carbon capture and storage conference comes to Melbourne

CCS_April_2017.pngThe 14th international conference on Greenhouse Gas Control Technologies (GHGT-14), will be held at the Melbourne Convention Centre from 22-25 October.

These conferences are held every two years in a different country, and are the main global forum to discuss the development of carbon capture and storage (or CCS) technology.

Prepare yourself for some glowing media bout how CCS is the answer to the greenhouse emissions that are generated by burning coal. Expect (at least some) politicians to wave the idea of ‘clean coal’ around. The reality isn’t quite as positive.

CCS is one of the false ‘solutions’ to climate change that is routinely peddled by the coal industry and some politicians. A considerable number of conservative politicians (and even a handful of progressives) support it, in the hope it will give us a ‘get out of jail’ free card that will allow us to burn coal without bringing catastrophic global warming down on us.

However, the fact is that it is an unproven, risky and expensive technology. State and federal governments have put huge amounts of public funds into CCS research for years, in the hope it will provide the solution to the greenhouse pollution generated by coal fired power stations, with very little to show for it.

Here in Victoria, where we have three remaining coal fired power stations, some are hoping these plants can be retrofitted to use CCS technology.

There are also a number of companies pursuing ‘new coal’ initiatives which will be reliant on CCS to be viable. Most notable of these is the Kawasaki Heavy Industry ‘coal to hydrogen’ project planned for the Latrobe Valley.

Despite hundreds of millions of dollars of investment, it would appear that we are still not close to even knowing if or when CCS might be commercially viable at any kind of scale. It is also not clear whether CCS will be able to safely contain greenhouse emissions from coal power stations for an indefinite period of time.

It’s worth remembering that:

  • There are only 2 operating coal power stations in the world with carbon capture and storage
  • Coal with CCS is exceedingly expensive (an estimated cost of $352/MWh, compared to wind and solar where projects are underway in Australia for much less than $60/MWh)
  • Coal with CCS actually results in more emissions, because the operating plants require energy to run the process, and pump the CO2 underground reservoirs where the gas will be stored indefinitely
  • Australia has spent hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars on carbon capture, and storage with very results. The current estimate is that Australian governments have invested $1.3 billion in the development of this technology.
  • In contrast, renewable energy like wind and solar, matched with grid connection, energy efficiency and storage, is ready to go now. Every dollar we put into further CCS research is a dollar that should have gone into viable clean technology.

Future coal use relies on CCS to be viable

This is why governments continue to fund and pursue it.

Here in Victoria, the CarbonNet Project has been working to ­“establish a world-class, large-scale CCS network close to Australia’s highest emissions coal-fired power stations” with a view to making them ‘climate friendly’.

The network would bring ­together multiple carbon dioxide capture projects in the Latrobe Valley, transporting CO2 via a shared pipeline and injecting it into deep underground, offshore storage sites in Gippsland.

CarbonNet is managed by the Victorian Department of Economic Development, Jobs, Transport and Resources, and is funded by the Australian and Victorian governments. It is funded through a $100 million grant (the federal government put in $70m and the state contributed $30m).

The CarbonNet project is ­exploring the potential to capture and store one to five million tonnes of CO2 a year, with the possibility of scaling up. It is currently investigating options in the Gippsland Basin (for offshore areas near the 90 Mile Beach) for possible sequestration sites.

Kawasaki Heavy Industries (KHI) is wanting to establish a plant in the Latrobe Valley to make liquid hydrogen from brown coal. For this to proceed to commercialisation, CCS will need to be ready to go at commercial scale and a viable price.

Check here for a briefing on CCS and the CarbonNet project.