Is Carbon Capture Technology Scalable?

by Jane Twitmyer

When talking about the future of Dominion Energy in a recent TV interview, Dominion Energy CEO Tom Farrell mentioned carbon sequestration as an approach for reducing greenhouse gas emissions as the company moves toward a “zero net” carbon energy mix.  In the past, carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) seemed to be going nowhere. But Farrell’s comments prompted me to wonder what the current status of CCS technology was. 

Today, according to the Global CCS Institute, there are 19 large-scale commercial carbon capture and sequestration facilities operating around the world, ten of which are in the United States. All of them are pulling carbon dioxide from the emissions of an associated factory or power plant. Trouble is … the carbon has nowhere to go, so both removing and sequestering the carbon adds major costs to electricity generation.

Once you’ve captured the large amounts of carbon dioxide emitted from the electricity plants, there’s the small matter of where you store it. Under everyday conditions carbon dioxide is a gas, so it takes up a huge amount of space, and we’re producing it in vast quantities. An option with its own set of complications is to turn the carbon dioxide into a liquid (so it takes up a tiny fraction as much volume) and then pump it deep underground where it hopefully will remain. The thought of storing it deep in the ocean has been discarded because the ocean has already acted as a CO2 sink and appears to be reaching its limit absorbing CO2 without creating great damage.

CCS technology plays only a marginal role in cutting emissions today. Each plant can cost $1 billion or more, and so far governments have been reluctant to either subsidize it or to put a price on carbon. Today’s 20 large-scale projects can capture about 40 million metric tons of carbon dioxide each year, but that is only about 1% of global emissions. Another drawback adding to the cost of CCS is that it requires considerable extra energy (some estimates say 25–40 percent, others 30–60 percent) to operate. The extra energy could almost double the cost of electricity.

Proposals for two new CCS plants, one in New Mexico and one in Puerto Rico, are being challenged. Assumptions about their stated capacity and capture rates, and their ability to sell the sequestered carbon and actually put it to use all have been challenged. The most promising use for captured CO2 is in the process of producing more oil.

Here is the wrinkle Dominion must be hoping for …. “The Allam Cycle aims to be cost-competitive with conventional combined-cycle natural gas plants while also capturing 99 percent of CO2. Several of the facilities selected within DOE’s FEED-study support include retrofitting natural gas-fired power plants with CCS.” Can these assumptions also be challenged, or will they do what the DOE study claims? If they do, that would certainly extend the life and use of the natural gas Dominion has bet on. Both retrofitting and new plant technology could keep natural gas in the generation mix longer than it now appears.

The market today is awash in natural gas and the price has dropped below viable drilling costs. The gas glut is not just in the U.S., but in Europe, Asia and around the globe, and demand is flat. Here in Appalachia, frackers face an uphill battle against negative cash flows. Shares of the publicly traded E&P companies in Appalachia have plummeted through 2019. Chevron, who had hoped to diversify away from oil when it initially purchased $4.1 billion in Appalachian shale assets, is writing-off $5-6 billion, after-tax, and has begun sales effort for its Appalachian holdings. Finally, utilities, like Dominion, are over-purchasing natural gas and could soon be left with the same stranded asset burdens that now plague the coal industry.

Environmentalists tend to see CCS as a distraction from the need to convert humankind quickly to renewable energy. Saving the earth as we know it, according to the 97% scientific consensus, means moving quickly to stop accumulating greenhouse gases in our atmosphere. It also means taking the kind of steps The Royal Bank of Scotland is planning. The bank will end coal financing by 2030 and stop lending and underwriting companies with more than 15% of their activities related to coal by the end of 2021, unless they have a transition plan in line with the Paris Agreement.

Jane Twitmyer, a renewable energy advocate and former consultant, lives in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

There are currently no comments highlighted.

38 responses to “Is Carbon Capture Technology Scalable?

  1. As previously reported, for the Dominion Virginia City coal-biomass plant to operate beyond 2030, it must sequester most of its CO2. According to the pending VCEA. Cost of course is no object if the SCC has been ordered to approve…..

    • Appreciate the research, Jane. I’ve always been skeptical of this idea. Carbon capture is going on and there is recent data on how: the planet is greener. CO2 is plant food. Give up dreams of commercial carbon capture, and stop cutting down trees for faux green virtue. As I recall, you share my disdain for biomass as a renewable source.

  2. Hey Jane! You’ve graduated to Bacon World! Congrats!

    This is good. From now on, we can (I hope) expect more balance on environmental issues than just Peter against the rest of BR! 😉

    And yes.. when we say the oceans are maxed on uptake of CO2, that indicates a monstrous “scalability” issue.

    I can’t help but think that when Dominion Energy CEO Tom Farrell cites this technology it must be with a certain amount of cynicism and condescension as he full well knows the technology is far from being practical and scalable.

    But does this also mean that Farrell does truly believe than CO2 is a threat to Climate? I think the answer to that is important because if he does not, then why is he throwing stuff like this and modular Nukes out there as things Dominion is interested in?

    But this brings up another important point which is – if we need to INCLUDE the cost of storage to renewables in order for them to be considered a legitimate fuel – does it also mean – we have to add the cost of CO2 and/or it’s “sequestration” as a true added cost to fossil fuels?

    so if we compare CO2 sequestered electricity from fossil fuels to renewable fuels with storage – what do we get in comparing the two on cost?

    Welcome Jane. What a nice surprise this morning!

  3. I think mother nature has left of us the answer. It is extremely costly to split carbon dioxide molecules. Why not harness photosynthesis? We could plant many trees, this would help. We could develop the industrial application of photosynthesis. Not sure this technology is really there yet. But in my lifetime I am blown away by the things we can do now versus what could be done in 1970 when I was born. The process of photosynthesis absorbs, stores, and transforms carbon dioxide. The byproducts of oxygen and glucose could be very useful. I thought this was interesting. It does seem to be in the realm of “Star Trek” science though.
    https://futurism.com/a-plant-1000-times-more-efficient-at-co2-removal-than-photosynthesis-is-now-active

    • Like other pollution – for example CFCs – once it’s loose in the environment it’s a much tougher and much more expensive thing to address than if you don’t let it get into the environment to start with.

      We make this same mistake over and over… We always think we can “mitigate” after the fact and it’s usually a FAIL!

    • Yes, JR of Roa, the best carbon capture technology is a forest.

  4. Jane,
    Thanks for the nice, clearly written post. Nearly 10 years ago, I was working on a book about Massey Energy and coal and spent two years in research. There was a lot of carbon capture back then, especially placing the result deep in the earth or even dumping it into the ocean. There was talk that the Chinese would be doing this when they built new coal-fired plants. The big issue, I was told then, was cost. In the states, lots of regulators would not let utilities dump the big costs on ratepayers. I don’t know that much about the technology itself.

    Thanks and I look forward to more of your posts.psts.

  5. In general it is “easy” to recover CO2.
    There are even new demo projects taking trace CO2 directly out of the air!

    There are various ways to use or dispose the CO2. Much of the Northeast has a deep layer of basalt way down deep in the ground. The basalt is known to be a massive storage place to dispose of CO2. More commonly it can be used for enhanced oil recovery. Also CO2 can be catalytically converted to products such as fuels and so on.

    I tend to feel sequestration can be most practical for natural gas which yields clean and potentially smaller amount of CO2 to be recovered. Coal burning has problems of less clean and voluminous off gas. A clean coal process known as gasification (is used in a few places USA) is easy to remove CO2 and it is done in USA and that CO2 goes to enhanced oil recovery.

    Not cheap is the problem with clean coal, but I would think nat gas has better potential.

  6. If carbon capture REALLY worked, every power plant would be retrofitted with a pump and a deep-earth pipe just as many were retrofitted with “scrubbers” to remove SOx and NOx.

    That’s not happening.

    There’s nothing exotic about running a pipe from a stack to a pump-house that pushes it into the earth, right?

    so why does it not work right now and what is Mr. Farrell expecting will be done to make it work so he can immediately begin putting it on all his fossil fuel plants?

    Truth be known, if CO2 sequestration really did work – there would be absolutely no reason to not use those fuels.

    Why, we could start using coal again , even!

    right?

    The snake oil folks are alive and healthy!

  7. Mining coal is an environmental problem, as it transporting it. Transporting natural gas has issues. Fracking might be doing structure damage down deep. To say that capture and sequester would magically make them clean is just foolish.

    Coal needs to go, period, as soon as possible. IMHO there is a natural cap to the amount of wind and solar the grid can absorb and remain reliable, with the potential for storage to expand that. But some form of baseload generation must remain and the question is – natural gas? or nuclear? In that same interview, which I have not seen, Farrell also talked about small modular reactors. Let’s look at the bill here in Richmond – it doesn’t require any of the newer gas plants to close or sequester carbon, and they should be around until that deadline of 2045. What’s the baseload then? Claims we can do without are simply not credible (and given I’ll be in my 90s, not my problem…) This capture and sequester is a dead end, but folks will get very rich in the short run….

    • Recent controversial news is Japan is talking about building 20 new coal plants. But we have to realize Japan has a huge problem of lack of energy, and for their national security, they have to use all options. Knowing Japan, it will be clean and efficient coal use, not the way we do it. We have to realize that if enough money and engineering effort is put in to make the coal processing clean with reduced CO2, then that is potentially sustainable for some places like Japan.

      • Trivia question: How many people died at Fukashima? Two. Both killed by the tsunami, not the reactor’s issues. But fear rules…..You can certainly have cleaner coal, but no such thing as clean coal…

      • To this point, there is no way to get mercury out of coal. It’s as tough a problem as carbon …

        Japan is not going to coal because they think they can use it better and cleaner than us – they’re going to coal because they reject Nukes. Are they also going to solar and wind so they don’t have to burn coal exclusively?

        What happened at Fukushima changed how Japan – and other countries felt about Nuclear as a viable fuel. So they’re going back to coal because it’s “safer” than Nukes.

        right?

  8. re: ” Let’s look at the bill here in Richmond – it doesn’t require any of the newer gas plants to close or sequester carbon, and they should be around until that deadline of 2045. ”

    But I thought you said the Dems were a bunch of leftists trying to impose outrageous taxes on people? No?

    No, I was not being silly, I was being facetious.

    And I’m SHOCKED that you advocate cutting back all this stuff because I’m positive I heard you say that the climate stuff was made up foolishness and not real.

    For how many years, did we use coal and not worry about its impacts of mining and transporting it? And now, it’s a problem and that’s why we should not use it – not because of it’s impact on climate?

    Perhaps I do not clearly understand your view or it’s evolving?

    What I said about carbon capture technology is STILL TRUE. If it actually works – we can put coal power plants in Western Virginia , and not transport it – just feed coal to them right there – and as long as they have CO2 pipes into the ground – we have “clean coal” power and we don’t have to fool with all this solar stuff that destabilizes the grid!

    I’m in favor of nukes – and those truly interested should realize that the enviro community is split on the issue.

    But Nukes are not compatible with solar/wind because until nukes can load-follow – they basically only run flat-out 24/7 or OFF. They cannot ramp up and down in concert with solar/wind that vary.

    That leaves gas or coal as the middle fuel OR storage.

    If gas can actually have it’s carbon sequestered – we no longer need “storage”.

    There’s a LOT of territory on the energy landscape.

    but at the end of the day- sequestration is not for climate skeptics, right? If you don’t believe CO2 is a pollutant that damages the climate, sequestration is irrelevent. Right?

  9. Coal is full of all kinds of pollutants. Natural gas is methane, a far more potent greenhouse gas than CO2, which you are exhaling every second (pollutant my left foot….). I’m happy to retire coal and be judicious with gas. The SMRs that operate Navy ships do not operate 24/7 or else they’d be a full power in the dry dock. Gee, you know squat about this…much more fun to wrestle with Jane….

  10. The additional carbon dioxide has resulted in a massive increase in vegetation, i.e., “the greening of a quarter to one-half of the Earth’s vegetated lands using data from the NASA-MODIS and NOAA-AVHRR satellite sensors of the past 33 years.” https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2016-04/bu-cfg042216.php

    Not to say we should not work to control CO2 emissions but nature is creating its own partial solution to the problem. Just because the MSM covers up any news contrary to civil religion doesn’t mean the event/development has not occurred.

  11. The greening is true but there is way more CO2 than the earth can assimilate and the excess is getting into the oceans and the atmosphere.

    It’s like saying that fertilizing crops is good – and it is – but then excess runs off into rivers where it does great damage – like in the Chesapeake Bay.

    But I’m curious TMT – I thought you did not believe in Global Warming either but you make this statement: ” Not to say we should not work to control CO2 emissions”. Now if you do not believe that CO2 is causing global warming , why be concerned about it to start with?

    • I believe there is evidence that human behavior is adding to carbon emissions that can raise temperature. And, as such, it is reasonable to try to limit/reduce carbon emissions.

      Having said this, there are many other factors that are not being addressed. For example, there is scientific evidence that the climate has been warming for a long time from other sources. As such, that is a natural phenomenon that should not be interfered with by society, based the principles being urged by the climate extremits. If it’s sound science to try to eliminate human-caused changes that increase temperatures and, in turn, result in higher sea levels, it is equally sound science to try to eliminate human-caused changes that decrease temperatures and, in turn, result in lower sea levels.

      In other words, if people own property near bodies of water that are likely to be covered with permanent or periodic increases in sea levels due to non-man-made warming, fairness and sound economics demand that they and they alone absorb these losses/increased costs. (Logically, fairness and sound economics demand (at least to some point) that society attempt to reduce the flooding caused by human behavior. i.e., reduce greenhouse emissions.)

      But the climate-change warriors and scientists being supported by government funded pro-climate change programs don’t discuss this. The idiotic Democrat-sponsored energy legislation does not either. The result is a massive transfer of wealth from people not owning property near water to people and corporations that do. The lefties are forcing the masses to pay for nature-caused reductions in the value or seashore property. No scientifically sound apportionment has been or will be made. How is that fair?

      • TMT – do you believe in human-caused climate change or not?

        If you DO – then you are arguing to what degree – not whether or not.

        right?

        Are you basically saying that climate change is REAL but not near as much a threat as others believe?

        I’m just trying to get you calibrated on this because your words like “climate warrior” seem to demonize others who you actually agree with – i.e. both of you believe climate change is real. What makes them “warriors” or “dumb”?

        • I would expect a climate warrior to be able to distinguish between warming caused by human behavior and warming caused by all other factors. A failure to do so is both bad science and public policy. It’s wrong to punish people to protect people owning property near water from higher sea levels for that portion of the “damages” caused by factors other than greenhouse gas emissions.

          Let’s assume arguendo that 75% of the temperature rise and resultant increase in sea levels is caused by greenhouse emissions and 25% is caused by other factors (as has happened innumerable times over the life of the Planet). It is morally, scientifically and economically wrong to attempt to address “climate countermeasures” to rectify more than 75% of cause. In other words, society’s countermeasures should permit 25% of the increase in temperatures and flooding. And any government-funded countermeasures should recover 25% of the costs solely from the affected landowners.

          • TMT – I can see how folks who do not believe in GW viewing those that do as ‘extreme” but I have a harder time understanding if two people both believe in GW consider each other “extreme” because they don’t agree on specifics.

            If you look at polls, huge majorities of people believe that GW is real and serious and we need to take action – that’s being represented in the GA. It’s not a bunch of folks who are ignoring what the citizens belief and doing otherwise.

    • More problems with the extreme climatists. Basic economics teaches that a change in price will drive human behavior. Often this is an increase or decrease in demand for the product (the opposite direction of the price change). But changes in prices for one product also can drive changes in demand for other products. If the price for A increases, not only will people buy less of A (unless demand is inelastic), but some will also buy more of product B or maybe less of product B. Cross elasticity needs to be considered.

      The key element is that for a change in price (a price signal) to work, people need a variety of options (cross elastics).

      An increase in the price of gasoline will cause drivers to consume less or take other courses of action. Some will take transit, join a car pool, work from home, consolidate trips, change their residence, change their place of work, etc. But more reactions are available. A driver may try to work overtime or seek permission to work longer hours four days a week. A driver in demand may force his/her employer or customer to pay more (a raise or price increase). Companies with significant transportation costs often raise prices to recover higher gas prices. They may also cut back on their employees both in terms of hours and number of employees. Price signals work because consumers have many choices in reaction to the price increase (or decrease).

      The incompetent Democrats’ energy bill tries to send a price signal for energy users to purchase solar panels for their homes and businesses. But, short of cutting back on heat and lights, all consumers don’t have options in reacting to the artificial price increase for energy. As a number have already posted, many people don’t have the proper exposure for solar panels. They don’t have alternatives. Others cannot afford the added expense of solar panels because they don’t have the money, cannot get affordable financing or the payback period is too long for their situation. They have no options except to pay more or raise prices/wages if they can. But how many employers will give raises to those folks who cannot do solar?

      The only escape is if you live in an area that is predominately “poor” or “colored.” In my opinion, this is enough to fight the climatists on all fields.

      • TMT – on price.

        If gasoline goes up in price, do we blame it on someone ? Does it matter if the reason was a gas shortage or a tax increase in terms of what people do in response to it?

        When gasoline did go up in price – over time, people DID change their behavior and more fuel efficient cars became much more popular until we actually reached the point where fuel taxes no longer produce enough revenues to pay for roads.

        In states where the price of electricity has gone up, it has resulted in people using far less electricity.

        In both cases, isn’t it better than we use less gasoline and less electricity because both of them pollute?

        If govt intervenes in a market to reduce pollution – like they did with pollution scrubbers for coal-burning plants – was that a bad thing?

        If the price for water/sewer go up so that better wastewater treatment plants can be built to reduce pollution to the Chesapeake Bay – is that wrong or bad or a “dumb” Democratic idea?

        • Larry, you’ve totally missed my point. When gasoline prices go up (or go down), people have a variety of options to react to the price change. I spelled out some of them earlier. But short of setting the heat to 60 or the a/c to 85, there is one and only option available to non-persons of color in Virginia, install solar. But many people simply don’t have the option of installing solar panels in an economically sound manner.

          People who don’t have a good southern or southwestern exposure are very limited in what they can do. The Democrats, busily virtue signaling, don’t give a damn. Renters cannot easily install solar panels, if at all, don’t have any option but pay the higher utility rates — unless they are “people of color.” The Democrats don’t give a damn. People who don’t plan on living in their current home for the payback period, often stated as 20 years, cannot be expected to install solar. The Democrats don’t give a damn. Elderly people are not likely to install solar for sound economic reasons are going to be harmed. The Democrats don’t give a damn.

          The bottom line is: The Democrats’ energy bill is going to hurt a lot of people. That is indisputable.

          It’s also based on racism and is unconstitutional to boot.

          My maternal grandfather never voted for a Republican or even had anything good to say about a Republican. (You should have heard what he had to say about Hoover.) But he would never accept the idea that the government should purposely harm its citizens by enacting unconstitutional, racist legislation that punishes people who, for multiple reasons, cannot pay ransom to the Climate gods by installing solar panels. He’d be voting for Trump this November. The Democratic Party is pure evil.

          • I’m confused – why does anyone HAVE to install solar panels?

            Is that what the legislation says?

          • Larry, there is no legal obligation to install solar panels on one’s house. But the higher rates imposed by law creates the GA-intended incentive to install solar panels to reduce the size of the much higher electric bills. Many people are likely to add solar. Their house faces south or southwest. They plan to stay in their homes for the entire payback period. They have access to cash or favorable credit terms to pay for or finance the solar panels.

            But, as I’ve written many times, many other people are not in the same position such that is not economically prudent to install solar panels. Their only realistic choice is to pay much higher utility bills. But the left-wing Ds will make Greta happy!

  12. Thanks, Larry for your kind words and Steve too, and I do consider Peter’s comment about clarity a high compliment!

    I did not see that carbon vacuums that address CO2 in the atmosphere were much of a reality, although if the carbon could be ‘transformed’ as suggested that would solve some things.

    Companies most interested in CCS seem to be mainly the oil majors. In spite of Chevron’s write-offs, and “the U.K. government’s flip-flop on supporting the technology cost BP as much as $50 million” in the early 2000’s, today BP “is currently leading a group looking to build a zero-carbon cluster at the U.K.’s Teesside industrial complex”. The complex ‘includes oil refineries and chemical factories. It’s part of a project run by the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative, which includes Royal Dutch Shell Plc and Total SA.”

    The picture here in the US toward gas is not so rosy because fracking was originally developed by small scale drillers and their cash flow has been negative. The big oil companies who are moving into the fracking fields have the capital to ride the waves, but no matter how you look at it, shale wells deplete fast and present a very different picture from the old ‘regular’ wells.

    Regarding the fertilizer effect … it has been mostly promoted by contrarians, according to the article cited. Researcher also say, “studies have shown that plants acclimatize, or adjust, to rising CO2 concentration and the fertilization effect diminishes over time,”

  13. re: ” Sometimes at one percent output and sometimes at 100 percent. Thus they are dispatchable….”

    I thought it depended on HOW LONG it took to go from stop to full power and reverse.

    If it takes hours or days to shut down a nuke – it might be “dispatch able” when it is up but it is not the same as a gas turbine which does come online in minutes.

    Please note – despite the much small size of the reactors on these vessels – as far as I know, not one single inhabited island in the world has one of these “small” reactors. Why is that?

  14. Above we are dealing with a couple of different issues:
    (1) What is technically/economically possible?
    (2) What should we do, re: energy/CO2?
    (3) What do we want politically want to do? sometimes referred to as picking winners and losers

    One example I would point to is 10% ethanol in gasoline. Is that better for environment? (questionable at best) Is that better for Country? questionable but Congress feels that it is, so we choose to do it. Popularity is important.

  15. Ethanol is a good example of tough tradeoffs and it reveals different values of those who form opinions.

    In terms of picking winners and losers – just about anything that govt does – causes that, right?

    is that an argument for the govt not making choices?

    I do volunteer taxes. Just about everything in the IRS code is picking winners and losers.. whether it’s deducting mortgage interest but not rent of paying lower taxes on capital gains than income.

    On the energy vs CO2 issue. It boils down to how much of a threat one perceives global warming and thus fossil fuels to be.

    Some people, more than a few, perhaps a majority do believein it is a mortal threat and we must be compelled to deal with it.

    In that case – it means doing whatever we can to reduce GHG – even if it does increase costs. Increase costs actually incentivizes conservation of money and environment.

    Others either do not believe, cannot make up their minds or are slowly changing their minds – but in the end – what we do – and what we will not do – is driven by how many want change and how many oppose it and until a solid majority want change, we’re not going to change – even if it means disaster downstream. We are all hostages of the majority.

Leave a Reply