Stalled carbon capture growth triggers discussion on new projects

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The United States is the leading of promoter of large-scale CCS projects.

Global funding for carbon capture and storage technology, a tool for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, remained unchanged at US$23.5 billion in 2011 in comparison to the previous year, according to a new report from the Worldwatch Institute. Although there are currently 75 large-scale, fully integrated carbon capture and storage projects in 17 countries at various stages of development, only eight are operational – a figure that has not changed since 2009.

Carbon capture and storage, more commonly known as CCS, refers to the technology that attempts to capture carbon dioxide from a human-created source –often industry and power generation systems – and then store it in permanent geologic reservoirs so that it never enters the atmosphere. The United States is the leading source of funds of large-scale CCS projects, followed by the European Union and Canada.

The new Worldwatch report, part of the Institute's Vital Signs Online series analyzing key global trends, discusses a variety of new CCS projects and facilities throughout the world. Among these is the Century Plant in the United States, which began operating in 2010. Author of the report and Worldwatch Sustainable Energy Fellow, Matthew Lucky said, “Although CCS technology has the potential to significantly reduce carbon dioxide emissions -- particularly when used in greenhouse gas-intensive coal plants -- developing the CCS sector to the point that it can make a serious contribution to emissions reduction will require large-scale investment. Capacity will have to be increased several times over before CCS can begin to make a dent in global emissions."


Current storage capacity

Currently, the storage capacity of all active and planned large-scale CCS projects is equivalent to only about 0.5 percent of the emissions from energy production in 2010. The prospects for future development and application of CCS technology will be influenced by a variety of factors, according to the report.

This March, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposed regulations on carbon dioxide emissions from power plants. As a result, U.S. power producers would soon be unable to build traditional coal plants without carbon-control capabilities (including CCS). The technology will likely become increasingly important as power producers adjust to the new regulations.

Globally, an international regulatory framework for CCS is developing slowly, and

the technology has been factored into international climate negotiations. Its classification as a Clean Development Mechanism – a measure created through the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change that allows industrialized countries to gain credit for emissions reductions they achieve through funding development projects in developing countries – has raised objections, however, from those who argue that it risks prolonging the use of carbon-intensive industries.

Worldwatch President Robert Engelman said a technology capable of permanently sequestering large amounts of carbon will be expensive, and so far the world's markets and governments haven't assigned much value to carbon or to the prevention of human-caused climate change. “Ultimately, that will be needed for real progress in CCS development and implementation."

Highlights of the report

* There are now seven large-scale CCS plants under construction worldwide, bringing the total annual storage capacity of plants either operating or under construction to nearly 35 million tons of carbon dioxide a year.

* According to the International Energy Agency, an additional $2.5-3 trillion will

need to be invested in CCS between 2010 and 2050 in order to halve global greenhouse gas emissions by mid-century.

* On an average, $5-6.5 billion a year will need to be invested in CCS globally until 2020 for the development of this technology.

* About 76 percent of global government funding for large-scale CCS has been allocated to power generation projects.