Human Dimensions of Global Warming

Mitigation Potential and Carbon Capture & Storage


It is imperative that GHG emissions from the energy sector decrease sharply and quickly. On the one hand, the mitigation potential from the energy sector is considerable. On the other hand, there is no single, economical solution to the energy-emissions conundrum. To reduce emissions yet produce enough energy to meet global demand means a multi-prong effort. Despite their dreadful toll on climate change, at least in the near term, fossil fuels will remain as important parts of the energy mix because they are so entrenched in our societies. Nonetheless, advanced coal and gas technologies need to be deployed as soon as possible; ways to retrofit conventional coal-fired power plants quickly and cost-effectively with these technologies need to be developed. Advanced nuclear needs to become cheaper and quicker to build; these plants need to be much, much safer environmentally. Prices on standard second-generation renewable power technologies –– photovoltaic solar, wind, and geothermal –– need to come down so they are more desirable than fossil fuel-based and nuclear alternatives. Biofuels need to lessen impacts on the environment and on agricultural prices. Other, less-developed technologies, such as concentrated solar, ocean power, and large-scale biomass gasification, need much more development. It is evident that government and industry need to make huge investments in research and development.

Not surprisingly, the fossil fuel industries want to maintain their primacy (and profits). One way that they are promoting continued unabated use of fossil fuels is the promise of carbon capture and storage (CCS). The idea is simple: CO2 would be captured at the site of combustion and injected into receptive geologic formations on land and sea. The government is spending hundreds of millions to billions of dollars on trial projects to develop and test technologies. The main point of these trials is to answer the simple question, could it work? That is, can the gas be captured, injected into the ground, and made to stay there? There are other questions, however. Could CCS be cost effective, or would it simply be cheaper to switch to currently more expensive renewable technologies? Is it safe? There are significant fears that the CO2 could acidify water supplies and hence damage ecosystems, buckle ground and cause tectonic shifts, among other potential worries. One of the unfortunate facts is that the coal industry is implying to the public that CCS is here or near and that they can continue their profligate use of coal-based electricity. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

Gas, biomass, oil & coal go 2 energy generation facilities which capture produced CO2.CO2 goes 2 mineral carbonation, industry & storage
Figure 4.10: Carbon capture and storage (CCS) systems showing carbon sources for which CCS might work and showing transport and storage options.
Credit: Sims, et al., 2007. Energy supply. In: Climate Change 2007: Mitigation. Contribution of Working Group III to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [B. Metz, et al. (eds)], Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA. Chapter 4.3.6. Retrieved July 11, 2011 from