The majority of 13 flagship CCS schemes worldwide, representing 55 per cent of captured carbon dioxide, have either failed entirely or captured much less CO2 than expected
Several of the world’s biggest projects capturing and storing carbon dioxide are significantly underperforming, according to an analysis showing some are capturing only half as much CO2 as promised.
Carbon capture and storage (CCS) is seen as a vital tool for tackling climate change by authorities such as the International Energy Agency and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The technology stands to receive generous support in the US government’s new climate bill, and other countries are incentivising take-up, including Norway and the UK.
A report published today analysed the performance of 13 flagship existing CCS schemes worldwide, which together represent 55 per cent of captured CO2, using figures published by the companies.
Most have captured much less CO2 than expected, the report found. Across its lifetime, the report says ExxonMobil’s LaBarge facility at Shute Creek in Wyoming has underperformed by around 36 per cent in terms of capacity. The world’s only large power station with CCS, Boundary Dam in Saskatchewan, Canada, has captured about 50 per cent less than planned, according to the report, and the capacity of Chevron’s Gorgon gas scheme in Western Australia has been about 50 per cent lower than planned in its first five years.
Two projects included in the report failed, including the Kemper coal CCS project in Mississippi, which was long delayed and construction was eventually abandoned in 2017.
“Is CCS a solution to our climate woes? I would say no. More often than not, it doesn’t actually work to its design capacity,” says Bruce Robertson at the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA), an Australian think tank, who is the author of the report.
The technology dates back to the 1970s, and in many cases is used to extract more oil from reservoirs rather than for curbing climate change by capturing CO2 for the long term. “They [the industry] say it’s an emerging sector. In actual fact it has been has been in operation for most of our lifetimes,” says Robertson. The underperformance of schemes isn’t for want of financial or engineering resource, he adds. The Gorgon project alone cost AU$3.1 billion.
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On a more positive note, the report finds the Sleipner and Snøhvit CCS projects in Norway have been a success, which it says is largely due to the country’s unique business and regulatory environment. Robertson says he concedes there may be a future role for CCS in heavy industries where emissions are hard to prevent, such as cement making.
Stuart Haszeldine at the University of Edinburgh in the UK says the IEEFA report is thorough, but that it is “too simple” to claim that CCS doesn’t work. He says one reason CCS projects appear to be underperforming isn’t the technology but a lack of market incentives for storing CO2, and an absence of good regulation. “CCS does and will work when the rules are correct,” says Haszeldine.
A spokesperson for Chevron says: “Innovation on this scale is not without its challenges, but the technology works.” An ExxonMobil spokesperson says: “The LaBarge facility has captured more CO2 than any other facility in the world to date.”
Saskpower disputed the suggestion the Boundary Dam project had a capture rate of around 50 per cent, giving a figure of 68 per cent. Robertson says this discrepancy is due to the IEEFA assessing the project’s original capture rate target, rather than a revised, lower target.
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