Capturing and sequestering carbon emissions has recently been added to the list of miracle cures for climate change. Championed by top British Climatologist Myles Allen, carbon capture is not a new idea and does have its strong points, but is it the cure for what ails the planet or is it just another vial of snake oil? Let’s find out.
First, we must take into account that Professor Allen isn’t claiming that carbon sequestration is the only thing that needs to happen to help slow climate change, he is simply suggesting that it is a much more cost effective method than what is currently being pursued – the elimination of carbon burning altogether. He uses statistics from his home country to justify his claims – and they all fall into line quite nicely. The average British citizen pays over £100 in wind farm subsidies on their annual utility bill. If this money were placed into a carbon sequestration program it could bury twice as much carbon as is offset by the wind power used by the average home.
The crux of his argument isn’t that using alternative fuels is bad, it is just that in the long run it won’t matter as long as the carbon emissions are not stopped. Eventually all of the fossil fuels will be used and their carbon released into the air. His solution, capturing the carbon in the flues of major power plants, pressurizing it, and pumping it back into the earth, does have some merit. Even his detractors believe that burying up to 50% of our carbon emissions is possible by 2040. The problem here is global cost. While Allen believes that sequestration could be done affordably, Professor Vaclav Smil, author of the “Energy Myths and Realities: Bringing Science to the Energy Policy Debate” brings up a huge counterpoint. Carbon sequestration, on a large scale, would involve a massive investment. He states,
This means that in order to sequester just a fifth of current CO2 emissions we would have to create an entirely new worldwide absorption-gathering-compression-transportation- storage industry whose annual throughput would have to be about 70 percent larger than the annual volume now handled by the global crude oil industry whose immense infrastructure of wells, pipelines, compressor stations and storages took generations to build.
In addition to the sheer magnitude of the project, there would also be several legal loopholes to jump through. First, who is going to accept the sequestered carbon under its territory? Second, what safety measures will be applied to prevent the sequestered carbon liquid from escaping its location? And last, who is going to foot the bill for the development of the infrastructure that will be needed to support such a huge undertaking?
On the surface, carbon sequestration looks like a good solution to the problem of carbon emissions. The biggest problems with the proposed fix are logistical. To me, it looks like we should forge ahead with plans to sequester as much carbon as we can to slow its release into the atmosphere while continuing to pursue alternatives to carbon burning fuels. Sequestration may be the fastest way to reduce our impact of the environment and act as a stop gap measure to prevent the world from going over the 3 degree cliff that fear mongers insist will bring on unavoidable, and immediate, climate change.
What do you think? Is carbon sequestration a valid endeavor or should we be focusing our resources elsewhere to prevent a worldwide climate catastrophe?