Report: Carbon Capture & Sequestration Not Yet Viable at Scale

Carbon capture and sequestration (CCS), in its various forms, has risen to the top of discussions on decarbonization. Though the concept could be paradigm-shifting in the approach to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, a recent report by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) argues that it is not currently a viable, or investible, option. Catalyzed by the most recent report released by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that discusses CCS, the IEEFA report argues that the conclusions of the report “depend on where [one’s] interests lie.” To further shed light on CCS technology, the IEEFA examined six of the major variations of CCS, and discussed their current technical, financial, and environmental realities. The six technologies discussed are CCS for gas processing, power generation, the steel and cement industry, the ethanol and fertilizer industry, blue hydrogen, as well as bioenergy with carbon capture (BECCS) and direct air carbon capture and storage (DACCS) technology. Each technology was scrutinized based on its individual technological, commercial, environmental and social credibility, as well as its cost competitiveness. According to the report, all technologies share a common challenge: lack of quality data. The lack of testing and operational data on individual CCS applications, they explain, do not justify current investment into such technology. Additionally, the IEEFA argues that all of the technologies, even those currently being used, lack developmental maturity. That is, they are not developed to the point of proving commercial viability, especially compared to other carbon-cutting measures, such as the use of renewable energy. However, the report does not indicate that the use of CCS technologies across these sectors will ever be plausible. There is potential for certain CCS technologies to be implemented, specifically for use within the steel, cement, ethanol, and fertilizer industries, if development continues and the cost of use drops. There are currently just 12 capture and sequestration facilities operating in the U.S. Major research efforts are underway on CCS, and the federal infrastructure legislation contains funding for CCS development. The report also argues that BECCS and DACCS could be of “social usefulness”, but are currently “not well advanced or technically or commercially”. The report was not favorable toward the use of CCS in the production of ‘blue’ hydrogen. Some issues that CCS for blue hydrogen faces are shared among the other technologies, such as the lack of development and low rates of adoption within the industry. Though all CCS technologies have environmental considerations, IEFFA states that the environmental concerns with CCS for blue hydrogen may completely overshadow any potential emissions reductions, citing an analysis that found life cycle emissions of blue hydrogen production to be as much as 20 percent higher than when using only natural gas as a fuel for power generation. Though there is an international effort to develop new technologies to reduce GHG emissions, the IEFFA report does provide a reminder that these technologies are still in their early stages and need significant research and development to justify their use.

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