In the meantime, the only combination driving the technology forward seems to be CCS for enhanced oil recovery, although oil isn't exactly a carbon-neutral fuel. Hence the $1.35-billion Shell CCS project in Alberta, with the Albertan and Canadian governments footing more than half of the bill in exchange for the sharing of data and lessons learned.
The project will use the same amine chemistry employed by Shell since the 1950s to separate CO2 and other impurities out of natural gas. Methyl diethanolamine absorbs the CO2 and then releases it when heated, an energy-intensive step and a major reason why CCS remains uncommon. The CO2 captured will represent roughly 35 percent of the greenhouse gas generated by the entire operation.
The plan is to inject the captured CO2 into sandstone dating back to the Cambrian period, for at least 25 years. "There are no plans for Shell to get involved in [enhanced oil recovery] for Quest," Shell's Heckel says. After all, another CCS project in the Albertan tar sands was shelved in April of this year because of a lack of buyers for the captured CO2, according to that project's backers.
Lack of a market will continue to slow any bid to construct 100 CCS projects by the end of this decade. The CCS Institute's Page argues that "it's not a technology that's dead, it's alive. It is moving ahead but it faces some headwinds." Yet such buffeting suggests that the technology may develop and deploy too slowly to significantly combat climate change.
"When we finally do deploy, we'll have to deploy it faster, but that's not beyond reason," Alstom's Hilton argues. "I'm still very optimistic industry can do this." If the world likes coal, oil or even natural gas and wants to continue burning fossil fuels, carbon capture and storage may be the only way to slow the increase of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at the same time.