Today as we celebrate World Earth Day 2016 and leaders head to New York to sign the Paris Climate Agreement at UN Head Quarters we publish the last part of a three-part interview by Shayne MacLachlan of the OECD Environment Directorate with Kamel Ben Naceur, Director of Sustainability, Technology and Outlooks at the IEA
SMacL: Are there any countries where policies that support CCS are in place, and why aren’t more governments following your CCS recommendations to prevent an overshoot in emissions?
KBN: Many countries have recognised the importance of CCS and are implementing policies to support its development and future deployment, including through investment in national CO2 storage assessments and pilot RD&D programs. A good example is Japan, which is undertaking site surveys to identify CO2 storage opportunities in parallel with an integrated pilot project at Tomakomai. The challenge for policy makers in Japan and elsewhere is to build these efforts towards large-scale CCS deployment – a task that will require significant public investment and long-term political commitment.
The United States and Canada are currently leading the way with large-scale CCS deployment, hosting 15 of the 22 projects expected to be in operation before 2020. To a large extent this has been underpinned by EOR opportunities which provide a much-needed revenue stream for the captured CO2 and eliminate uncertainty around storage availability.
Beyond these projects, it would be fair to say that global CCS deployment efforts lack a sense of urgency and reflect a tendency to focus on alternative low emission technology options that are perhaps easier to deploy in the short-term. Yet the message from the IEA and others is clear: CCS will be essential if we are to achieve the ambitions of the Paris Agreement.
SMacL: Do you think that making CCS compulsory, as a condition of extracting fossil carbon out of the ground, is an option worth considering?
KBN: I would recommend that governments be flexible in identifying opportunities to support early CCS deployment. Mandating CCS as a general condition for coal, gas or oil extraction is unlikely to be practical or effective in supporting CCS deployment, as these resources are often traded or exported and their end-use is beyond the influence of the producer. However, there may well be targeted opportunities to implement policies to achieve a similar outcome. For example, Australia’s Gorgon LNG project will soon be the largest CO2 storage project in the world, and the requirement to capture and store the CO2 from the natural gas processing was imposed by the Government as a condition for project approval.
SMacL: There seem to be as many articles these days about how we can recycle, or use CO2 as there are about CCS. Is the use of CO2 just one type of CCS that can make emissions reduction more profitable, or is it something else entirely?
KBN: The utilisation of captured CO2 can make a major difference to the economics of CCS projects. More than half of the large-scale CCS projects currently in operation are associated with EOR, and global EOR activities use around 70 Mt of CO2 each year. Approximately 50 Mt of this is from naturally occurring sources, but in time this could be replaced with CO2 captured from power and industrial facilities. With appropriate site characterisation and monitoring, CO2-EOR can provide a permanent storage solution.
Alternative utilisation technologies such as mineral carbonation and CO2 concrete curing have the potential to provide long-term storage in building materials, but in general these opportunities are limited and would not be an alternative to geological storage. Similarly, today’s commercial uses of CO2, including for chemical solvents, refrigerants, decaffeination of coffee and carbonation of soft drinks are at relatively small scale. For example, the global beverage industry uses around 8 Mt of CO2 each year, which is approximately 0.5% of the CO2 that would need to be captured and stored in 2030 in the IEA 2 degree scenario.
The conversion of CO2 to liquid fuels could potentially replace fossil fuels (thereby reducing emissions) but would not deliver the same net climate benefit as geological storage as the CO2 is ultimately re-released.
SMacL: Do you think it’s inevitable that we’ll use the remaining stocks of fossil carbon in the ground? If we don’t choose to use CCS, by when do we need to stop using fossil fuels in the power sector?
KBN: It is in no way inevitable that we will use all of our global fossil fuel resources, particularly considering we still have more than 120 years of coal resources based on current production rates. Even with widespread deployment of CCS, this level of coal use would be incompatible with global climate goals.
In the event that CCS were not available for power generation, it is likely that fossil fuels will continue to feature with a significant percentage in the electricity mix until at least 2050. In the IEA 2 degree scenario, unabated coal and gas still account for around 16% of global capacity in 2050. A decision not to deploy CCS in the power sector would also remove the opportunity for negative emissions through BECCS, which may have wider implications for how quickly we can transition to net zero emissions globally.