The Global Carbon Capture & Storage Institute (GCCSI) just released its latest Global Status of CCS annual report, underscoring once again the important role of carbon capture and storage (CCS) in a world where fossil fuels continue to supply the bulk of our energy needs and where drastic reductions in carbon pollution are urgently needed. It also summarizes the status of the technology, recent progress, and needed actions by decision makers to make CCS a meaningful climate mitigation strategy.
The report is very readable and self-explanatory, but a couple of points are worth bringing out since they can be counter-intuitive or surprising to some.
“CCS technology is well understood, and a reality”
Contrary to claims being made in reaction to U.S. EPA’s new Carbon Pollution Standard for new power plants that CCS is not yet commercially available, the GCCSI report underscores that “[i]n reality, the technology is generally well understood and has been used for decades at a large scale in certain applications.” More evidence is in the report itself and under Dan Lashof’s recent post here. Instead, GCCSI identifies that “[i]nsufï¬cient policy support is a key barrier”.
This is hardly surprising. In fact, we have been saying this for years now: Without a clear policy signal to the private sector and some government support for early projects, CCS technology will not achieve the scale of deployment needed to make a dent in tackling climate change. However, policy makers continue to get it wrong, with the most striking current example being Europe, as my environmental NGO colleagues outline here.
“More projects are entering operation and construction”
We should be buoyed by the Institute’s findings on the project front. Even though the market and policy pieces are not there yet for broad deployment, considerable and important progress is being made in capturing CO2 from large applications and injecting it underground. As recently as 2008, we routinely spoke of a handful or so of CCS flagship projects. Despite some project cancellations over the past year, which are normal events in the project development world, the number of operational and soon-to-be-operational CCS projects has grown significantly.
Since 2008, the number of large-scale integrated projects that are operating has doubled from six to twelve. Four commenced operation in 2013 alone, and three of these are in the U.S. Eight more projects are either under construction or about to begin, and are expected to become operational in 2014 and 2015. Several more are in the permitting or investment decision phase.
And the winner is…
North America. The Institute identifies the U.S. and Canada as the two countries where CCS pilot project development is most prolific at the moment (see p.36-37). The region is hosting several of these projects as a result of government support for the technology, opportunities to pursue enhanced oil recovery alongside the projects, and sufficient technical and regulatory know-how. Several projects have come online recently, and more will be doing so shortly, including power sector projects. These include the Kemper County IGCC (MS), Boundary Dam (SK), Air Products (TX), Coffeyville (KS), Lost Cabin (WY), Texas Clean Energy Project (TX), Alberta Trunkline (AB), Shell Quest (AB) and others (more details in the report). We should keep this in perspective though.
The commendable progress on these pilot plants should not be an excuse for us to take our eyes off the real goal. We are still a long way off the pace and scale of CCS development needed to curb carbon pollution in a meaningful way, and the Institute underscores this. Government funding alone will not achieve this – we need accompanying limits on emissions and emission performance standards such as those being contemplated by EPA right now.
What then should be the main take-away from the report? Unquestionably, that governments – not scientists or engineers – have the most work to do to make CCS a reality more broadly. Stakeholders have to help governments move faster. In the meantime however, let’s not overlook the significant progress that is being made by pilot and commercial-scale projects. The fleet is growing and field results continue to be positive. But we must move even faster to safeguard our atmosphere.