Carbon Capture & Storage Makes a Difference

Does CCS really make a difference for the environment?

Carbon capture and storage (CCS) is one of several options, including the use of renewables, nuclear energy, alternative fuels, and improved energy efficiency, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Carbon management options, such as these, are needed so that environmental objectives can be addressed, while affordably meeting worldwide energy demands.

Many organizations have recognized the opportunity for CCS technologies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The International Energy Agency (IEA), the IEA Greenhouse Gas R&D Program (IEA GHG), and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), among others, have endorsed CCS technology. According to the 2005 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Special Report on Carbon Capture and Storage, CCS is a critical GHG mitigation technology that can contribute up to 55% of the cumulative global mitigation effort. The report further notes that: “In most scenario studies, the role of CCS in mitigation portfolios increases over the course of the century and the inclusion of CCS in a mitigation portfolio is found to reduce the costs of stabilizing carbon dioxide [CO2] concentrations by 30% or more.”(IPCC Special Report on Carbon Capture and Storage, 2005).

Location of SECARB's Cranfield site
(click image to enlarge)

Carbon dioxide is produced by several sectors of the economy, including energy, transportation, and housing, and results from the burning of fossil fuels like coal, oil, and gas. There are many efforts underway to implement more energy-efficient and environmentally friendly technologies, which do not burn fossil fuels. However, these efforts will take time, during which CO2 will continue to be produced at high rates. CCS represents the most immediate solution existing for large emitters of CO2. For example, the Regional Carbon Sequestration Partnerships’ (RCSP) Phase III (Development Phase) field tests are progressing. An important milestone occurred in the Southeast Regional Carbon Sequestration Partnership (SECARB) at the Cranfield site in southwestern Mississippi in October 2009. The DOE-sponsored storage project is one of five sites worldwide to exceed 1 million tons (or more) of injected CO2 (In June 2010, this project surpassed the 2 million ton mark.)

The CO2 in the atmosphere can be thought of as analogous to the water in a swimming pool, where the water level is comparable to the current amount of CO2 in the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide producers will continue to add buckets of CO2 into the pool at a steady rate that can cause the pool to overflow. The pool can be prevented from overflowing by removing buckets of CO2 and storing them somewhere safe. The immediate challenge is to remove CO2 from the pool at the same rate as it is being added, or greater.