Carbon capture capers

Carbon Capture and Sequestration (CCS) has been touted by advocates as a viable solution to mopping up carbon emissions from carbon intensive industries such as coal fired power generation.

The theory is that you siphon off the emissions then pipe or otherwise transport them to a place where they are injected deep into the ground where they’ll stay – we hope.

I liken carbon capture to sweeping dirt under a rug. It’s almost like another form of landfill, and a potentially dangerous one at that. A natural carbon dioxide leak at Lake Nyos in 1986 killed around 1,700 people and thousands of animals.

Wouldn’t it be just better not to generate those emissions in the first place? The greenest watt is the one you don’t have to make (energy efficiency), but for electricity generation, there’s all sorts of renewable energy alternatives such as solar power and wind energy. They still need some development, but maybe if governments subsidized them as much as the coal industry, we’d get somewhere fast.

For example, according to Greenpeace, in Australia during 2005-06 energy and transport subsidies amounted to between $9.3 billion and $10.1 billion. More than 96% of that cash went to providing support for fossil fuel production and consumption. Less than 4% went to supporting for renewable energy and energy efficiency.

I’m sure it’s a similar story in other countries. While recent years have seen a greater amount of cash going to renewables, I still don’t think it would be anywhere near the support fossil fuels get. We need a massive response to a massive problem.

Imagine how rapidly renewable energy would progress with a fossil fuel type financial kick behind it.

However, carbon capture is another story.

Carbon capture  is unlikely to become viable anytime soon – and it’s not the detractors saying that, it’s what energy industry officials said last week at the Reuters Global Energy Summit. The U.S. Energy Department also believes a commercial scale project is a decade or more away – and that’s under the best of circumstances

With coal-fired power plants being the single biggest contributor of carbon dioxide emissions in the United States, accounting for 30 percent (and likely more in Australia), the solutions shouldn’t be based on trying to sweep the stuff under the carpet (so to speak) through CCS, but to stop producing carbon dioxide altogether – a phaseout. It’s not just emissions we’re talking here, but the damage wreaked upon the environment by coal mining.

While we can all do our bit in reducing emissions by driving less, using energy efficient appliances, switching to green power and even going as far as having small scale solar power systems installed on our homes, governments really need to wake up and smell the carbon, stop frittering public money away on solutions that mightn’t work, nor address the root of the problem and put the cash into ones that will – and much sooner.