Carbon capture and storage: a technology reborn?

Techniques to capture and storage greenhouse gases from major industrial projects, have been included in the expanded universe of methods eligible to earn revenue from a revised national Emissions Reduction Fund (ERF).

The inclusion of carbon capture and storage (CCS) has emerged as one of the more controversial recommendations by a government-backed review of the ERF scheme. Environment groups have criticised the inclusion of CCS as funding fossil fuel projects, which is odd as these are the places most likely to have greenhouse gases to abate.

Their concerns about the recommendations by the Grant King led review of the ERF pivoting the scheme towards more industrial methods may also be unfounded. The history of the ERF as reported yesterday by NEM Risk Bulletin¬†doesn’t suggest schemes to capture and storage greenhouse emissions are about to take over the Fund.

The intent of the ERF since its inception in 2014 has been to discover and fund very low cost abatement. The price of the certificates it issues have typically been capped at around $15 per tonne, which has constrained the scheme to a narrow range of tree plantings and other land use methods that are able to make a buck at that low number.

The challenge for CCS has always been cost. The technologies to capture at least some of the carbon dioxide from power stations and industrial processes is well proven. The challenge has been the energy required to deliver this and the availability of suitable and proximate storage locations underground.

A new CCS-specific gas power station using new Allam Cycle technology has been trialled successfully in Texas, but expanded use is constrained by cost and storage access.

The power industry has parked CCS in favour of a renewable based system, but CCS may still have uses in specific industrial applications. Chevron has begun to capture and store fugitive carbon dioxide from its giant Gorgon project in Western Australia after a three year delay.

Santos and BPO are looking at a CCS project to capture around 1.7 million tonnes of carbon dioxide from the Moomba gas processing plant and store it back in the Cooper Basin. They claim to be able to deliver this abatement at under $30 per tonne of carbon dioxide, low enough to make ERF funding lucrative.

CCS may not end up being the game changing technology hoped for a a decade ago, but it may still find cost effective niches to contribute to reducing emissions in some specific sectors of the global economy over the coming decade. A tonne of abatement is a tonne of abatement, wherever it comes from.