² emissions have risen by 40% and are now over 400 parts per million. In Europe, windfarms, carbon taxes and carbon trading systems have all been ineffective at best and counter-productive at worst. The cost of subsidising these initiatives has boosted energy prices to a level where many companies have relocated manufacturing to other parts of the world where factories are far more carbon-intensive.

This flight by energy-intensive industries to low-cost, high pollution countries has caused thousands of job losses in the UK and Europe.

Oxford University economist Dieter Helm says we may have cut the CO² actually emitted in the UK to a small degree, but our reliance on imports from other countries means the total emissions attributable to British economic activity have increased by 19% since 1992.

On the back of this, Professor Myles Allen, head of the Climate Dynamics Group at Oxford’s Department of Physics, has called for a new approach.

The only thing that actually matters for climate policy, he says, is whether we get to the point of burying carbon at the same rate that we dig it up. It is perfectly possible to burn fossil carbon and not release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere by filtering it out of flue gases, pressurising it and burying it – carbon capture and sequestration (CCS).

“In forestry, if you fell trees, the law obliges you to replant. We must use the same principle: a law to compel a slowly rising percentage of carbon dioxide emissions to be sequestered and stored,” Allen says.

Making carbon capture and burial a condition of licensing to extract or import fossil fuels, and ensuring that manufactured or imported goods are also treated the same way, would be the simplest and most effective way to control levels of carbon in the atmosphere, he says.

Alan Franck, Editor, HazardEx
Alan Franck, Editor, HazardEx

Technology in the sector is still at the trial stage but a number of recent developments show that real advances are being made.

In the UK, early indications are that the undersea site 65 kilometres off the Yorkshire coast is viable for carbon dioxide storage and will be able to hold around 200 million tonnes permanently, National Grid said in August. This is equivalent to taking ten million cars off the road for 10 years, according to the company.

Meanwhile, the most advanced CCS project in Europe, TCM Mongstad in Norway, has made progress testing solvent technologies, including the safety of amine carbon capture.

The main function of TCM’s initial operations has been to test solvents used to absorb CO² from fossil fuel exhaust gases. Since test activity started in July 2012, the facility has been in operation for more than 5,000 hours. TCM tests using Aker Solutions amine technology have proved successful with two different solvents, and research into Alstom’s chilled ammonia technology is continuing.

Allen predicts that this approach to CCS would be far less expensive than forecast subsidies for renewables, and thinks that fossil fuel industrialists will need a few years to gear up but would not need taxpayer-funded subsidies. “They’ll simply need to do this to stay in business. All past evidence suggests that when industry is faced with technical challenges it needs to overcome, it’s ingenious at finding ways of doing so.”

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