Why Carbon Capture?

December 18, 2017By: Lindsay Baxter
PEC Blog

Lindsay Baxter

On December 12th, PEC convened a meeting of 20 on the topic of carbon capture, utilization, and storage (CCUS) at Harrisburg University of Science and Technology. (To learn more about what CCUS is, see our earlier blog post.) Attendance was diverse, including representatives of national and international NGOs along with university researchers and state agency employees.

Why, you might be asking, would PEC explore CCUS in Pennsylvania? We think there are a few good reasons:

 

  • First, nearly all national and international deep decarbonization strategies include some role for carbon capture and storage (CCS) and a deep decarbonization strategy without CCS will cost significantly more. (For example, the most recent IPCC assessment found the overall cost of carbon mitigation under a 2° C scenario would cost 138% more if CCS were excluded.)
  • Second, the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) undertook an assessment of CCS opportunities and concerns in 2009. Because significant time and expense has already gone into this work, it is worth revisiting.
  • Third, with PA’s considerable natural gas reserves, we need to ask whether that gas can be utilized in a way that is consistent with international climate recommendations. Further, because Pennsylvania’s economy is already producing many of the components of a CCUS supply chain — including many component parts already in use in the natural gas industry–advancing CCS could play a role in an overall economic development strategy.
  • Finally, and perhaps most importantly, while CCS/CCUS may be used in conjunction with fossil fuels in the near term, it can to the economic commercialization and deployment of advanced technologies for deep decarbonization, including direct air capture of CO2 and bioenergy with CCS (BECCS).

 

While some critics are skeptical of CCS/CCUS due to its association with fossil fuels, expense, or perception of risk, there is no energy source without controversy. For example, opposition to planned expansion of transmission lines, like that which will be necessary to build out renewables to 80% and beyond, is already occurring in south central Pennsylvania.

The strongest, most cost-effective zero-carbon energy system will include a diversity of resources.

My point is not to pit renewables against CCS, or against other zero-carbon energy sources, like nuclear, but rather to point out that there’s no free lunch. The strongest, most cost-effective zero-carbon energy system will include a diversity of resources.

It’s also important to note that this is only the beginning of a much larger conversation. A key point of discussion at last week’s session was the role for carbon capture at industrial sources, beyond the power sector alone. Emissions resulting from the manufacture of steel, cement, and even food products in Pennsylvania can be captured and either stored or recycled into useful products. Switching to a 100% renewable future will not eliminate these non-power related industrial emissions, but capture technologies can.

As is our style, PEC is thoughtfully investigating this issue with the intention of developing some recommended next steps. Stay tuned for more information on our deep decarbonization work.

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