Why is CCS technology an essential tool in the fight against climate change?
Modern society and life as we know it depend heavily on fossil fuels. A simple fact underscores this point: nearly 66% of the world’s electricity is now generated using fossil fuels (OECD/IEA, 2009).
The International Energy Agency (IEA) predicts that this trend is not about to reverse itself. In fact, the demand for energy should continue to increase due to population growth and the economic development of emerging countries. This means that in the coming decades, fossil fuels will most likely continue to supply the majority of the world’s energy needs, with other energy sources not yet “ready” to make up the difference. This dependence on carbon-based energies is a major problem from an environmental point of view.
According to the IPCC, carbon dioxide is responsible for 60% of the anthropogenic greenhouse effect (IPCC, 2005). Carbon dioxide is an inevitable product when fossil fuels (like oil, natural gas and coal) are burned. It is also emitted by some industrial processes (chemical reactions in cement factories and aluminum smelters, etc.).
The IEA is of the opinion that no technology or form of energy can singlehandedly reduce the climate changes caused by fossil fuel combustion. Instead, the IEA promotes the extensive development of CCS in conjunction with other existing alternatives, such as renewable energies, nuclear energy, better energy efficiency, etc. Although CCS technology would allow us to continue using fossil fuels while severely limiting their environmental impact through the drastic and rapid reduction of CO2 emissions, it is the widespread adoption of all these solutions that will help reduce our GHG emissions.
The IPCC report on carbon dioxide capture and storage estimates that CCS technology could reduce CO2 emissions by up to 40% during this century (IPCC, 2005). The CCS approach only applies to fixed CO2 emitters, particularly electricity-generating plants and industries.
Québec is a special case because 96% of electricity consumed in the province is generated by hydro-electric sources according to MRNF statistics for 2009. In Québec, it is not the electricity sector but the industrial sector, which produces 32.9% of the province’s GHG emissions, that represents the priority target for CCS technology.
Indeed, 89% of GHG emissions from Québec industrial sector are CO2 emissions, which represent about 24.1 million tonnes of CO2 per year (MDDEFP, 2013). The rest of the emissions from this sector are mainly hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), perfluorocarbons (PFCs) and nitrous oxide (N2O).
What is the timeframe for industrial deployment?
In order to fulfil its promise of significantly reducing CO2 emissions, CCS must first overcome many technological, economical and legal hurdles if it is to successfully serve as a transition technology while we build a new world of widely available renewable energies. It is also important that CCS deployment be seen as part of a societal project. The technology must be accepted and understood by the general public.
The main steps in developing CCS technology can be envisioned as follows:
- scientific research pilot projects from now until 2015;
- industrial deployment starting in 2020;
- widespread use by about 2030.
CCS sections – First step: CO2 capture.
IEA (2009) Technology Roadmaps – Carbon capture and storage. International Energy Agency. 46 pages.
IPCC (2005) IPCC Special Report on Carbon Dioxide Capture and Storage. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Cambridge University Press, 442 pages.
MDDEFP (2013) Inventaire québécois des émissions de gaz à effet de serre en 2010 et évolution depuis 1990. Ministère du Développement durable, de l’Environnement, de la Faune et des Parcs du Québec, 20 pages.
OECD/IEA (2008) CO2 capture and storage – A key carbon abatement option. International Energy Agency, Paris, France, 261 pages.
OECD/IEA (2009) Key World Energy Statistics 2009. International Energy Agency. Paris, France, 78 pages.