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Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis produces damning analysis of CCS

© Shutterstock / Clare Louise JacksonCarbon capture and storage (CCS).

The Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) recently published a report examining carbon capture and storage (CCS) performance, which claimed many sequestration projects have failed or underperformed. Proponents of CCS say the report’s approach is too simplistic, but opponents have called it damning.

A study by IEEFA shows CCS most effective with Enhanced Oil Recovery.

CCS is being relied upon worldwide as a means of overcoming the CO2 problem in upstream energy production.

CCS rates of CO2 recovery will need to be improved and implementation problems solved if it is to have any chance of abating CO2.

CCS and net zero

While some of the issues that CCS faces are with regard to cost, technical feasibility, and longevity of storage, opponents have argued that CCS is an excuse for carbon intensive energy to continue on a business as usual (BAU) path. Most net zero 2050 scenarios see a significant role for CCS but it should not be used instead of shifting to lower carbon options.

The study however found that nearly three quarters of carbon capture and storage projects fulfil the function of boosting oil and gas production rather than the reverse.

The Institute analysed the performance of CCS projects around the world for a number of years and its report is an indictment of the technology, and regulatory framework, especially when touted as a solution for allowing fossil fuel projects to run.

There is little time to change the global economy trajectory towards a net zero future – indeed the UN has described the situation as a ‘code red’ for humanity.  Achieving net zero means that industry and corporations must eliminate the greenhouse gas emissions responsible for now runaway climate change as fast as possible. Where this cannot be achieved, offsets using carbon sinks and carbon removal projects will soak up the rest.

Coal-fired power production, gas-fired power production, oil and gas production, petrochemical plants and all other linchpins of the global economy are either under pressure to close and switch to cleaner alternatives, or use technology to capture the carbon dioxide and inject it into the ground to store it away and prevent its release into the atmosphere. CCS (carbon capture and storage) is therefore an absolutely critical part of the solution.

CCS study showcases woeful performance

However, out of the 13 big-ticket CCS and CCUS (carbon capture utilisation and storage) projects surveyed, accounting for around 55% of total operational capacity worldwide, only three performed well. Sleipner and Snøhvit in Norway were highlighted as the two most successful.  

The others underperformed, failed and one was mothballed. Boundary Dam in Canada and the Gorgon project off the coast of Western Australia only used about 50% of capacity.

More licences awarded in Australia to underpin increased energy production

Despite CCS not achieving optimal rates of carbon capture and storage, focus on the technology as a solution. Recently, the Minister for Resources and Northern Australia Madeleine King awarded the first two new offshore greenhouse gas storage areas since 2014. These were in the north west for a joint venture between INPEX, Woodside Energy and TotalEnergies.

Woodside (NYSE: WDS) is one of the world’s largest LNG producers located in north western Australia and has merged with BHG Group’s Energy Division. Three more licenses are shortly to be awarded.

King said, “Carbon capture and storage has a vital role to play to help Australia meet its net-zero targets.  Australia is ideally placed to become a world leader in this emerging industry, with large, stable offshore geological formations for greenhouse gas storage.”

CCS makes energy production seem acceptable

The continuation of fossil fuel exploration and production is generally deemed acceptable, despite climate constraints, if coupled with CCS. Huge increases in CCS capacity would need to keep pace with projected CO2 emissions, in the order of 1.6 billion tonnes annually, according to the IEA.

The author of the IEEFA study, Bruce Robertson, said of the intention to increase CCS dramatically, “In addition to being wildly unrealistic as a climate solution, based on historical trajectories, much of this captured carbon will be used for enhanced oil recovery.”

Lamentable performance in power sector

As a form of CO2 scrubbing in the power sector, the daunting capital costs have kept projects at bay for years, as connected CCS to power plants carries a significant energy penalty. While CO2 separation has been said to work only partial effectiveness on combustion producing dirty flue gases at coal power plants or bio-energy plants. Making the technology work on a commercial basis has proved a difficult challenge to overcome, without additional revenue through something such as enhanced oil recovery (EOR). 

The argument is that CO2 separation works very well on pure gas streams from industrial sites such as refineries or methane burning. Yet Chevron’s Western Australian CCS project at the Gorgon liquified natural gas plant for example, consistently missed its targets over five years, capturing less than half of predicted emissions. 

According to the report, close to 90% of the proposed CCS capacity in the power sector failed at the implementation stage or was suspended early. Projects that did work for a while did not operate close to their nameplate capacity. 

Finally, it is less clear how much CO2 is released during the process of scrubbing, and finding geological locations that can keep emissions locked away for the decades or centuries required remains a problem.

While CCS remains a requirement for the achievement of net zero targets, there are serious issues that need to be overcome.

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