The world’s population is expected to exceed nine billion by 2050. With this growth there will be an increasing demand for energy.
As it stands, fossil fuels provide more than 85 per cent of the world’s energy. And despite significant global efforts to shift to renewable energy generation, renewable sources only accounted for 2 per cent of the global energy supply in 2014.
It is therefore logical and reasonable to believe that fossil fuels will remain an indispensable part of the world’s energy landscape until at least the end of this century.
At COP21, representatives from over 190 countries will try to reach an agreement to limit global warming to the two degrees target, and this will involve stabilising atmospheric CO2 concentrations at a level of 450 parts per million (ppm).
So what does this mean? For fossil fuels, it means we need to decarbonise electricity production; and carbon capture and storage (CCS) is a readily deployable technology solution to do this.
There are two leading CCS technology options; oxy-combustion of fuel or post-combustion scrubbing of the exhaust gas arising from a conventional combustion process with a chemical solvent. Both of these technologies are established and reliant on well-understood components.
To meet the world’s global warming limit of two degrees, it is expected that we need to store 120-160 Gigatonnes of carbon dioxide (GtCO2) in the period from now until 2050.
Globally there is a theoretical storage capacity of approximately 11,000 Gt of CO2 with 1,000 GtCO2 provided by oil and gas reservoirs, 9,000-10,000 GtCO2 provided by deep saline aquifers and a significant potential capacity in unminable coal seams.
Thus, if we do need to sequester 120-160 GtCO2 by 2050 there is more than enough storage capacity to do so, and enough for our CCS needs to well beyond the next century.
The world’s first commercial CCS-equipped power station is now in operation at the Boundary Dam facility in Canada. Unfortunately progress for two potential CCS-equipped power plants in the UK – the White Rose and Peterhead projects – have been derailed due the UK government cutting CCS Competition funding to the tune of £1 billion.
In the absence of a substantial and reliable carbon price, CCS is not commercially competitive with other forms of power generation. This is necessary to put all forms of low carbon power generation on a level playing field.
Mitigating climate change has, in the past, been likened to the Apollo programme. In this spirit, it is worth noting that in order to reach the moon, we took the tools we had to hand, improved upon them and deployed them.
Chemical engineers have the ability to deploy CCS technology today, and in so doing, take a major step forwards to the least-cost mitigation of dangerous climate change.
CCS is one of the key messages and areas of focus that the IChemE Energy Centre is taking to Paris at COP21. If you are already in Paris for the climate talks you can watch the Energy Centre Chair, Stefaan Simons present at an official side event –Technology solutions for a 2 degree world.
The IChemE Energy Centre is also hosting an evening panel discussion to coincide with this COP21 side event in IChemE’s London offices, so make sure you attend this highly topical meeting.