Saudi forum seeks to scale up carbon capture and storage

Delegates from 23 countries agree to cooperate on bringing down the towering costs of CCS at summit in Riyadh

Delegates inspecting a new CCS plant at the Carbon Sequestration Leadership Forum in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia (credit: IISD reporting services)

Delegates inspecting a model of a CCS plant at the Carbon Sequestration Leadership Forum in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on Nov 4 (credit: IISD reporting services)

By Alex Pashley

Carbon capture and storage (CCS) ventures must get a fair piece of the multi billion-dollar clean energy pie to cap warming, ministers have declared.

The nascent technology needs urgent investment to bring down towering costs, delegates at a forum of 23 countries including the US and Norway said on Wednesday.

Burying underground CO2 belched by industrial plants, CCS could make up one-sixth of greenhouse gas cuts in 2050, according to the IEA.

Without the technology, holding temperature rise to an agreed 2C might be a lost cause, the UN climate science panel warns.

“We advocate the need for CCS to compete on a comparable basis with other clean energy options,” read a communique from the Carbon Sequestration Leadership Forum in capital Riyadh.

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CCS was named in just two out of 155 national climate pledges submitted towards a UN deal in Paris this December, compared to 90 planning renewable energy expansion.

Investors funnelled US$270bn into renewable energy projects in 2014, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

“We are here today because we are united in a common cause,” said Saudi Arabia oil minister Ali Al Naimi, who will negotiate for the Gulf kingdom at the Paris summit.

“We want to tackle climate change and we know that technology holds the key. We also appreciate that it is only by working together that these challenges will be overcome.”

Large-scale projects have doubled on a decade earlier, with 15 set to be running by the end of 2015, with a combined capacity of 28 million tonnes of CO2 a year.

That will grow to 22 from around 2017, the Global CCS Institute says. Shell’s QUEST project, cleaning up extraction of Alberta’s tar sands, goes live on Friday.



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It is far from the level needed to hold global warming to 2C, as internationally agreed. Under the International Energy Agency’s 2C scenario, 4,000 Mt of CO2 needs to be stored in 2040 and 6,000 Mt by mid-century.

Progress has been slower than many hoped, as the economics are proving a challenge. Existing projects depend on large-scale public subsidy or – ironically – revenue from using the CO2 to extract hard-to-reach oil.

Climate advocates often prefer to focus on renewable energy, which is booming as costs fall.

But CCS can do some things renewables can’t, like neutralising emissions from steel and cement production.

Without it, the costs of keeping climate change at bay will rise 138%, according to the last Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change assessment report.

There is also the prospect of combining it with bioenergy for negative emissions: trees absorb carbon dioxide, are burned to generate energy and the flue gases stored underground.

For now, that is just a “dream”, Jean Jouzel, a former vice-chair at the IPCC, said in Paris on Wednesday.

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US energy minister Ernest Moniz announced at the sixth meeting a global network to spur cooperation at sites where CO2 is buried in saline formations.

That is a key development, according to Stuart Haszeldine, a CCS expert at Edinburgh University.

“This type of learning process is what makes mobile phones go from suitcase size to credit card size over 15 years,” he told Climate Home in an email.

“Many principles of CO2 storage are the same beneath the North Sea as they are in Texas.”

But Chris Littlecott, an expert at E3G, a think tank said ministers had been conservative.

“This year’s communique mainly stays in the CSLF comfort zone of ‘CCS demonstration’ rather than tackling the challenge of how to drive CCS deployment in a carbon-constrained world,” he said.

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