7th Annual Greenhouse Gas Technologies Conference focuses on Carbon Capture and Storage technology to reduce CO2 emissions

By Allen Gibson,

One of the keys to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, if the 7th annual Greenhouse Gas Technology conference held this week in Vancouver is any indication, will be the simple expedient of pumping Carbon Dioxide back into the ground!

Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) is a technology undergoing massive RD&D activities world-wide. In Europe , Asia , and North America , scientists are busy working out how to safely and economically inject massive amounts of CO2 into underground and underwater geological reservoirs.

?The main priority for CO2 storage is to establish its credibility and acceptance as being safe and reliable in the long-term,? according to www.co2sink.org. ?The fact that natural CO2 reservoirs exist over geological time-scales supports this.? And, they say, there is enough storage potential to sock away a couple of hundred years worth of human emissions. If so, the process can?t start soon enough, according to the Conference?s keynote speaker:

? Kyoto is not enough. Unless government policy revisions are made, the future does not look good,? says Marianne Haug, the Director of the Office of Energy Efficiency, Technology, and R&D for the International Energy Agency (IEA).

She says CCS is but one of the technologies that will be needed to address our steadily increasing output of greenhouse gases. And while she calls CCS ?one of the most promising technologies for a cleaner future for our children,? she notes that what is needed is a ?quantum jump? in greenhouse gas reduction. Something comparable to eliminating five thousand 1-gigawatt electricity plants! To that end, all of the alternative energies, including solar, wind, and nuclear, will be required.

The IEA?s yearly ?Energy Outlook? suggests that energy consumption globally will increase by 1.7% per annum through 2030. And while that is a slower growth rate than the past couple of decades, we are still looking at a 32% increase in CO2 emissions by the end of this decade!

And the major culprits are electric generating plants, which produce more greenhouse gases than any other source. Which is hardly surprising when you consider that many of them are coal-fired. Those emissions are increasingly controversial, with several states recently launching lawsuits against generating companies over emissions. According to C. Lowell Miller of the Department of Energy, almost 60% of US energy production comes from coal, and concerns over the security of energy supply mean that isn?t likely to change anytime soon.

Mr. Miller is the Director of the DOE?s Office of Hydrogen and Clean Coal Fuels. He notes that the US has more coal than any other country on earth, and ?When the DOE looks at what its energy resources are within the continental United States , from a security point of view, that much energy cannot be ignored. Which equates to a lot of pressure on our office to go ahead and develop the technologies to utilize the coal, while at the same time achieving all of these environmental objectives.?

The urgency, he says, is increasing.

Electricity, not coal, central to global energy growth.

On a global scale, however, coal is not the big player in the world?s expanding energy infrastructure. The IEA predicts that $16 Trillion dollars will need to be invested to supply the world?s energy demand over the next quarter century. More than half of that investment will be to upgrade existing infrastructure, and one of the big surprises of their latest studies, according to Ms. Haug, is that the majority of the investment will be in the electricity sector, particularly upgrading distribution and transmission grids.

?The challenge,? she notes, ?is how to finance electricity in developing countries, particularly India and Africa .? Because the age of government direct investment in generation is largely over, she says, and so it is market forces that must shape the future.

And while $16 Trillion may seem huge, she notes that it is only 1% of global GDP. Which indicates that raising money for CO2 reduction investments should be possible. ?If CO2 mitigation was valued at $50/ton, we could reduce it by 8 gigatons by 2030.?

The urgency to do something about greenhouse gases is growing, both in government?s and industry?s point of view.

The DOE?s Miller states, ?All of the industrial community that now is involved with energy products is attempting to address the issue of what the future may bring with the supply of oil and natural gas. All of them are finding their own corporate way to get involved, realizing that their economic future may depend on it.?

He notes that in the past couple of years, governments, academia, and industry have moved rapidly, and on an unprecedented scale, to coordinate efforts on reducing greenhouse emissions. Several new ministerial-level groups have been formed, with the express purpose of investigating and supporting the deployment of new technologies to assist in the effort. And it has become clear to the DOE that moving the much-touted ?Hydrogen Economy? forward requires close association with new technologies such as CCS.

The DOE?s aim is to accelerate the commercialisation of this technology, to help meet the US?s CCS program goal of stabilising CO2 levels. Working towards that is a consortium of 140 organizations, 33 states, 2 Canadian provinces and 2 Indian Nations. Another program is spending a billion dollars to develop a zero-emission coal-fired generating plant within ten years. A key component of such a plant will be Carbon Storage.

One way or another, it seems that the idea of pumping CO2 back into underground reservoirs, where the carbon fuel came from in the first place, is going to happen. And sooner rather than later.

One of the major hurdles to overcome, the scientists at the Greenhouse Gas conference agree, will be to convince the general public that such storage will be safe and sustainable in the long term. And on that issue there may be as much work to be done as it?s taking to develop the technology.

Allen R. Gibson In Vancouver .

Allen R. Gibson has over twenty-five years experience in media and corporate communications. His background includes radio, television, and print communications for public companies in both the US and Canada.