Carbon capture and storage refers to a suite of technologies that remove carbon dioxide from smokestack emissions and then compress the climate-warming gas for injection underground. The idea is not new, but has gotten lots of attention and tens of billions of dollars in funding in recent years as governments look to accelerate efforts to cut climate pollution.
The technologies could, theoretically, help reduce emissions from coal- and gas-fired power plants and industrial operations like cement and steel manufacturing, and it could also be used to make low-carbon hydrogen fuel from natural gas. The problem is that building and running carbon capture operations is expensive, involves complex engineering challenges and presents environmental risks. One CO2 pipeline ruptured in Mississippi in 2020, sending dozens who were exposed to the gas to the hospital. Carbon dioxide that is injected underground can also leak into groundwater or the atmosphere if storage sites are not properly screened or maintained.
Despite decades of research and billions in public and private investment, there were only a few dozen CCS plants operating worldwide as of March 2023, with the ability to remove only about 46 million metric tons of carbon dioxide per year, according to the International Energy Agency. That’s equal to about 0.1 percent of global CO2 emissions. Most of the existing capacity is attached to gas processing plants, where oil companies separate naturally-occuring carbon dioxide from methane, also known as natural gas. Capturing CO2 from these gas processing plants is generally far cheaper than doing so at power plants or industrial sites.
Some of the biggest supporters of CCS have been fossil fuel producers. Oil companies lobbied hard to secure billions in federal loans, grants and tax incentives that were included in the 2021 infrastructure bill and Inflation Reduction Act of 2022. Many environmental groups have said this money would be better spent on efforts to phase out fossil fuels and have criticized CCS as little more than “greenwashing” for oil companies looking to burnish their image. [Continue reading…]