Got gas: Scepticism aside, carbon capture might yet shine
The Australian government continues to promote its gas agenda with Treasurer Josh Frydenberg the latest to extol its benefits when he launched the latest Intergenerational Report.
Besides promoting gas as a major opportunity for Australia as global energy transition progresses, he also spruiked carbon capture and storage (CCS) along with clean (not green) hydrogen as promising future industries that neatly toe the government’s line of technology (rather than taxes) being the route that the country will take to zero emissions.
There’s just one little problem.
Last week’s Senate decision to knock back the addition of “low emissions technology” to the Australian Renewable Energy Agency’s remit has dealt a blow to the government’s hopes of diverting funds set aside for renewable projects to projects proposed by coal and gas companies that seek to reduce or capture emissions.
It is also a blow to clean hydrogen projects that seek to use coal or natural gas as feedstock to generate hydrogen while capturing and storing the resulting carbon emissions.
Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction Angus Taylor isn’t letting a small thing like the Senate’s decision get him down and has already regrouped with the release of a draft CCS method for the (far more appropriate) Emissions Reduction Fund.
CCS is a proven technology that involves the capture of carbon emissions, transporting it to a storage site – typically an underground geological formation, and depositing it where it will not enter the atmosphere.
What has been less successful is its effectiveness when it has been used as part of commercial project – typically gas – to curtail or eliminate carbon emissions.
That’s not to say that CCS has no role to play in reducing emissions.
In its latest research, Wood Mackenzie noted that by its calculations, the only way for the world to achieve its goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius of pre-industrial levels would be to reduce emissions by 1.8 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent per annum over the next three decades.
According to the energy consultancy, a transition to renewables alone will not be able to solve this and that achieving a low carbon future would require not just carbon avoidance but also active carbon removal.
Enter basin-wide CCS, which Woodmac believes will provide a community answer by taking advantage of economies of scale.
Some 1,500 potential depleted oil and gas reservoirs have been identified that are technically capable of storing carbon dioxide, though Woodmac admits that radically different and paradigm challenging methods will be required to scale up CCS.
It proposes the use of CCS clusters and hubs that link multiple industrial emission point sources with common storage locations through shared transport infrastructure.
Cost and liability sharing could help de-risk the project for all participants and make CCS feasible for smaller point sources.
So is there a case for the development of a carbon disposal industry that is not linked to any specific emissions producer?
Based on the Woodmac research it’s certainly worth investigating, as early indications suggest the potential for a standalone CCS project to capture emissions for multiple projects has merits.