Growing Concern: Although current and future natural gas processing plants separate CO2 as part of a normal industrial procedure, the world has a ways to go before it broadly tackles a major source of CO2 emissions: coal-fired power plants like the one seen above. Image: arbyreed/Flickr
Four large-scale carbon capture projects launched this year, but regulatory and cost barriers for the technology threaten the world's ability to prevent temperatures from rising to dangerous levels, a new report warns.
The annual report of the Australia-based Global CCS Institute cited a few signs of progress in 2013 -- the four new projects, along with eight existing ones in operation, are preventing 25 million metric tons of greenhouse gases from reaching the atmosphere annually. Yet all of the world's existing and new projects are on natural gas processing plants or other facilities that separate CO2 as part of a normal industrial procedure, signaling that the world has a ways to go before it broadly tackles a major source of CO2 emissions: coal-fired power plants.
There still are no carbon capture projects operating in the power sector, and there is little movement toward implementing the technology on big industrial emitters like cement manufacturers. Since last year's report, 12 projects were either canceled or put on hold, largely because of the high cost of the technology.
"While CCS projects are progressing, the pace is well below the level required for CCS to make a substantial contribution to climate change mitigation," said the report, which was released late last night in Seoul, South Korea. The institute also released a shorter summary of its analysis.
Developing countries make little headway
The report noted, for example, that the current CO2 pipeline network will need to be expanded 100 times to carry enough captured greenhouse gas to hold global temperatures to 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels by the end of the century. Countries that are not members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) will account for most of the growth in primary energy demand through 2035, according to the IEA, but there are few projects far along in the planning stage in many of those countries.
"To achieve global emission targets, 70 percent of the cumulative mass of captured CO2 by 2050 will need to occur in non-OECD countries," the report stated.
Meanwhile, funding support for CCS globally has fallen by more than $7 billion from 2009, "reflecting either changing government priorities or a reliance on carbon price support that has subsequently collapsed," the institute said. In Europe, there have not been new operational projects since 2008.
Cost is not the only challenge. Siting new pipelines to carry CO2 is a "phenomenally difficult" task in many countries, including India, said Jonathan Pershing, Department of Energy deputy assistant secretary for climate change policy and technology, at an event sponsored by the Atlantic Council last month. India emits roughly 6 percent of the world's carbon dioxide, according to U.S. EPA.
One bright spot, according to the institute, is China, which has moved into second place behind the United States in terms of total projects, although none in China are under construction. The incorporation of CCS into China's most recent five-year plan has provided an incentive, the institute said.
Sinopec and PetroChina, for instance, are planning three projects and plan "to own the full CCS chain, from CO2 source to sink." That should allow them move swiftly, the institute said. Additionally, there are few countries outside of China that are identifying new projects, even though countries like Canada and the United States are building long-planned ones.
Three of the new projects are in the United States: the Coffeyville gasification plant in Kansas, the Lost Cabin gas plant in Wyoming and the Air Products Steam Methane Reformer EOR Project, part of a capture process at a Valero refinery in Texas. All strip CO2 as part of byproduct of the manufacturing process.