Carbon capture and storage is expensive and it doesn’t produce any electricity. So why is it such a good idea?

An opinion piece from UKCCSRC Coordination Group Member Andy Chadwick on the recent Treasury cuts to CCS funding.

As I write this, towns and villages in northern England continue to suffer from the effects of unprecedented flooding. Meanwhile the Treasury has removed previously ring-fenced funding support from the UK’s first large-scale carbon capture and storage (CCS) projects. If this verdict on the use of fossil-fuel has a knock-on effect worldwide, it will have serious consequences for the future of our planet. CCS is not like other low carbon energy technologies such as wind-power, solar or nuclear. It costs money and does not, of itself, generate any electricity. It has a sole purpose, which is to prevent greenhouse gas emissions from the burning of fossil-fuels reaching the atmosphere. There is good reason to suppose that a ceiling of around one trillion tonnes of additional carbon in the atmosphere (principally in the form of carbon dioxide) represents a maximum safe limit for man-made emissions. Since the start of the industrial revolution we have moved more than half-way along this path. But known current reserves of fossil-fuel comfortably exceed the remaining ‘head-space’, and perhaps up to four trillion tonnes of fossil carbon ultimately remain in the Earth to be exploited. In recent weeks India and the Philippines have announced massive building programmes for new coal-fired power-stations. Indeed, President Aquino has stated unequivocally that renewables are not an appropriate form of energy generation for his country. We face a reality where the remaining fossil-fuel resource represents a buried ticking time-bomb. It will be exploited in the coming decades by nation-states eager to gain economic advantage and to maintain or improve living standards for their people. Switching to less carbon-intensive fuels and deploying renewable or nuclear energy technologies will have the effect of prolonging the fossil fuel era, but will only marginally affect the total amount of fossil carbon that is ultimately consumed. It is also worth noting the huge CO2 emissions associated with those industrial processes, such as cement and steel manufacture, required to build a renewable or nuclear energy infrastructure at global scale. CCS is the only way we have of neutralising this fossil carbon time-bomb by intercepting CO2 before it reaches the atmosphere and placing it back into the Earth.  That is why the decision last month to remove funding from CCS could have very far-reaching consequences. Not just for the UK, but for everyone.