CCS: Carbon Capturing and Storage – major challenges remain unsolved

Net zero emissions by 2050

Ever since the lofty ambition of achieving net zero emission by 2050 came about, it has been gathering momentum at an impressive rate year-on-year in the realm of global politics.

Since we are not left with many options to minimize the COemissions, unless we ditch the use of fossil fuels altogether, the attention is turned to capturing what is given out by industries and then storing, before burying deep underground.

The concept, came to be known as the CCS, carbon capturing and storage, however, is much more complex than what superficially appears and is making very little economic sense at present, if it wants to attract investors.

CO2 capturing can take three distinct forms; they are,

·       Post-combustion

·       Pre-combustion

·       Oxyfuel

In post-combustion method, carbon dioxide is removed from the gases that come out of the furnaces of fossil fuel.

In pre-combustion, fuel is converted into a mixture of CO2 and hydrogen.

Oxyfuel method, meanwhile, provides an opportunity to burn fossil fuel with pure oxygen while producing CO2 and stream.

Once captured by any of the above methods, the gas in question must be turned into liquid form so that it can be transported by pipes, trucks or ships to the ‘dumping ground’, where the ‘burial’ takes place; CO2 in liquid form is pumped deep underground and then compressed, to a depth of above 1km in order to minimize possible leaks back into the atmosphere.

This is where the arguments about the viability of the whole exercise arise: the captured carbon dioxide blocks are not useful for any other industrial purpose; producing and burying them cost a lot of money with no sign of return of investment; in Japan, for instance, the cost is estimated to be over $100 for every 1 ton of captured CO2 ;  a cost of this magnitude is simply a no-starter for developing nations; even for developed nations, unless government subsidies are poured in steady streams, the process is not sustainable in the long run.

In short, there are no incentives on the horizon at present in order to attract investors for any venture involving the CCS.

The following chart shows the use of coal in major economies as of 2020: India and China are at the top of the chart with the United Kingdom securing its position almost at the bottom.

Coal power plants and electricity generation

It’s unthinkable that India and China are going to prioritize the carbon capturing over other burning issues, especially having been hit hard to the core by the pandemic; even switching from coal to liquid natural gas – LNG – will need a seismic change in infrastructure in both countries.

Of course, burning fossil fuels leads to the emission of  at an alarming rate and it needs to be addressed. In pursuing carbon capturing with current enthusiasm just to please the lobbies, when there is no such a thing among potential investors, can do more harm than good, especially for the big industries and of course, the oil giants.

In this context, it is still puzzling why the best carbon capturers are being shadowed by big industries, ranging from oil companies to cement producing industries, having been caught up in the stampede to decarbonising the atmosphere.

Plants have been doing this naturally since time immemorial with the least human intervention while producing a pretty useful by-product too – oxygen – summed up by an equally simple scientific relationship.

6CO2 + 6H2O → C6H12O6 + 6O2



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