The Imperative for Broader, Bolder Action on Carbon Capture Utilization and Storage

Yet, despite the dual realities of global policies for greenhouse gas reductions and explosive growth in the demand for energy, we (the private sector and governments) remain generally passive and even regressive in sustaining and augmenting efforts to develop and deploy advanced coal technologies with CCS.

A recent study conducted through the Coal Utilization Research Council (CURC) with the support of Japan’s New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO) concluded that despite nearly two decades of financial, regulatory and political support provided by governments and private industry in numerous countries, progress in developing CCS has been modest. Only three commercial scale demonstration projects, all located in North America, for coal fueled power plants with CO2 capture are under construction or operating. Notable reversals of public support for CCS projects include the cancellation by the UK government of a £1 billion competition to support large-scale demonstration(s) and the EU’s NER300 initiative, originated in 2007, that anticipated 12 large-scale demonstrations to be supported through matching contributions from participating EU member countries but ended up with zero projects undertaken. Further reversals include the cancellation by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) of the FutureGen project and the demise of several other U.S. coal-based demonstration projects.

While modest levels of public support continue with a few new initiatives being funded by the U.S. DOE to initiate pilot scale CCS-related projects, the level of effort domestically and internationally is a mere fraction of what is needed.

Abundant and inexpensive natural gas, regulatory uncertainty, diminishing levels of coal use in the U.S. and the weak financial position of key coal industry stakeholders are the combined reasons why industry support in the United States will be modest or nonexistent and why public support is vital. These same or similar obstacles face CCS technology development worldwide.

The CURC-referenced study concluded that the “cost of fossil-based power integrated with CCS must be reduced and the technology proved cost-effective at scale to be deploy-able world-wide.” This CCS cost issue cannot be addressed by industry alone. Cost reductions and technology improvements will require:

  1. Robust financial incentives from the public sector to reduce costs associated with currently available CCS technology designed to capture and then use CO2 to recover crude oil left after primary production in an oil field has been completed (referred to an enhanced oil recovery or EOR).
  2. Embarking upon and sustaining a commitment to a comprehensive program of laboratory-scale technology research and development, “proof of concept” at a large pilot plant scale, followed by commercial demonstrations where necessary for CCS technology providers to provide cost and technical risks assurances of new technologies.

Given the technology readiness levels of several advanced CO2 capture technologies; there is an opportunity for marked improvements in cost reductions and transformational approaches to coal fueled power generation and the capture and use of CO2. What is required, at this time, are aggressive and well-funded programs designed to plan, construct, operate and test technologies at the large pilot plant scale level to gain understanding of these technologies under real operating conditions. We know from an earlier (November, 2014) workshop conducted by CURC, in cooperation with the U.S. DOE, that the private sector is currently unwilling to pursue large-scale pilot projects given the uncertain future market for coal-based CCS. The key variable to industry participation is the availability of significant public support.

The United States has the financial resources to provide this support. Whether there is a public willingness to aggressively do so is a key question.

In the context of global coal use and if there is a global will to address greenhouse gas reductions, the international community must think broader and bolder, and outside of a specific country’s national borders. For example, if no one country is able or willing to undertake the planning, construction and operation of next generation CCS technologies at the pilot plant scale, then combined international cooperation and funding may be an option worth exploring. The climate issue is global, the use of fossil fuels is global, and pursuit of technology solutions should be global, as well.

Shannon Angielski is the Executive Director of the Coal Utilization Research Council (http://www.coal.org).

References

  1. United Nations, World Population prospects: The 2015 Revision. Available at: https://esa.un.org/unpd/wpp/publications/files/key_findings_wpp_2015.pdf
  2. World Energy Council, World Energy Scenarios: Composing energy futures to 2050. Available at: http://www.worldenergy.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/World-EnergyScenarios_Composing-energy-futuresto-2050_Executive-summary.pdf
  3. U.S. Energy Information Administration, International Energy Outlook 2016. Available at: http://www.eia.gov/forecasts/ieo/coal.cfm
  4. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Fifth Assessment Report. Available at: http://www.ipcc.ch/report/ar5/
  5. EIA Annual Energy Outlook 2016, available at: https://www.eia.gov/forecasts/aeo/tables_ref.cfm
  6. H. Herzog, D. Carter and T. Russial, “Analysis of Options for Funding Large Pilot Scale Testing Of Advanced Fossil-Based Power Generation Technologies with Carbon Capture and Storage”. March 21, 2016. Available at: http://www.coal.org/#!global-ccs-whitepaper/o2dwt
  7. CURC and others have advocated before the U.S. Congress and the Obama Administration to increase the value of an existing tax credit (the section 45Q, carbon sequestration tax credit) that would incentive the capture of CO2 from power plants and industrial facilities for use in EOR applications. Other financial incentives have been promoted by CURC other as well. These incentives are designed to be used by industry to apply commercially available technologies available today to capture and used CO2.
  8. L.D. Carter, “An Industry View: Advancing the Next Generation of Coal Conversion Technologies.” Available at: http://media.wix.com/ugd/80262f_0e0ffae694454287ad5a14998327d3f2.pdf