It’s official: the world’s gone coal crazy!

We are facing the mother of all energy crises yet our response is to invest in a technology which uses more energy to burn coal! Yes, it’s been a frustrating month for those concerned about CCS. We had a big dose of carbon capture and storage (CCS) at the All-Energy conference in Aberdeen last week, the launch of the LibDems European election campaign with much trumpeting about Scotland becoming a world leader in CCS technology and even environmental group WWF have decided that choosing Longannet as the site for the Government’s carbon-capture demonstration project is a “no brainer”. Here at SANC, we are at a loss as to what to do! The few voices calling out about the fallacy of CCS are not being heard. It seems that everyone and their dog have been hoodwinked into the CCS myth.

We have previously expressed concerns over the use of CCS for Enhanced Oil Recovery (EOR) but it seems that, not being geologists, we’d overlooked the fact that CO2 injection has only been used for EOR from onshore oil fields, never offshore ones, so early projects will carry significant additional technical and financial risks. The amount of interest in CCS in Scotland is huge. On 30 April, the Scottish Centre for Carbon Storage, based in Edinburgh, published a detailed report entitled ‘Opportunities for CO2 storage around Scotland’. Despite never having been used for offshore oil fields, the study concludes that CO2-EOR may act as a stimulus for CCS especially if developers believe that oil will remain at over $100 per barrel. If oil remains at over $100 per barrel, we’ll probably have bigger things to worry about, like feeding ourselves, but that’s another story! The study shows that burying the CO2 in saline aquifers (rock formations filled with sea water rather than oil or gas) has the greatest potential. But wait a minute, we know virtually nothing about saline aquifers compared to hydrocarbon fields. Geologists have had 30 years or more of studying hydrocarbon fields in the North Sea because they contain oil and gas. The models for saline aquifers are very theoretical and a lot more research is required.

Bored yet? Sorry! But what we are facing here is a desperate attempt to carry on with business as usual while using even more energy in the vain hopes that we reduce climate changing emissions. In addition to the uncertainties over the geology, the CCS process is very energy intensive, raising the operating costs of CCS-equipped power plants as well as increasing the fuel requirement of a coal-fired plant by up to 40% depending on the method used. Overall, wide-scale adoption of CCS could erase the efficiency gains of the last 50 years and increase resource consumption by one third.

CCS will prolong the world’s dependence on fossil fuels and drags money away from investments in renewable energy such as wind and solar, not to mention reducing energy demand and localising supply networks. Depressing, isn’t it?

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