Thursday, January 24, 2008

carbon capture: increasing emissions

That massive hydrogen article will spawn several offspring. I'm thinking BMW need a serious drubbing for their ridiculous hydrogen powered car (probably for Turn Up The Heat), and the carbon capture and storage bit has already led to a piece expanding on that aspect.

Not only is there the BP hydrogen plant mentioned in the article, there are plans for two coal fired power stations in Scotland whose emissions will be worse than conventional generation from any other source.

See, BP isn't an oil company. Scottish Power isn't an electricity company. They are both profit makers; oil and electricity are simply the ways they make their profit. If there were no profit in those products they'd be flogging us cola and dog food.

Since their overriding motive is maximising profit, they will never act responsibly (unless it's one of those rare occasions where the two are the same). So, given a way to use 'low carbon' technology more profitably they'll take it, even if it means an increase in emissions and a serious contribution to climate change.

The new post about it had just been published over at UK Watch, called Carbon Capture: Increasing CO2 Emissions

[no comments here; the place to leave them is over on the post at UK Watch]


UPDATE 2 APRIL 09: As UK Watch is offline, I'm republishing the posts from there on their pointer-posts here.


On Monday the BBC reported on a new 'low carbon' power plant in Abu Dhabi, splitting natural gas into hydrogen to burn and CO2 to capture and store.

They explained, "the CO2 can be pumped underground, either simply to store it away permanently or as a way of extracting more oil from existing wells, using the high-pressure gas to force more of the black gold to the surface."

The report is by their Environment Correspondent, yet he not only uses the term 'black gold' unironically, he also doesn't stop to wonder what will happen to all that extra oil the stored CO2 will flush out.

In the UK, BP proposed a similar plant at Peterhead in Scotland. BP also saw no irony in having a press release talking of the carbon savings and extra oil in consecutive paragraphs.

It was not the cuddly climate-friendly scheme it claimed to be. The plant was planning to release 10% of its carbon, but far worse and as BP surely knew, the emissions from the oil would have been a third to four-fifths of the CO2 stored. add this to the 10% that was never going to be captured and it means emissions would have been 47%-90% of a normal gas-fired power station.

BP cancelled the plan last year, as government incentives weren't coming quickly enough. They needed it sharpish because the Miller oil field is nearing the end of its life and the CO2 was essential to release the presently unrecoverable oil. From a profit perspective, without the government money and the oil bonus the CCS plan wasn't worth pursuing.

The loss of this scheme - universally described in the media as 'green power' and 'carbon free' - was lamented by all who spoke of it, including those who should know better like Friends of The Earth. Among them was Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond, who took consolation from the prospect of other CCS projects at Longannet and Cockenzie.

Those sites are coal-fired power stations owned by Scottish Power, and it is perhaps no coincidence they're picked as them for some greenwash PR. A 2003 report by Friends of The Earth named them as two of the top three worst polluting power plants in Britain. Unless they have a radical refit, both will close by 2015 as they'll exceed new European pollution limits.

At Alex Salmond's beloved Longannet, Scottish Power are planning to install CCS technology, but only if they win a government competition that will pay them to do it. If they don't, they're just going to build a new coal power station anyway, in the full knowledge of what the emissions will do.

Coal is by far the dirtiest way to produce electricity. Per unit of energy delivered, it emits 80 percent more carbon than gas, and 29 percent more than oil.

If they do get the money and install CCS, any calculation should - but of course won't - count the emissions from what comes out of that hole in the ground. Like BP before them, Scottish Power proudly declare their fossil bonus; "The scheme involves pumping carbon emissions from the station into deep underground coal seams to drive out methane gas which can then be used as a fuel".

The emissions from that gas will be released to the atmosphere. Scottish Power are calling all this excessive emission 'a revolutionary change in low carbon energy generation'.

Yet - again - those who should know better support it. WWF say Longannet's CCS is 'progressive', although they temper their approval with the insistence that it must be merely a transitional technology 'until renewable energy technologies are fully up to speed'.

But rebuilding these plants is a commitment to burn coal for many decades. Environmental NGOs and journalists should speak out against ecocidal activity, but they want there to be easy alternatives, so they are too ready to fall for corporate PR.

There simply aren't alternative technologies that can be deployed in time to tackle climate change whilst sustaining our present levels of consumption. The technologies that are available to help us are being abused and even made counterproductive by the prioritising of profit.

In the UK, Carbon Capture and Storage is only being proposed where there's a bonus in the form of extra fossil fuels. And looking to the Abu Dhabi project, nobody can tell me with a straight face that the third largest oil producing nation in the Gulf will do anything other than oil recovery.They have to, because it's the most profitable.

As long a profit is the - or even a - motive, there's a disincentive to store CO2 in non-fossil geological gaps like saline aquifers when it can be used instead for 'enhanced recovery' of oil and gas. In other words, the companies deploying supposed low carbon technology will take the highest emitting version they can.

Like so many of the capitalist 'solutions' to climate change, carbon capture and storage is being used to actually increase emissions under the guise of reducing them.