How Effective is Carbon Capture at Responding to the Climate Crisis?
by Richard Stuckey, Save Our Illinois Land
Carbon capture and sequestration is often presented as an essential climate solution. But is it? How does it compared to other options? This post deals with potentials and costs. It does not address hazards and risks, of which there are many. Watch for a future post that deals specifically with those concerns.
Unpacking Potentials and Costs
The first chart below comes from the most recent IPCC report and shows the many ways that can be used to reduce the CO2 content of the atmosphere, and the relative cost involved.
Basically, the longer the line the more potential the method has for reducing the CO2. And, as the color changes from blue to red ,the more expensive the method is for reducing CO2. So a long blue line is good news. Lots of CO2 can be removed at a low cost. You would actually save money by doing it. A short red line is bad news. The approach has little potential for making a difference in CO2, and what little it can remove will cost a lot of money per ton removed.
The same data can be represented in a matrix format:
In this view, blue is still low cost and red is expensive. The numbers in the cells tell you how many giga tons of CO2 can be reduced per year by this method at this cost, which corresponds to the length of the lines in the bar chart.
So 2.8 Gt CO2 equivalent can be reduced per year at no cost because the resulting energy will cost less than that produced by the mix of sources it would replace. In total, 4.5 Gt CO2 equivalent can be reduced by deploying solar cells.
By contrast, look at the second line from the bottom, CCS for energy. That would include using CCS on coal and natural gas fired power stations. Even if fully deployed, only 0.54 Gt CO2 equivalent can be removed from the atmosphere and it will cost between $50 and $200 per ton of CO2 removed. And to make matters worse (not shown on the graph) although the CO2 will be removed, none of the other pollutants (NOx, H2S, SO2 and particulate matter) will be removed, In fact, the amount of the other pollutants will be increased, since at least 20% of the power output of the power staton will be consumed to capture the CO2 . The power station will have to run harder and longer to produce the same amount of electricity to be shipped to consumers. And the already uncompetitive cost of that electricity (relative to electricity from solar and wind) will be made even more uncompetitive.
Looking at every one of the CCS applications, only CCS for agriculture can make a significant contribution, 3.44 Gt CO2 equivalent, and most of that will incur a cost of $50 - 100 per ton.
So carbon capture and storage should be the last approach used after all the higher potential and less costly forms have been exploited first.
An Illinois Example
Les’s take an example. The ADM plant in Decatur sequesters about 500,000 tons of CO2 per year at a very high cost per ton. But it puts out about 4.5 million tons of CO2 from its coal fired and natural gas fired energy sources. The technology is spending millions of mostly taxpayer dollars to sequester the 500,000 tons of COE, when for a far lower cost it could convert the power stations to solar and wind and remove 8.5 times as much CO2 from the atmosphere, and save a lot of money on the cost of its energy in the future. It would have to make that investment itself, whereas by sequestering the CO2 from fermentation it receives a payment from taxpayers.