Tuesday, August 21, 2012

ADB Supports CCS in China

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has announced a $2.2 million support package for CCS in China.  The core of this funding will go to assist the Chinese government in developing a national roadmap for CCS demonstration and deployment.  The roadmap is expected to involve construction of at least two large-scale demonstration projects by 2016, with a total installed capture capacity of at least 2 million tons of CO2 per year.  ADB grant support will be delivered through the Clean Energy Financing Partnership Facility, co-created by the Global CCS Institute in 2009.  The UK will also contribute funding support as part of its revamped roadmap launched last April (see UK Relaunches CCS Policy, 4/16).  With its economic might, reliance on coal reserves, aggressive carbon policy (including plans for seven regional emissions trading pilots starting next year), and political influence (particularly in the developing world), a successful push for CCS in China would significantly boost the prospects for capture and sequestration technologies across the globe.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Biochar Gaining Ground With Co-Benefits

Apart from its carbon sequestration potential, biochar is notable for the multiplicity of agricultural, land-use, and other "co-benefits" that accompany its production and use.  Recent developments underline the  importance of such co-benefits for accelerating wider adoption of biochar technology.  This past week, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation announced a series of awards and grants as part of its "Reinvent the Toilet Challenge" to improve sanitation in the developing world.  Loughborough University in the UK was awarded a first-round $60,000 second place prize for designing a next-generation toilet that produces biochar, minerals, and clean water.  The University of Colorado Boulder won a nearly $780,000 second-round grant to develop a toilet that uses concentrated solar power to convert waste to biochar for use in farming.  The private firm re:char was also awarded funding to help develop a biochar sanitation system.

Co-benefits are also propelling biochar forward in the energy sector.  Zero Point Clean Tech recently announced the successful deployment of its second biomass gasification power plant in Ireland (the first is operating in Germany).  These conversion facilities produce both syngas for combined heat and power, and biochar for agricultural purposes.  In the US, Whitfield Biochar is preparing to unveil its Continuous Feed Biochar Reactor, a biomass-based district heating unit that also generates biochar.  The company plans to install biochar heating plants at locations in California, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania starting in the fourth quarter of this year.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Update on NER300

Last month the European Commission issued a working document providing an update on the status of award decisions under the EU NER300 funding program for CCS and renewables projects (for more on NER300 see ZEP to Rescue CCS in Europe?, 3/1).  To date, the Commission (along with the European Investment Bank, or EIB) has sold 140 million of the initial 200 million EUAs available for monetization, raising approximately 1.14 billion ($1.4 billion).  The Commission ultimately expects to raise between 1.3 and 1.5 billion for first round awards, 60% of which will go to support two or three CCS demonstration projects.  (NER300 was originally expected to generate approximately 3.3 billion in first round funds with the majority going to support 8 CCS projects, but this estimate has shrunk by half as allowance prices have plummeted.)

According to the Commission, the top three CCS candidates for round one funding include (in order of selection):

  1. Don Valley Power Project (UK)--Features pre-combustion capture technology at a 900 MW coal-fired IGCC power plant, with offshore storage
  2. Belchatow CCS Project (Poland)--Post-combustion capture at an 868 MW coal-fired plant, with onshore storage
  3. Green Hydrogen (Netherlands)--Industrial application at a hydrogen plant with shoreline storage
Final award decisions are expected by the end of this year.  A second funding round will follow to close out the program.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

European Biochar Standards Under Development

The EU is now providing nearly 3 million ($3.7 million) to a project titled "Reducing Mineral Fertilisers and Chemicals Use in Agriculture by Recycling Treated Organic Waste as Compost and Bio-Char Products," also known as the REFERTIL Consortium.  The goal of the project is to develop product standards for biochar (and compost) in anticipation of a future Commission-led market-wide harmonization effort.  The four-year REFERTIL project is being led by Terra Humana, a Hungarian cleantech firm.  As with other current EU-supported geoengineering-related research work (see Update on EU-Funded Research, 7/19), REFERTIL is funded under the FP7 R&D support framework.  The relationship between any eventual EU biochar standards and the global standards recently published by the International Biochar Initiative (IBI--see IBI Issues First Biochar Standards, 6/3) is unclear.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Renewed Call for BECCS in Europe

The European Biofuels Technology Platform (EBTP) and the Zero Emissions Platform (ZEP), working together in a self-styled Joint Taskforce (JTF) Bio-CCS, have released a new report calling for renewed commitment to BECCS in Europe.  The groups contend that BECCS represents the only viable large-scale negative emissions technology available, and as such BECCS will be essential for the EU in meeting its various climate targets over the next several decades.  To accelerate deployment, the report argues, "A key prerequisite is the maturation and commercialisation of CCS and advanced, sustainable biofuels production.  Bio-CCS is already being carried out on an industrial scale - but not in Europe, mainly because negative emissions are not rewarded in the EU ETS.  Dedicated funding for pilot projects to prove advanced technologies and close any knowledge gaps is also urgently required" (p. 23, emphasis original).  Specific recommendations include:

  1. Immediate action by the EU and Member States to shore up support for CCS demonstration projects
  2. Go for low-hanging fruit such as biofuels production (which generates a near-pure CO2 stream)
  3. Boost research on advanced, second-generation biofuels such as cellulosic ethanol
  4. Strengthen BECCS value chains (capture, transport, storage)
  5. Take advantage of potentially greater public openness to BECCS compared to conventional CCS
However, as ZEP itself has noted elsewhere (see ZEP to Rescue CCS in Europe?, 3/1), it is difficult to see how these steps can be effective in the absence of a more fundamental realignment of supply and demand in the EU ETS.  EUAs are currently priced at a mere 7.17 ($8.89), offering virtually no structural incentive for covered installations to reduce their carbon footprints.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Is CCS for Oil Sands Going Too Far?

Last month the Alberta Energy Resources Conservation Board announced conditional approval for the Royal Dutch Shell Quest CCS project located near Fort Saskatchewan.  If built, Quest would be the world's first CCS project for an oil sands facility.  Shell, along with project partners Chevron and Marathon Oil, is scheduled to make a Final Investment Decision later this year.

Among those who advocate more research into climate engineering, CCS is generally supported since it overlaps in significant ways with several potential CDR strategies.  However, oil sands and associated infrastructure (for example, the Keystone Pipeline) have become the bete noire of the environmental movement, and not undeservedly given the high carbon content of tar sands-derived oil (12% more GHGs per barrel than conventional oil) combined with the considerable ecological damage that results from extraction activities.  This creates a quandary for supporters of geoengineering research: should CCS for oil sands be welcomed as another opportunity to develop technologies that may prove critical to certain methods of large-scale atmospheric carbon dioxide removal? or should oil sands CCS be rejected as industrial-size "greenwashing" designed to promote the consumption of an especially dirty fossil fuel?

To answer this question, it is useful to revisit the underlying case for supporting CCS from a geoengineering perspective.  The starting point is to recognize that several leading CDR technologies share critical subsystems with CCS.  There are three main links in the traditional CCS chain: point-source capture, transport, and storage.  From this point of view, Direct Air Capture (DAC) differs fundamentally from conventional CCS only in that it captures carbon from the ambient air, and CO2 transport and storage figure as integral components.  Bio-Energy with Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS) is, as its name indicates, simply one form of CCS, distinguished by its reliance on biomass combustion and promise of negative emissions.  With substantial funding going to support conventional CCS projects, and minimal funding going to support DAC and BECCS, it makes sense to back CCS projects with broad application to CDR techniques while focusing available geoengineering support on technical problems unique to climate remediation technologies.

Beyond this instrumental argument, CCS is also necessary in its own right.  The fact of the matter is that any realistic path toward avoiding the 2 degrees Celsius threshold entails significant reliance on CCS.  This point was made convincingly by the IEA in its authoritative 2009 CCS Technology Roadmap, which demonstrated that without CCS, the cost of reducing global emissions to 2005 levels by 2050 would increase by 70%.  Put simply, fossil fuels remain plentiful and will continue to be used, and CCS will be essential to moderating their climate impact.

The development of CCS technology has been slow, piecemeal, and insufficient, particularly in industrial applications (see Calls Intensify for More Global Action on CCS, 5/16).  Indeed, while oil sands are recovered in order to manufacture fuel for energy production, oil sands CCS actually represents an industrial application in which CO2 is captured during the upgrading process and stored in geologic formations (the Shell Quest project would sequester CO2 siphoned from the local Scotford upgrader).  Furthermore, although oil sands are a relatively new addition to the world's hydrocarbon stocks, as with coal, oil, and gas, it is hugely unrealistic to expect they will not be exploited in coming decades, with or without CCS.

We are thus confronted with the following points:

  • CCS deserves support both for its essential role in emissions mitigation and its strategic contribution to CDR technology development.
  • Absent a worldwide economic revolution, fossil fuel consumption will continue at a high rate over the next century.  Unconventional oil from tar sands will constitute a growing percentage of global fossil fuel consumption.
  • CCS must be applied to both power generation and industrial sectors.
Given this situation, the geoengineering research community can either a) oppose the use of CCS in oil sands, which logically entails higher carbon emissions and less effort devoted to research that is applicable to CDR techniques, or b) support the use of CCS in oil sands, which implies reduced emissions and more research on key CDR technologies.  Rejecting oil sands CCS will do virtually nothing to discourage the exploitation of tar sands, while dispensing with a potentially large volume of valuable analysis, insights, and experience.  Instead, oil sands CCS should be accepted and taken advantage of as the least bad option in an imperfect world, an option that might pay significant dividends if given a chance.