CARBON CAPTURE AND STORAGE: ITS ROLE IN TACKLING CLIMATE CHANGE
Climate change refers to long-term changes in average weather patterns. Concurrent climate change includes global warming and its impacts on earth’s weather patterns. Previous periods of climate change have occurred, but the current changes are diversely rapid.
Since the early 20th century, changes observed in the earth’s climate have been predominantly driven by anthropogenic (human-induced) activities, especially fossil fuel burning, which increases heat-trapping GHG levels in the earth’s atmosphere, raising its average surface temperature. They are caused by greenhouse gas (GHGs) emissions, mainly carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane. When fossil fuels are burnt for energy use, most of these emissions are created.
Additional sources are agriculture, steelmaking, cement production, and deforestation. There is a rising temperature about twice as fast as the global average on land, causing more intense storms and other weather extremes. Deserts are widening, while heat waves and wildfires are becoming more popular. These have forced many plants and animals to go extinct due to environmental changes.
People have also been threatened with food and water scarcity, and there is increased flooding, extreme heat, more disease, and economic loss, all resulting from climate change. It can also drive human migration. The World Health Organization (WHO) calls climate change the greatest threat to global health in the 21st century.
Even if efforts to reduce future warming are successful, some effects will continue for centuries. Many of these impacts are already felt at the current level of warming, which is about 1.2°C (2°F). The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) projects even more significant impacts as warming continues to 1.5 °C and beyond.
Taking actions to limit the amount of warming and adapting to them is a way to respond positively to these changes. Future warming can be mitigated by reducing GHGs and removing them from the atmosphere. And that will mean using renewable energy sources like wind and solar energy, phasing out coal, and increasing energy efficiency. Switching to electric vehicles and heating pumps for homes and commercial buildings will also curb these emissions.
Also, prevention of deforestation and reinforcing forests can help absorb CO2. Communities can adapt climate change through better coastline protection, disaster management, and the development of more resistant crops. By themselves, these efforts to adapt cannot deter the risk of drastic, widespread, and permanent impacts. It must be a collective action.
Utilizing the Carbon Capture Innovation
Carbon capture is the trapping of the CO2 at its emission source, transporting it to a storage location, and isolating it deep under the ground, thereby creating greener energy. The use of bioenergy is another way to reduce these emissions. There are new methods available, including Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS), which captures and stores CO2 before releasing it into the atmosphere. It is crucial for tackling climate change affordably, delivering economic growth and regional prosperity. It can capture up to 90% of CO2 released by burning fossil fuels in electricity generation and industrial processes, e.g., cement production.
Once the CO2 has been captured, it is compressed into a liquid state and transported by pipeline, ship, or road tanker, which can then be pumped underground, usually at depths of 1km or more, to be stored in depleted oil and gas reservoirs, coalbeds or deep saline aquifers, where the geology is suitable. CO2 can also be used to produce commercially marketable products. This is commonly termed Carbon Capture Storage and Utilisation (CCSU).
Presently, CCS is the only technology that can help reduce emissions from large industrial installations. It can generate ‘negative emissions,’ removing CO2 from the atmosphere. Many scientists and policymakers argue that it is crucial if the world is to limit temperature rise to under 2°C, which is the Paris Agreement goal. The International Energy Agency (IEA) further states that a tenfold increase in potential is needed by 2025 to be on track for meeting that target, and the Global CCS Institute estimates that 2,500 CCS facilities would need to be in operation worldwide, by 2040, with each capturing around 1.5 million tonnes of CO2 per year.
One of the main goals of governments across the world is combating climate change. The United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) also intensify the urgency to act. Goal 13 is to “take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts.” Climate change has caused prevalent concern for stakeholders in several industrial sectors, with its response being a significant element in their advancing business strategies. Electricity generation and industrial processes using fossil fuels can be blended with CCS technologies to reduce environmental impact.
While CCS gained significant attention in the past decade, economic and social bottlenecks have wrecked their adoption potential. Currently, CCS projects across the world are being deployed at a static rate making global nations not to rely entirely on CCS technologies to mitigate climate change and SDGs related to CO2 emissions. To avoid the fossil fuel combustion releasing carbon pollution into the atmosphere, the CO2 from a coal-fired power plant (or potentially a gas-fired one) must be captured and stored somewhere forever. That CO2 could be removed before or after combustion. Before the fossil fuel is burnt, doing so is much simpler and cheaper because after combustion, the CO2 starts to diffuse in the exhaust gas and the atmosphere. The more we diffuse the CO2, the more complex and costly the air will be extracted.
CCS has a long way to go in becoming a major contributor in tackling climate change risks starting in the 2030s. More efforts by the public and private sector will greatly be needed if CCS will provide as much as 10% of the CO2 emissions reductions needed by 2050. The importance of CCS as one of the tools against global warming was highlighted in a report by the IEA, which found that CCS could contribute to a 19% reduction in global CO2 emissions by 2050, and that fighting climate change could cost over 70% more without CCS.
CCS can be applied to fossil fuel-fueled electricity generating plants, for example, coal or gas-fired power stations. Fossil fuel plants with CCS have a crucial role in providing a balanced energy supply, which can deal with sudden changes in demand and supply intermittency, where nuclear and renewables cannot. CCS can also relatively lessen emissions from industry, e.g., cement, steel, and chemical industries, and on many occasions, it is the only currently achievable technology to do so.
CCS, when combined with biomass, can result in harmful CO2 emissions. And as plants grow, they absorb CO2 from the atmosphere. When they are burnt to produce power, there is a net reduction in CO2 in the atmosphere if the CO2 is captured and stored.
It’s Time to Embrace CCS
Carbon capture and storage have a promising role in combatting climate change. CCS is a set of technologies currently viewed as one of the most promising options for reducing CO2 emissions as the world shifts from a fossil-fuel-based economy to a cleaner, modern, and sustainable energy era.
The IEA has estimated that globally 3400 CCS plants will be needed by 2050 to meet our critical target of 2°C above pre-industrial levels. The strategy is to trap CO2 produced at power plants and at factories that burn fossil fuels so that the GHG is not emitted into the air. The captured CO2 would then be transported, stored, or used in industrial processes.
The IPCC estimates that catching carbon at a modern conventional power plant could decrease these emissions to the atmosphere by approximately 80–90% compared to a plant that does not have the technology to catch carbon. Hence, the need to embrace Carbon Capture and Storage.
Author: Gift Ifokwe