Whatever happened to carbon capture?

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Addis Ababa, May 13, 2012 (WIC) - The process was patented back in the 1930s, and it is reckoned to be one of the most important technologies we have for tackling greenhouse gas emissions.

So you might well ask: "Whatever happened to carbon capture and storage (CCS)?"

The International Energy Agency (IEA) forecasts global energy demand increasing by at least one-third by 2035.

The majority of that increase will come from burning fossil fuels; and without capturing and storing some of the carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions that result, this implies a significant addition to global warming.

To meet the internationally agreed target of keeping the temperature rise since pre-industrial times below 2C (3.6F), the IEA calculates there should be about 1,500 full-scale CCS plants in operation by 2035.
Currently, there are just eight.

"I think we're a bit behind where we need to be," says Brad Page, CEO of the Global Carbon Capture and Storage Institute, with laconic Antipodean understatement.

"And that means we're going to need governments to step up and get supportive policies in place for clean energy generally and also for CCS."
"So I think it's crucial that not only in Europe but elsewhere that companies get a clear signal from the market."

CCS makes electricity more expensive. Extra fuel needs to be burned to drive the process of capturing CO2 from the power station's flue gas, and to pump it down to its resting place in rock deep underground.

If the carbon price were high, companies would find it cheaper to run coal- and gas-fired power stations with CCS fitted than to pay for the CO2 emitted from conventional plants.

However, the European carbon price is now so low - about 7 euros ($9) per tonne - that the only signal it sends is "carry on emitting".

According to BBC, the price has fallen because of the recession and because European governments have lobbied against tightening caps on emissions. Tough caps deliver a high carbon price.

Australia's new carbon price will come in at $23 per tonne, and is likely to fall further - also too low to spur businesses to invest in CCS.
So as things stand, there is no sign that carbon pricing is going to drive an expansion in CCS.