Carbon Capture and Sequestration (CCS)


By Pete Scales M.Ag, BSc EP


This globe of ours is heating up. And now, just a month after the historic Paris Agreement on climate change it is generally acknowledged that this temperature increase is largely man made and that we have to do something to keep the temperatures from rising more than 1.5° Celsius, the point at which the effects of climate change could become irreversible.

So, what you might ask, is all the fuss about? Simply put, the combustion of fossil fuels producing vast amounts of Carbon Dioxide (CO2) is linked to dangerous increases in temperature.

The Paris Agreement sets out a series of obligations that countries, developed and third world alike, need to agree upon and work towards over a period of 35 years to significantly reduce carbon dioxide emissions. In fact, many climate scientists believe that in order to achieve the 1.5° Celsius cap between 2030 and 2050 we will have to reduce CO2 emissions to zero. Seems impossible, doesn’t it?

Yet some global jurisdictions, like the European Union are already implementing programs to reduce CO2 emissions by up to 40 % from 2005 levels. Granted, their approach, cap and trade, does not involve a lot of science but it was still an important first step.

The opposite is true for countries in North and South America, most of Asia and Russia where the Kyoto Accord ratified in 1998 was mostly disregarded as being too expensive, impractical and not important. These countries, now that they have accepted the reality of “an inconvenient truth” a phrase coined by Al Gore, have a big game of catch up to play if there is to be any hope of reducing C02 and keeping temperature rises in check.

And the primary focus of both the Kyoto Accord and Paris Agreement is Carbon Capture and Sequestration. The capture part is a relatively easy concept to explain – at any combustion source, industrial or transportation related, CO2 is stripped out of the fossil fuel energy source, either pre or post combustion, collected and moved. The Sequestration part of the equation is somewhat more difficult to explain.

Sequestration is the end result of moving the heavily compressed CO2 gas along a pipeline to a storage enclosure, such as an underground salt water reservoir, often the result of a pumped out petroleum well.

Technically speaking, CCS for single-source industrial sites is possible and supposedly, reasonably safe. Globally, there are examples of successful CCS but they are few and far between. CCS for the transportation industry is a more difficult proposition.

A great deal more research and work is required before any technology can be considered tried and true. Yet, the Paris Agreement is making a huge bet that science and in turn, technology, will come up with the answers and make its lofty goals possible.

The Paris Agreement also acknowledges what science has already proven – that sweeping changes in agricultural and forestry practices, in all nations, are required to effectively trap carbon and effect positive change in temperature rises.

So, can science help to bring CO2 emissions under control and keep temperature rises in check? This scientist believes so but it will have to be a huge cooperative effort between governments, corporations and most definitely, buy-in from we the people.

For a very clear explanation of how carbon capture works and how much CO2 is produced by burning a liter of gasoline check out http://deepblue.lib.umich.edu/bitstream/handle/2027.42/90951/102855.pdf.

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