Carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology has long been accused of over-promising and under-delivering. Norway first trialled it in 1996, but it never took off as expected. Most countries stopped paying attention to CCS energy after Norway’s experiments. Even today, just 21 facilities capture around 40 million tonnes of carbon1 – a small fraction of the 36 billion tonnes emitted each year.2
But the political urgency over climate change has brought CCS technology back into focus. As more countries and companies announce plans to achieve ‘net zero’ carbon emissions, many say that CCS should play a vital role. In fact, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has said that CCS has the potential to “increase flexibility in achieving greenhouse gas emission reductions”.3
Countries abandoned CCS energy due to its cost inefficacy
In 2013, Norway closed down its flagship carbon capture and storage (CCS) plant due to cost overruns. The project had promised to capture one million tonnes of carbon dioxide per year from an oil refinery and gas power plant. But the reasoning behind its closure wasn’t so simple.
An environmental NGO said that Norway’s failure was “a reflection not of the technology involved, but rather the shoddy organization and perpetual equivocation on behalf of the Norwegian government”. But the country’s auditor general said that the government had overspent on the project and handled the financial risks poorly. “The complexity of implementing CCS was underestimated in 2006 (when the project was launched)”, it added.
Norway’s failure was not the only one. Several other European countries, such as Germany, Italy, Spain and the UK, also experimented with CCS projects. These were also abandoned due to their complexity.4
The future of carbon capture and storage energy has rapidly changed
Carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology is back in vogue again due to the climate change emergency, despite its past failures. In 2021, the Dutch government pledged over two billion euros to four companies to subsidise CCS facilities.5 In 2020, the UK government announced that it would add £200 million to the £800 million that it had already pledged for four CCS hub projects.6 The Canadian government is exploring how to introduce an investment tax credit for carbon capture too.8
However, it is worth noting that CCS technology is still far more expensive than biological methods, such as simply planting more trees. Green groups say that that would be a better use of taxpayers’ money.9
- IEA. (n.d.). A new era for CCUS – CCUS in Clean Energy Transitions – Analysis. [online] Available at: https://www.iea.org/reports/ccus-in-clean-energy-transitions/a-new-era-for-ccus.
- Sullivan, C. (2021). Carbon capture eyes renewed backing despite past failures. [online] www.ft.com. Available at: https://www.ft.com/content/5d2e52ff-638a-44fa-a49c-447c739fa6c6.
- IPCC (2005). Summary for Policymakers A Special Report of Working Group III of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Carbon Dioxide Capture and Storage Summary for Policymakers. [online] Kailai. Available at: https://www.ipcc.ch/site/assets/uploads/2018/03/srccs_summaryforpolicymakers-1.pdf.
- EUobserver. (n.d.). [Investigation] After spending €587 million, EU has zero CO2 storage plants. [online] Available at: https://euobserver.com/investigations/139257 [Accessed 2 Jun. 2021].
- gCaptain. (2021). Netherlands Pledges $2.6 Billion Subsidy to Bury Carbon Under the Sea. [online] Available at: https://gcaptain.com/netherlands-pledges-2-6-billion-subsidy-to-bury-carbon-under-the-sea.
- Global CCS Institute. (2020). UK Government Set to Fund Four CCS Hubs and Clusters. [online] Available at: https://www.globalccsinstitute.com/news-media/press-room/media-releases/uk-government-set-to-fund-four-ccs-hubs-and-clusters/ [Accessed 20 May 2021].
- International CCS Knowledge Centre. (2021). Canada’s Budget 2021: Carbon Capture & Storage «. [online] ccsknowledge.com. Available at: https://ccsknowledge.com/news/canadas-budget-2021-carbon-capture-and-storage.[/efn_note]
CCS advocates say they have learnt from mistakes of the past. They say they can reduce the cost of capturing carbon in new ways, by building a CCS facility next to a hub of fossil fuel plants, allowing it to capture, process and store carbon from several plants at once. Another option is to focus on capturing carbon from industries such as steel, chemicals and cement rather than power generation, as that is cheaper.7Sullivan, C. (2021). Carbon capture eyes renewed backing despite past failures. [online] www.ft.com. Available at: https://www.ft.com/content/5d2e52ff-638a-44fa-a49c-447c739fa6c6.
- Climate change: Five cheap ways to remove CO2 from the atmosphere. (2018). BBC News. [online] 24 Oct. Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-45967215.