What we can answer to “CCS sceptics”

As you might have read about it, Carbon capture & storage technology (CCS) is gaining increased popularity every day. Especially in countries that are looking to cut their overall C02 emissions, such as The Netherlands. The science that lies behind this technology is very complex, but the idea itself is quite simple. The idea is that specific Industries emitting important amounts of CO2 are connected to a pipeline that transports their emissions into an empty gas chamber deep under the ground. According to The Global status on CCS 2018: “as much as 450 Mt of CO2 could be captured, utilised and stored globally with a commercial incentive as low as US$40 per tonne of CO2”. Furthermore, “400 million tonnes of CO2 emissions could be prevented annually in Europe by 2030” (Linde, 2020), which shows the huge potential that CCS technology has in reducing CO2 emissions efficiently.

The-basic-principle-for-Carbon-Capture-and-Storage-CCS
A basic view on how CCS operates

CCS has been and still is at the centre of the debate in within our society. When looking on the internet, I found an article that criticises CCS technology on different aspects, which I assume are the most popular critics addressed at CCS. In fact, CCS projects are directly supported by the Dutch government, as they aim at reducing emissions by 49% in 2030, compared to 1990 levels (Nederlandse Klimaatakkoord, 2019). Yet, people are questioning the legitimacy and safety of CCS technology.  How can we respond to such criticism in order to build a stronger image of CCS? I will give you my perception on this topic while taking the question above into account.

I will start by explaining what the reoccurring arguments of “CCS sceptics” are (still based on this article) and what we can answer to that.

The risk related to CCS is often highlighted by sceptics. In fact, some are unsure that CCS will have the impact that it should theoretically have on reducing CO2 emissions. That is because of the fact that there are not many high scale CCS projects active yet. Furthermore, CCS projects often take years in order to be constructed, therefore it would be unreasonable to construct them everywhere.

Personally, I think that a fair way to tackle the uncertainty that lies behind CCS technology is by actually developing more CCS projects across a country. In that way, we would gather exact data on the overall impact of CCS, which will be used to optimize it, because there is surely still room for improvement. Regarding the construction time of CCS, it will decrease more and more as we work on finding better components to build it. Yes, time may be a handicap, but not a reason to not implement such a project. Regarding the Dutch government, if they want to cut their emissions by 49% in 2030, they should rightfully consider CCS a very viable option to reduce CO2 emissions efficiently.

emission reduction graph with bubbles and orange arrow
CCS and second generation CCS have a drastically lower CO2 emission value than natural coal or gas plants.

Second, criticism was aimed at the overall weight of CCS within our energy transition model. Some people say that if the government focuses the majority of its resources in CCS, there will not be much support for any smaller and perhaps simpler technologies that could potentially substitute a CCS project. I saw that the Dutch climate agreement responded to this issue; it is written that CCS will only be funded as a last resort for CO2 abatement, leaving room for other smaller technologies of CO2 abatement that might require less funding and overall implementation time (Nederlandse Klimaatakkoord, 2019). I personally find it a good compromise for both sides of the debate, because it seems that the Dutch government did take critics into consideration and worked on making a policy that would still give a chance to smaller projects to take place.

More broadly, CCS can surely store CO2, but such technology is more efficient if it can also produce carriers, while covering the CO2 emissions that are related to the making on the product. That product is: Blue hydrogen. In fact, Hydrogen is massively used as a carrier gas in our economy, but production of hydrogen also releases CO2 into the atmosphere. Therefore, Carbon Capture Utilisation and Storage is now being implemented, in China, and now also in The Netherlands, in Rotterdam to be precise (Global status on CCS, 2018). CCUS will not only capture CO2, but it will also produce hydrogen, with very low CO2 emissions associated. For me, these ameliorations of CCS technology contribute at solidifying the image of CCS, which reduces the overall scepticism that is related to it.

Moreover, blue hydrogen would be another product that will be able to compete economically with the actual conventional ways of producing Hydrogen in commercial quantities. Often known as “grey hydrogen” there are high CO2 emissions related to its production. “Green hydrogen” on the other hand, is also promising for the future, as it is made from renewable energy, but that us not related to CSS or CCUS. Moreover, The CCUS field is still relatively new, but advancements are being made every day: an exciting future lies ahead of it.

Hydrogen-production
These are the three different processes used to make hydrogen. Brown Hydrogen is also known as grey hydrogen.

I have responded to some critics that were addressed at CCS projects and policy-makers. I think that these critics are mainly based on technicalities, which can be improved in the future. Therefore, both CCS and CCUS have a promising future, while technological advancements aim at making it more safe, cost and time efficient . I will personally keep an eye on the development of Blue hydrogen CCS and CCUS;  hopefully, we will see a net CO2 reduction related to the work of CCS and CCUS as soon as possible.

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