Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Myth of Carbon Sequestration

Carbon capture and carbon sequestration are often heralded as the key to "clean energy." If you can just take the carbon emitted from producing energy - from coal fired plants or from, he he, the Tar Sands, problem solved, right?


It's not as though you point to a hole in the ground and the carbon jumps at the chance to bury itself safely in some deep cavern. No, there's an elaborate process involved. First you have to capture the carbon emissions. Then you have to find a means to compress and transport them. Finally you have to either find or create a place big enough and safe enough to store the stuff, under pressure, and make sure it doesn't leak back to the surface (it's poisonous, really deadly) in perpetuity.

Now we hear a lot of talk about carbon sequestration but we've heard a lot of talk about a manned mission to Mars too. Both are theoretically feasible but neither has been proven to be possible, much less viable.

Viable. Now there's a word that deserves some attention. Viable as in effective. Viable as in affordable. Viable as in politically and socially acceptable.

A while back the Toronto Star used the Freedom of Information Act to get its hands on an Environment Canada report that found sequestration used an awful lot of energy and produced about the same amount of carbon emissions as the carbon emissions it sequestered.

So, we're supposed to pay big bucks and expose folks living nearby to lethal risks on a process that creates as much carbon as it purports to capture? Wait, I know. All we need to do is to set up a second carbon capture operation to capture the carbon emissions of our first carbon capture operation. Then again, maybe that's not such a great idea after all.

So it seems that sequestration is essentially carbon neutral but it produces all manner of other contaminants, uses an awful lot of fossil fuel, wastes a lot of resources and exposes anyone in the vicinity to lethal risks.


Steve V said...

If sequestration is the magic solution, then somebody should challenge all the proponets to tie this technology to future growth. Stelmach uses the concept at every turn, so surely he'd have no problem saying no new development will occur, until this very viable and sound method is on board.

JimBobby said...

Whooee! I was at BCL's this morning where he's quoting sections of a rand Corp report on CCS.

BCL: "according to RAND, these pilot projects have successfully managed to sequester carbon. "

See this one, too.

Just some stuff to chew on.


The Mound of Sound said...

Ah, the Rand Corporation (as in the Pentagon company named for Research And Development). Rand gave Robert McNamara all his bright ideas on winning in Vietnam.

It's not that it's not possible to sequester carbon. It's that it's not feasible nor is it viable, especially as Enviro-Can's 2008 study showed the processes require a lot of fossil fuel energy that produce as much carbon as the system sequesters. Not to mention all the other pollution associated with these processes.

Yes, it can be done. But why bother doing something that's a net loss?

penlan said...

Thanks for explaining that. Last night I was wondering how that process worked & obviously it doesn't work well.

Saskboy said...

If you think about the 3 states of matter:
gas, liquid, and solid
then consider that they are taking a gas and putting it in an enclosed space where there is a liquid (oil), it stands to reason that the gas is going to push the oil out of the space enclosed by the solid. Something has to give, or the gas will be under high pressure and risk eruption.

And that is why carbon sequestration is a code phrase for "really cool way of getting more oil out of the ground".

Disclaimer, I happen to work at a place that benefits from increased funding for CCS technology.

The Mound of Sound said...

I understand your point Saskboy. What I don't get is why liquified CO2 is better than any other substance for this purpose? What of the toxic risks associated with CO2 leaking from possible fissures and, in particular, what of the "carbon footprint" of carbon sequestration - the energy used to strip CO2, liquify it, transport it and then pump it underground? Has Environment Canada got it all wrong? Have we found a way to run all the sequestration processes without associated carbon and other pollutant emissions? See if, as claimed by the feds' report, we're emitting as much carbon to sequester carbon as we're putting underground, then the whole thing's a sham, albeit a convenient PR tool for the oil patch.

Anonymous said...

I think it's mostly a PR tool, given that it takes energy to put the gas underground, and also to separate it from coal fire smoke. I'm not sure if there's a chemical reason for using CO2 to dissolve the oil trapped in porous rock, but there probably is, along with the availability of CO2 gas from North Dakota, and political and public will to see CO2 captured underground. CO2 is also less toxic than some gases that might do the same job.