Sustaining un-sustainability: Storing CO2 for next generation
The world is getting addicted to unsustainable life style. In a way it strives to sustain the un-sustainability. I am not talking about the use of fossil fuel only. Take for example CCS- Carbon Capture & Storage. CCS approach is very simple. The electricity generating plants would continue to use fossil fuels without any regrets about climate change. That’s because they would reduce or eliminate emissions by capturing carbon dioxide produced by burning fossil fuels and storing it underground in the earth’s geological bed rocks. This appears to be a simple way to solve the climate change problem.
CCS is now accepted by all. It is the solution to reduce emissions at least in medium terms. The world has not yet found alternatives to coal-fired power plants. Coal will continue to take major share (40 %) as a fuel for generating electricity. No wonder that there are flurry of the activities in CCS.
Nations of G-8 set the goal to build 20 demo plants by 2010 and commercialize by 2020. There is already an allocation of US$ 20 billion for such demo plants.
I worked in a production unit that produced hydrogen from methane. The by-product was CO2. It was absorbed in alkyl amines and then stripped off, purified and made into dry ice i.e. solid CO2 which is used for cooling purposes. Stripping CO2 from exhaust stream is not difficult. And injecting it in the earth is also not intricate. Long established process of mining sulphur from deep holes drilled in earth requires injecting steam or air in geological stomach to eject the sulphur out on the surface. So, the demonstration plants would be successful. It would need optimisation to reduce the cost, but certainly it is not a rocket science. The cost of CCS is expected to be $ 50 – 60 per ton of CO2, and demonstration plants will slow the cost of about $ 100 per ton.
What we are missing here is that attempting CCS is like sitting on the wrong end of the branch while cutting it. The CCS itself will require energy to separate CO2 and injecting deep into the geological arteries. A power plant with CCS will have to generate 30 % more power just to capture and force CO2 in the earth. Simple business calculation reveals that electricity cost will go up.
Secondly, CCS-approach sends a strange signal that power plants would continue to use coal without any regrets because emission would not go into the atmosphere. Diverting scarce funding and technology resources for making CCS viable will deprive R & D resources needed to make renewable energy viable. It is like funding unsustainable technology to keep sustainable technology from getting matured. Thirdly, CCS does not reduce GHG emissions, it only delays them. CO2 if emitted stays in the atmosphere for at least for 50 years. CCS will store CO2 in the earth for how many years? One day, will it erupt like a volcano? It is like a land mine – a real time bomb. We are storing our sins underground and exposing our future generations to a global disaster.
I wonder why the industry did not think of similar CCS -CFC capture & storing- in 1987 when the Montreal protocol was signed. That way the world would have found the way to continue producing CFCs which were otherwise so useful to human beings. Answer is: the makers of the Montreal Protocol had rocky belief and sustained commitment to move forward towards sustainability. They did not want to address the problem by postponing it. After all how many more Copenhagens do we have?