Editor’s note: The
thoughts and opinions expressed in this column are strictly those of Mr.
Goreham and do not necessarily represent the views of World Oil. This
text was published originally in Mr. Goreham’s blog, Master Resource.
The Environmental Protection Agency is working
on a new rule that would set stringent limits on carbon dioxide (CO2)
emissions from U.S. power plants. Utilities would be required to retrofit
existing plants with carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology or switch to
hydrogen fuel. Others call for the use of CCS to decarbonize heavy industry.
But the cost of capture and the amount of CO2 that proponents say
needs to be captured crush any ideas about feasibility.
CCS is the process of capturing carbon dioxide
from an industrial plant before it enters the atmosphere, transporting it, and
storing it for centuries to millennia. Capture may be accomplished by filtering
it from combustion exhaust streams. Pipelines are proposed to transport the
captured CO2. Underground reservoirs could be used for storage. For
the last two decades, advocates have proposed CCS to reduce emissions from coal
plants and steel, chemical, and other hard-to-decarbonize industries to fight
human-caused climate change.
CCS has been slow to take off, due to the cost
of capture and the limited salability of carbon dioxide as a product. Thirty-nine
capture CO2 around the world today, totaling 45 million tons per
year, or about 0.1% of industrial emissions produced globally. Of these, 20 reside
in the U.S. or Canada, six in Europe, and five in China. Twenty-four of these
facilities use captured CO2 for enhanced oil recovery, where the CO2
is injected into oil wells to boost output.
The news from these facilities is
mixed. Many are not meeting their carbon-capture
goals or are incurring costs well over budget. Nevertheless, Australia, Canada,
China, Japan, the U.S., and nations in Europe now offer billions in direct
subsidies or tax breaks to firms for capture of CO2 emissions and to
build pipelines and storage. Over 300 large and small capture projects are in planning
around the world which, if completed, may be able to boost capture to 0.5% of
Illinois, Iowa and other states are struggling
with issues involving plans for CO2 pipelines. Ethanol plants and
other facilities propose to capture CO2 and need a new network of
pipelines to transport the gas to underground storage sites. These pipelines
face strong opposition from local communities over farmland use and safety
concerns in the case of a pipeline rupture.
CCS is very expensive. An example concerns plans for CCS in Wyoming,
the leading U.S. coal state. Wyoming mined 41% of U.S. coal in 2020 (Editor’s
note: this percentage remained unchanged in preliminary 2021 figures), and
coal-fired plants produced about 85% of the state’s electricity. With abundant
coal resources and good opportunities to store CO2 underground,
Wyoming appeared to be an excellent candidate to use CCS. The state passed
House Bill 200 in March 2020, directing utilities to produce 20% of electricity
from coal plants fitted with CCS by 2030.
In response to the statute, Rocky Mountain
Power and Black Hills Energy, Wyoming’s two major power companies, analyzed
alternatives for their operations and provided comments
to the Wyoming Public Service Commission in March 2022. But the comments were
not favorable for CCS. Black Hills Energy determined that adding CCS to two
existing coal plants would cost an estimated $980 million, or three times the
capital cost expended to build the plants. Rocky Mountain Power stated that
adding CCS to its existing plants was “not economically feasible at this time.”
The task of capturing immense amounts
of CO2. Beyond cost, the
amount of carbon dioxide that advocates say must be captured is vast. The
amount of CO2 produced by industry is small in global terms, only
about 5% of what nature
releases into and absorbs from the atmosphere every day. But the amount of
industrial CO2 produced is still huge in human terms.
For example, an empty Boeing 747 jumbo jet, on
412,300 pounds (187,000 kg). Its maximum fuel weight is 433,195 pounds (196,494
kg), more than the empty weight of the aircraft. During fuel combustion, two
oxygen atoms are taken from the atmosphere and combined with each carbon atom. For
each kilogram of jet fuel burned, 3.16 kilograms of carbon dioxide are created.
The CO2 exhausted during a long flight weighs more than three times
the weight of the aircraft.
Consider the Drax Power Station in North
Yorkshire, England, the third-largest power plant in Europe, which has been
converted to using two-thirds biomass fuel. The plant is experimenting with CCS
to reduce emissions. Each day, the plant uses
about 20,000 tons of wood pellets delivered by 475 railroad cars, Fig. 1.
Picture the volume that these railroad cars would carry and then more than
double it to get an idea of the amount of CO2 to be captured and
stored each day.
The world’s heavy industries use vast amounts
of coal, natural gas, and petroleum. Ammonia, cement, plastics, steel and other
industries produce billions of tons of materials each year for agriculture,
construction, health care, industry and transportation. Capturing, transporting
and storing CO2 from these processes would involve trillions of
dollars and many decades of investment.
The difficulty ahead. The International Energy Agency calls
for 9% of the world’s CO2 emissions to be captured and stored by
2050. Today, we have a mix of 39 major and minor capture facilities in
operation. The IEA estimates that 70 to 100 major capture facilities will need
to come online, each year until 2050, to achieve this goal. It’s
unlikely that even 20% of the goal will be achieved, despite hundreds of
billions of dollars in spending. WO
STEVE GOREHAM is a speaker on energy, the
environment, and public policy and author of three books on
energy, sustainable development, and climate change. He is a freelance columnist and frequent guest on radio and
TV. Mr. Goreham’s business experience includes Senior Director of
Product Development, Motorola, Inc. (1977-2001); President and CEO,
CellEngines, Inc. (2001-2003); Senior Vice President, Communications Industry
Group, Pemstar Corporation (2003-2005); and Vice President and General Manager,
Panduit Corporation (2005-2008). He holds BS and
MS degrees in electrical engineering from the University of Illinois and an MBA
from the University of Chicago.