Carbon capture? Not in my yard  

Posted by Big Gav in ,

The SMH has a look at progress from the global carbon capture and storage conference in Pittsburgh - Carbon capture? Not in my yard.

Stern's response was that future CCS technology would offer carbon negative solutions and would have an even bigger role to play as reduction targets deepen - including trapping and storing emissions from industrial processes for which there is no renewable energy alternative.

Maybe one day. Now you constantly hear that everyone inside the fossil fuel industry knows CCS won't fly. Nobody, tipsy or otherwise, was silly enough to tell this journalist they thought as much.

My second revelation was to do with the risks of storage. For most of the people working on CCS, storage is the easy bit, accounting for only 30 per cent of the cost. For me, storage is the scary part. The industry spends a fair amount of time modelling what happens after vast plumes of supercritical CO2 are injected underground. They don't really know, either.

But guess what? The underground plumes of CO2 don't just sit there, they migrate. And if the storage site is onshore, there is a decent chance the plume will hit an underground aquifer, and contaminate drinking water. When Co2 meets mineral-rich groundwater the result often is cyanide and heavy metals contamination, and there is a great deal of research going on to work out how much, how often, how long for and with what associated health risk in the unfortunate event of human or animal consumption.

There's another risk: micro-seismicity, the many little quakes and tremors caused as the injected CO2 plume grows, settles or shifts. An official I spoke to from our own Department of Energy had never heard of micro-seismicity associated with CCS. One wonders if the minister, Martin Ferguson, is even aware of the risks associated with CO2 storage.

No wonder the CCS industry complains of numby-ism - ''not under my backyard''. In the US there's a scramble going on to gain control of underground pore space, the best likely storage sites. It's nirvana for lawyers - the potential liabilities are legion. And it's a large amount of real estate we're talking.

A 500-megawatt coal-fired power station capturing 90 per cent of emissions and injecting them into a 100-metre-thick underground formation for 40 years will require 250 square kilometres of pore space.

These issues, to the industry, are neither new nor scary. They are risks that require study and management - and strategies for communicating with the public.

The third revelation was that CCS proponents are becoming concerned about a lack of progress, and finance. There is too much talk and not enough action. The institute is eager to convey it is an entrepreneurial and private organisation, which can somehow allow technology transfer without breaching patent rights. Tough gig. The deepest pockets remain zipped. It was discussed at Pittsburgh that while there were plenty of oil and gas types about, the coal companies were notable absentees.

Yet according to the International Energy Agency, which hopes CCS will provide 20 per cent of the world's abatement, we need to have 18 CCS projects up and running by 2015, 100 by 2020, and a ferocious ramp-up from there with literally thousands of plants operating and furiously injecting CO2 underground between 2030 and 2050. Basically, the institute hopes that government steps in and funds a working coal-fired power station with CCS to show everyone the technology works and get things moving.

For me it all looks too hard - too risky, too expensive, and way too late.

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