Former Vice President (and Nobel Peace Prize winner) Al Gore’s new book “Our Choice: A Plan to Solve the Climate Crisis,” has a full chapter on carbon capture and storage (CCS). And what he has to say will sound familiar to folks who have followed Coal Tattoo’s discussion of the possibilities — and pitfalls — of this technology.
The chapter begins:
The idea of ‘carbon capture and sequestration’ is compelling. In theory, the world could capture all of the CO2 that is presently emitted into the atmosphere by fossil fuel electricity plants and sequester it safely in repositories located deep underground and beneath the bottom of the ocean. We could then continue to use coal as a primary source of electricity without contributing to the destruction of human civilization in the process.
The reality, however, is that decades after CCS was first proposed, no government or company in the world has built a single commercial-scale demonstration project capturing and sequestering large amounts of CO2 from a power plant.
All the technologies for capturing, compressing, transporting, and sequestering CO2 have been developed and tested on a small scale. All of them work. But the components have never been integrated and implemented on a large-enough scale to build the degree of confidence necessary for the truly massive commitment the world would have to make were this option to be chosen as one of civilization’s main strategies for solving the climate crisis.
Gore runs through many of the uncertainties about whether CCS will work, how much it will cost, and whether carbon dioxide will stay buried underground, most of which were discussed in some detail in my big Sunday piece on the topic a few weeks ago. See The Great Race: Coal vs. Climate and Coal and Climate Change: It’s All About the Science.
Despite all the questions, Gore notes:
… Many feel the stakes are so high that no option that might conceivably help solve the climate crisis should be discarded. The expense and risk of CCS, after all, would be far less than what scientists are warning will happen if we continue dumping all of that CO2 straight into the atmosphere.
At the same time:
What should be discarded, however, is any illusion that CCS will be available anytime soon at a scale large enough to make a dent in our CO2 emissions. We are many years away from understanding the answers to questions that must be resolved before CCS could become one of the viable solutions for global warming.
Gore’s chapter has more information than my previous story concerning the potential dangers if CO2 pumped underground were to escape, a topic I hope to explore in continued reporting on CCS.
The chapter notes:
Legislation pending in the U.S. Congress in 2009 provides $10 billion for the study, demonstration and early deployment of CCS, this on top of an additional $6 billion in subsidies enacted over the previous four years.
And Gore concludes:
There is actually a fairly simple solution to resolving all of the questions and uncertainties about whether CCS is economically plausible and, if so, which technologies are the best ones to use: Put a high price on carbon. When the reality of the need to sharply reduce CO2 emissions is integrated into all market calculations — including the decisions by utilities and their investors — market forces will drive us quickly toward the answers we need.