Anyone banking on carbon capture and storage (CCS) as the silver bullet that will allow for undisturbed continuation of the fossil fuel business had better have (extremely) deep pockets, reports Grist, citing a new study that declares the technology gobsmackingly expensive, wildly inefficient, and a dangerous form of climate-action delay.
The new research just published in Nature Communications concludes that deploying enough carbon capture plants to sufficiently “pluck” climate-destroying CO2 emissions out of the air “would cost more than a trillion dollars a year—more than the entire budget of the U.S. military—and gobble up 14% of the world’s annual electricity production by 2075.”
In such a reality, Grist adds, “carbon removal would become one of the world’s major industries.”
And yet, as unlikely as it seems, some fossil companies are placing bets on that reality.
“We are not afraid of the transition out of oil and gas, because we’re a part of that transition,” said Occidental Petroleum CEO Vicki Hollub, at the December announcement of her company’s intent to build a massive carbon capture plant in the Permian Basin. “I do believe that in 15 to 20 years, more of our income will be from carbon management than from oil and gas.”
On the surface, the shift in focus could seem like good news. But a study by the UK Tyndall Centre for Climate Research, just released by Friends of the Earth Scotland and Global Witness says very much otherwise.
“Carbon capture and storage will not work as planned and is a dangerous distraction,” writes Climate News Network. “The technology still faces many barriers, would only start to deliver too late, would have to be deployed on a massive scale at a scarcely credible rate, and has a history of over-promising and under-delivering.”
So far, notes Climate News Net, there are 26 CCS plants in operation across the world, together “capturing about 0.1% of the annual global emissions from fossil fuels.”
And even those emissions are mostly used by the plants’ fossil-company owners to extract more, “by pumping the captured carbon into the ground to force more oil out.” Hardly a recipe for leaving it in the ground, Climate News Net notes.
Then there is the technology’s less-than-stellar performance—far from the promised capture rate of 95%, the study finds, “rates have been as low as 65% when they begin and have only gradually improved.”
But despite these failures and more, many governments are plowing ahead. The UK, for example, recently added US$1.4 billion to its development and infrastructure tab for the technology. That reliance on CCS will leave the country hard-pressed to meet its net-zero by 2050 target, write the report authors.
And the UK is by no means the only country or agency still enamoured with CCS. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the European Commission, the International Energy Agency, and the UK Committee on Climate Change are all backing the nascent technology.
Such a stance marks a grievous error in judgement, concludes the report, particularly as “it is the cumulative emissions from each year between now and 2030 that will determine whether we are to achieve the Paris 1.5°C goal.”
Considering the current restraints on carbon budgets, adds Climate News Net, “the report shows that we cannot expect carbon capture and storage to make a meaningful contribution to 2030 climate targets.”
Friends of the Earth Scotland and Global Witness conclude that efforts and financing should “be directed towards renewables, particularly solar, and onshore and offshore wind, because they have by contrast exceeded all targets in both cost and deployment and provide real hope of solving the carbon dioxide problem,” Climate News Network writes.
Batteries, other forms of storage, and “a much-needed energy efficiency drive” also stand ready to drive carbon reductions down “far more quickly and cheaply” than CCS can.