Carbon capture and storage a "scam" says new
Auckland, 12 May 2008 – Big business and policy-makers must not succumb to the elusive promise of carbon capture and storage (CCS) to solve the climate crisis, says Greenpeace in a major new report (1).
'False Hope: Why carbon capture and storage won't save the climate' relies on independent, peer-reviewed scientific sources and details why CCS is a dangerous distraction in the fight against climate change. It reveals that the technology is unproven, risky, and expensive, and will be developed to the detriment of sustainable solutions.
"Relying on CCS to tackle carbon dioxide emissions from the burning of coal is about as smart as wilfully contracting a disease in the hope that medical science may one day provide a cure," said Greenpeace New Zealand Climate Campaigner Susannah Bailey.
"The unproven technology for capturing carbon dioxide then dumping it underground remains very much on the drawing board, yet is being promoted by big polluters such as Solid Energy as a way for them to proceed with coal expansion plans (2). Carbon capture and storage is the ultimate coal industry 'greenwash' tool.
"The priority should instead be investment in renewable energy and energy efficiency." Fraught with uncertainties over practicality and cost, CCS technology is not expected to be commercially available before 2030. By then it will be too late for it to play a role in combating climate change. Climate experts agree that global greenhouse gas emissions must peak by 2015 and be at least halved by 2050.
"It is insanity verging on criminal negligence to pass over clean energy and pin hopes on an unproven technology instead," said the report's author, Emily Rochon, Climate and Energy Campaigner at Greenpeace International. "Businesses need to reduce their emissions not search for excuses for continuing polluting.
"Enthusiasm for CCS is reaching fever pitch among coal and oil advocates who have lost the battle over whether climate change is a problem. Unable to look beyond the carbon economy, they are desperate to project CCS as the way to continue with 'pollution-as-usual'," said Ms Rochen.
"Just as there is no guaranteed safe way to bury nuclear waste, there is no guaranteed safe way to bury carbon. No matter how much research goes into CCS, the ability to keep this carbon stored under ground for thousands of years can never be guaranteed," said Ms Bailey. "Even Solid Energy Chief Executive Don Elder acknowledges this (3).
"Every dollar invested in carbon capture and storage research is a wasted dollar if it diverts money away from renewable energy and energy efficiency."
The Greenpeace report shows that carbon capture technology falls short on numerous counts. Carbon capture has not been made to work on anything approaching the scale needed for a full-scale power plant. And no one has yet successfully combined the 'capture' with the 'storage' elements of the concept.
The process of capturing and storing carbon is also highly energy intensive. The increased energy requirements of CCS would effectively wipe out the power plant efficiency gains of the last 50 years. For every four CCS-equipped coal-fired power plants, a fifth would be needed just to make up the energy shortfall. CCS could also double plant costs and lead to electricity price hikes estimated between 21 and 91 per cent.
Greenpeace's Energy Revolution scenario (4) shows that greatly improving energy efficiency and relying on renewable energy could halve global greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, the timeframe for preventing the worst impacts of climate change. Global renewable energy resources are sufficient to meet the world's energy needs six times over.
Over 85 non-governmental organisations have joined Greenpeace in demanding that CCS not be used as an excuse for building new coal-fired power plants. The signatories include the Environmental Defence Society of New Zealand.
Notes to Editors:
(1) "False Hope: why carbon capture and storage won't save the climate", Greenpeace International. May 2008 is available at: www.greenpeace.org/ccs. Also available: the Executive Summary of the report, an information sheet on CCS, three graphics (as PDFs) showing: the process of carbon capture; an overview of geological storage options and leakage pathways and potential impacts of CO2 escape, plus the NGO statement on carbon capture and storage.
(2) Solid Energy recently announced a $100 million investment in clean coal and alternative energy research over the next 20 years, in a bid to develop cleaner ways of burning coal and capturing and storing C02 emissions. Solid Energy is involved in the trial of CCS in Nirranda South, 240km west of Melbourne. The Otway Basin pilot project is the world's largest demonstration of the deep geological storage of carbon dioxide. It's partly funded by the New Zealand government and state-owned miner Solid Energy and will inject 100,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide 2km deep over the next two years.
(3) Solid Energy chief executive Don Elder told NZPA last month that it was impossible for industry to guarantee no leakage. In relation to Otway Basin (2) he said: "it is likely that only tiny, almost negligible, amount of the carbon dioxide pumped underground will escape." He stated that there's no guarantee that they could abide by regulations that required 99.99 per cent storage over thousands of years. Yet as is noted in False Hope, even if just 0.01 per cent leaks per annum, 50 per cent of the stored carbon dioxide will have leaked within 7000 years. If 1 per cent leaks per annum, 50 per cent will be lost within 70 years.