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CCS shocker: “German carbon capture plan has ended with CO2 being pumped directly into the atmosphere”

NIMBY, meet NUMBY: Not under my backyard.

The Guardian reports today:

It was meant to be the world’s first demonstration of a technology that could help save the planet from global warming — a project intended to capture emissions from a coal-fired power station and bury them safely underground.

But the German carbon capture plan has ended with CO2 being pumped directly into the atmosphere, following local opposition at it being stored underground.

Ouch. Perhaps CCS is just another (open) pipe dream.

CCS was never going to be a slam dunk. As I explained a year ago, “CCS has four fundamental problems that have reduced enthusiasm for it recently and limited its likely role”:

  • Cost: This is the biggest problem, and it hasn’t gotten better (see Harvard stunner: “Realistic” first-generation CCS costs a whopping $150 per ton of CO2 “” 20 cents per kWh!).
  • Scale: We need to put in place a dozen or so clean energy “stabilization wedges” by mid-century to avoid catastrophic climate outcomes “” see “How the world can (and will) stabilize at 350 to 450 ppm: The full global warming solution (updated)” For CCS to be even one of those would require a flow of CO2 into the ground equal to the current flow of oil out of the ground. That would require, by itself, re-creating the equivalent of the planet’s entire oil delivery infrastructure, no mean feat.
  • Permanence and transparency: If Putin’s Russia said it was sequestering 100 million tons of CO2 in the ground permanently, and wanted other countries to pay it billions of dollars to do so, would anyone trust them? No. The potential for fraud and bribery are simply too enormous. But would anyone trust China? Would anyone trust a U.S. utility, for that matter? We need to set up some sort of international regime for certifying, monitoring, verifying, and inspecting geologic repositories of carbon “” like the U.N. weapons inspections systems. The problem is, this country hasn’t been able to certify a single storage facility for a high-level radioactive waste after two decades of trying and nobody knows how to monitor and verify underground CO2 storage. It could take a decade just to set up this system.
  • Timing: As Howard Herzog of MIT’s Laboratory for Energy and the Environment said last year, “How can we expect to build hundreds of these plants when we’re having so much trouble building the first one?

On timing, I wrote last September that “the first moderate-sized (30 MW) pilot plant with CCS just started up this month in Germany.” So it was quite a shock to learn:

Vattenfall’s Schwarze Pumpe project in Spremberg, northern Germany, launched in a blaze of publicity last September, was a beacon of hope, the first scheme to link the three key stages of trapping, transporting and burying the greenhouse gases.

The Swedish company, however, surprised a recent conference when it admitted that the ‚¬70m (£60.3m) project was venting the CO2 straight into the atmosphere. “It was supposed to begin injecting by March or April of this year but we don’t have a permit. This is a result of the local public having questions about the safety of the project,” said Staffan Gortz, head of carbon capture and storage communication at Vattenfall. He said he did not expect to get a permit before next spring: “People are very, very sceptical.”

The spread of localised resistance is a force that some fear could sink Europe’s attempts to build 10 to 12 demonstration projects for carbon capture and storage (CCS) by 2015. The plan had been to transport up to 100,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide from the power plant each year and inject it into depleted gas reservoirs at a giant gasfield near the Polish border….

Stuart Haszeldine, a CCS expert at the University of Edinburgh, warned of the danger of opposition towards CCS snowballing into a “bandwagon of negativity” if too many early projects were rejected. “Once you’ve screwed up one or two of them, people are going to think ‘if they rejected this in Barendrecht, there must be a reason’,” he said.

People should think of CCS as a post-2025 solution (at best), worthy of R&D and demonstration funding, especially for projects that include biomass cofiring.

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But we need massive deployment of low-carbon technology now, however, and that means efficiency, conservation, recycled energy, natural gas, wind, solar PV, concentrated solar thermal with storage, geothermal, biomass….