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January 11th 2017 print

Peter O'Brien & Roger Franklin

Capturing Carbon, Shackling Good Sense

CCS stands for 'carbon capture and storage' but it might just as easily, and more accurately, be taken as representing another aspect of the Climate Change Scam. The green-left detest it as means to keep the coal fires burning. Conservatives have much better reasons to scorn it

carbon captureThe other day in The Australian an intriguing op-ed extolled the alleged virtues of carbon capture and storage (CCS) as a means of reconciling the federal government’s pledge, courtesy of Resources Minister Matt Canavan, that coal will remain a core part of the energy-supply mix for the foreseeable future, despite the standing commitment under the Paris agreement to see Australia’s CO2 emissions reduced by a best-case 28% as of 2030. It must have been all very inspiring for those keeping up with the latest talking points in fashionable green mythology, but more acute readers will have noticed the paragraph below and observed a cat making its exit from a bag of enviro-nostrums and rather costly cliches:

Having thrown its support behind domestic coal to the reported tune of $100 billion over the next two decades with the Paris Agreement looming large in the background, the federal government has the opportunity to advance clean coal technologies just as the government’s $2bn Australian Renewable Energy Agency has done for renewable energy.

It is this unexplored middle ground that the Prime Minister must now seize if the political headaches of energy price, reliability and carbon emissions are to be resolved.

If that sounds like of another green snout urging its way into the trough of other people’s money — in this case, energy consumers and taxpayers — go to the top of the class. The absolute confirmation of that suspicion came further into the piece, where we are asked to accept the bland assertion that CCS is poised to become “commercially viable”. Strip away the article’s rent-seeking rhetoric and what remains is the stark fact that this vaunted and as-yet-problematic technology would never have seen the light of day were it not for the market distortions inspired by the UN-sponsored CAGW scam.

Consider the cognitive dissonance of the green-steeped mind: The Global CCS Institute insists on the one hand  that “CCS is a proven, safe, reliable and cost-effective technology” yet on the other and on the very same page we see (emphasis added),  “policy parity is integral to the widespread adoption of CCS.” As the Institute’s CEO Brad Page further explains, this is a technology that “deserves the same recognition and commercial incentivisation as all clean technologies, particularly renewables.” Put more simply, CCS is right up there with,  say, wind power in South Australia. Just keep those subsidies flowing and everything will be fine and dandy.

As Page continues, “the pace of CCS deployment must be accelerated if we are to meet Paris climate targets (we are currently way off target).” Well, he would say that! Like wind-farm consortiums and promoters of other disappointing “renewable technologies” such as tidal power (which even Their ABC admits — surprise, surprise — “is really expensive“) and Tim Flannery’s grant-gobbling “hot rocks”, he knows perfectly well that fossil fuels will be the life’s blood of the world’s energy requirements for many years to come. Where there is blood, expect leeches which, in this case, are dead keen to keep both host and narrative alive.

The Global CCS Institute further tells us:

At the time of launch of this Global Status of CCS: 2016 report, there were 15 large-scale CCS projects in operation around the world, with a CO2 capture capacity of close to 30 million tonnes per annum (Mtpa).

A further three large-scale projects, all in the US, are poised to become operational, bringing the number of operational projects to 18 by early 2017 (with a CO2 capture capacity of 35 Mtpa). As projects in Australia and Canada come on-line during 2017, the number of large-scale operational CCS projects is expected to increase to 21 by the end of 2017, with a CO2 capture capacity of approximately 40 Mtpa.

This compares with less than 10 operational large-scale CCS projects in 2010.

Since total global CO2 emissions exceed 35 GTpa these reductions, if they eventuate, would represent .01% of global emissions. Yes, one-hundreth of one per cent. Deployment of CCS will have to ramp up at a pace beyond the exponential if it is to be the saviour of the Paris agreement.

And at what cost?  Current thinking suggests that CCS is not viable, even with existing subsidies, unless the captured CO2 can be sold off, as in Canada where it is to be used, ironically, in the processing of crude oil, or perhaps to put bubbles in your soft drink, as is the plan in South Australia.  It’s hard to imagine Gtonnes of CO2 being needed for these purposes, which means most will have to be stored underground. Those of green mind might agree to this without protest, as none of the usual suspects demanded an end to Flannery’s hot rocks debacle, which depended on the same fracking techniques they elsewhere oppose. Then again they might not utter a peep, inconsistency being the most consistent thing about the green mind. Were it not, the one energy source producing no carbon emissions whatsoever, nuclear, would be championed rather than denounced.

Two years ago, Canada’s $1.3 billion 110MW Boundary Dam was promoted as the world’s first operational CCS plant. Since then it has quietly suffered the familiar fate of many highly touted renewable energy projects.  By the way, up to the time of its inauguration it had received C$240 million in subsidies, with green lobbyists still demanding yet greater access to the public purse.

There are legitimate concerns over the safety of storing large quantities of CO2 underground.  In concentrations of 400ppm in the atmosphere it is a life-giving trace element.  As an undiluted gas it is toxic.  In 1986 a natural eruption of CO2 from Lake Nyos in Africa killed 2,500 people up to 25km from the source. Yet the author of The Australian’s article dismisses these concerns thus:

CCS has struggled to gain political traction, in part due to the tough task of selling the process of pumping up to 90 per cent of the carbon emitted from power stations several kilometres below the earth’s surface, where it is then stored — perhaps indefinitely. In reality, this process simply returns the carbon to where it originated and has been safely stored for many millions of years.

Notice the verbal legerdemain in equating gaseous CO2 with solid carbon and liquid hydrocarbons? Staggering!

You might by now be wondering who penned the op-ed? The byline is that of a certain Nathan Vass, who is described as “Chief Executive of The Australian Power Project”, which boasts a minimalist website dedicated to highlighting “the huge cost burden faced by Australian businesses who are being crippled by massive electricity and gas bills.” Interestingly, there is also a biography that notes Vass was “Head of Corporate Communications/Investor Relations Officer at AGL Energy.” Today’s Guardian Australia has more on his background. Unlike much of the content on the Guardian‘s pages, the connections detailed make fascinating reading. The University of Queensland’s John Quiggin, writing at Crikey!, also takes Vass’s article to task, also from the left

But, from the viewpoint of Nathan Vass and the conjurors at the Oz, none of this matters. As long as the illusion can be kept alive a little longer, legacy generators can burn a bit more coal and the right can go a few more rounds in the culture war. Magical thinking can work for a fair while, even if the ultimate collision with reality proves painful.

That’s a standard-issue green-left perspective, of course, predictably laced with paranoid fantasies of Rupert Murdoch’s infernal imps conspiring with Big Coal to keep the furnaces burning and foil the wonderful green future promised by wind turbines and all those other taxpayer-supported renewables. Vass denied when quizzed by the Guardian that his advocacy of carbon sequestration is anything other than “a personal endeavour and he was ‘not working for or with anyone else or any organisation’.” In this declaration of altruism conservatives must take him at his word.

Nevertheless, given the global lobbying demands for carbon-capture subsidies and the technology’s history of achieving little at enormous cost, many might find it difficult not to see a familiar shadow looming on the horizon: another purportedly green initiative that doesn’t work, costs a bomb and is underwritten via the coercion consumers and taxpayers.

As we have seen with wind farms, all it takes is an astute lobbying campaign and  pliant friends in government.

Comments [16]

  1. John says:

    Sort of on topic, here’s the latest improbable idea: “How Byron Bay’s solar-driven train will work” (http://www.echo.net.au/2017/01/byron-bays-solar-driven-train-will-work/).

    The PV array on that train wouldn’t boil a big kettle.

  2. Bushranger71 says:

    Perhaps a decade back, an article appeared in the Newcastle Herald by a retiring Engineer who had been involved in the building of the latest coal-fired power stations in NSW. He explained that the most modern were 96 percent efficient with a 4 percent energy loss (steam) and all particulate matter is captured.

    So; where are the problems in continuing to use coal to generate cost-effective power?

  3. Jody says:

    You know, I’m bored rigid by the whole climate discussion. It was a hot-button issue 10 years ago but is fading from view for all but the most rusted-on Green or undergrads these days. Let them have their angst; if it isn’t climate change it’s some war or other, or losing freebies, or university fees. Yawn.

    • gardner.peter.d says:

      True but the trough still has many hungry snouts to feed and our money is still flowing into it n vast quantities. Until that stops we must keep buggering on (Churchill).

  4. en passant says:

    Jody,
    So what do you suggest we do?
    Surrender and let them have their way? I know a good cave in a primitive place called South Australia.

    Alternatively, we can fight on until the climate-con scam is exposed and defunded by the Hanson Government ….

    • gardner.peter.d says:

      If we wait 5 years, according to Judith Curry, we will know beyond all reasonable doubt whether post El Nino temperatures are level, declining or rising. Then the debate will be over one way or another.

  5. Ian MacDougall says:

    For once I can agree with both O’Brien and Franklin on an issue of climatology. (Well, sort of.)
    The assumption underlying CCS is that the CO2 produced by burning fossil carbon should be prevented from mixing with the atmosphere, given that it has long been recognised as a heat-trapping gas, with the potential over time to make presently cool parts of the world much warmer, and the hot parts even hotter.
    Nobody needs to wait for Judith Curry over anything. The mountain glaciers are melting, and the seas are slowly rising. The Earth is its own thermometer.
    BUT if climate history keeps to its established cyclical pattern, future generations will face the onset of a new Ice Age, with glaciation on North America down to the latitude of New York City. They just might need all the CO2 they can get, in order to maximise their climate options. But the CCS plan is to ‘bury the carbon dioxide problem forever’ by pumping the captured CO2 at great expense down disused gas wells or specially drilled ones, where it will hopefully combine with iron in the rocks to form stable compounds.
    A hare-brained, reactive scheme which will soak up trainloads of money far better spent on renewables, both research and development (R&D) in my opinion.

      • Ian MacDougall says:

        Nezysquared (January 15, 2017 at 12:06 pm):

        I went to your Jo Nova site: http://joannenova.com.au/2017/01/socrates-speaks-about-climate-change/ Little there unfortunately, save for one or two contributors aware of the mainstream science and the fact that there are holes in Jo’s ‘skepticism’ big enough to drive a coal train through. The link below is about the current expedition to Antarctica with an aim to find out a bit more on the Totten Glacier and the odds of a chunk of it the size of California breaking away and changing not only the mean sea level around the world, but the value of prime waterfront real estate in various parts. By which I mean very, very southwards.
        To be watched by all interested in the AGW issue, and the value of oceanfront real estate, even though written up in the (choke! caaargh! splutter! hawk! spit!*) Groaniad.

        Meanwhile of course, the seas continue to rise as the glaciers melt, as the seawater expands and as the Earth continues to warm, thanks mainly to the heat-trapping properties of CO2 that were discovered by Arrhenius and others over 100 years ago.

        https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/jan/15/totten-glacier-antarctic-voyage-to-map-seafloor-hobart-invstigator

        • Nezysquared says:

          I thought by pointing you in the direction of a simple explanation of the carbon cycle would help you understand a simple concept. Tacking on the additional various claims is rather pointless.

          • Ian MacDougall says:

            I need no “simple explanation of the C-cycle.” But there is more to the various systems now that we have to factor in the combustion products from coal-fired furnaces. The ‘we’ of course does not include the members of the Ostrich School of Climatology, so well represented here at QO, who prefer to keep their theory as simple as possible, and in line with the preservation of business-as-usual.
            The ‘additional various claims’ are the heart of the political climate debate. The scientific debate is over long since: game, set and match.

          • Nezysquared says:

            If the debate is over it’s not science. The best one can hope for is the least worst theory. That, im afraid, doesn’t fit well with your religious bent.

    • en passant says:

      Ian,
      1. What is the ideal average global temperature you seek? and
      2. What is the ideal concentration of CO2 you seek?

      If you do not know the destination of what you are trying to achieve, how will we know if you have succeeded or failed?

  6. gardner.peter.d says:

    I have a memory from the 1980s of a story which if I recall correctly was in a book by one Gavin Kennedy, “Everything is Negotiable”, an amusing and instructive book about the art of negotiating. A man on a sledge in the frozen north is followed by a wolf. To avoid being eaten himself he throws out some meat to satisfy the wolf. Good oh! thinks the wolf which eats it and then calls for more. More comes. The wolf howls to call his friends. they came and eat their fill too. The man runs out of meat. How his story came to be told remains a mystery but the AGW alarmists are like the wolves. The government has started this idiot feeding frenzy and now needs to find a way to stop it before the tax-payer runs out of patience and money.

  7. Ian MacDougall says:

    Nezysquared (January 15, 2017 at 12:06 pm):
    I have posted a response to you: presently awaiting ‘moderation’.