Study Finds Setbacks in Carbon Capture Projects

Source: By MATTHEW L. WALD, New York Times • Posted: Thursday, October 10, 2013

WASHINGTON — The number of large-scale projects to capture and bury carbon dioxide has fallen to 65 from 75 over the past year, a worldwide survey has found, despite a consensus among scientists and engineers that the so-called carbon capture and sequestration, known as C.C.S., will be essential to meet international goals for slowing the buildup of climate-changing gases.

The survey was released Thursday in Seoul, South Korea, by the Global CCS Institute, which is based in Canberra, Australia. Since the previous survey a year ago, five projects have been canceled, one reduced in size and seven postponed, while three have been added, the report said.

The leader in capture and sequestration is the United States, it said, although that is mostly because of the use of carbon dioxide for stimulating oil flow out of old wells. Otherwise, the American program for capturing carbon dioxide from power plants is lagging.

The International Energy Agency expects carbon capture and storage to become the third largest way to reduce carbon emissions by 2050, behind energy efficiency and the use of renewable sources like solar and wind power, and ahead of nuclear power and a switch to lower-carbon fuels. The Global CCS Institute’s report found that “while C.C.S. projects are progressing, the pace is well below the level required for C.C.S. to make a substantial contribution to climate change mitigation.”

Among the problems, the report said, is a lack of support for projects that demonstrate new technologies. But it said that China, with 12 plants at various stages of planning and construction, was “well positioned to influence the future success of C.C.S.” China is now the leading producer of carbon dioxide.

Carbon can be captured from electricity plants that burn coal or natural gas, or from oil refineries or a variety of other kinds of industrial plants. The dominant source, though, is coal-fired power plants, and last month the Environmental Protection Agency proposed rules to limit emissions from new coal plants and said it would also write regulations to reduce emissions from existing facilities.

But the technology for capturing carbon has not been proved to work on a commercial scale, either here or abroad. The Energy Department canceled its main project demonstrating the technology in 2008. It would have turned coal into a mixture of gases and captured the carbon dioxide before combustion. The department eventually started over with a plan to burn coal in pure oxygen so that the flue gases would be nearly pure carbon dioxide. That plan was aided by financing from the federal stimulus program, although construction has not begun.

The institute’s new report said three American projects began operation in 2013, all based on natural gas. One of them, the Air Products Steam Methane Reformer Enhanced Oil Recovery Project, in Port Arthur, Tex., captures carbon from natural gas that is used in an oil refinery. The second, the Coffeyville Gasification Plant, at an oil refinery in southeast Kansas, sequesters some carbon dioxide and uses it in fertilizer production, and the third project is the Lost Cabin Gas Plant in central Wyoming. Brazil started up one carbon capture plant, for use in an oil field.

Carbon capture and sequestration had been demonstrated at a coal-burning power plant in New Haven, W.Va., run by American Electric Power. But the utility company shut down the project in 2011 because it could not sell the carbon dioxide or recover the extra cost from its electricity customers, and the equipment consumed so much energy that, at full scale, the project would have sharply cut electricity production.