Worldwatch sees stagnation in CO2-capture project construction

Global funding for carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology remained unchanged at US$23.5bn in 2011 in comparison to the previous year, but the number of actual CCS projects in operation has stagnated lately, according to a new report from the Worldwatch Institute.

Although there are currently 75 large-scale, fully-integrated CCS projects in 17 countries at various stages of development, only eight are operational—a figure that has not changed since 2009, the institute noted. The U.S. is the leading funder of large-scale CCS projects, followed by the European Union and Canada.

The new report, part of the institute’s Vital Signs Online series analyzing key global trends, discusses a variety of new CCS projects and facilities throughout the world. Among these is the Century plant in the U.S., which began operating in 2010.

“Although CCS technology has the potential to significantly reduce carbon dioxide emissions—particularly when used in greenhouse gas-intensive coal plants—developing the CCS sector to the point that it can make a serious contribution to emissions reduction will require large-scale investment,” the institute noted. “Capacity will have to be increased several times over before CCS can begin to make a dent in global emissions. Currently, the storage capacity of all active and planned large-scale CCS projects is equivalent to only about 0.5 percent of the emissions from energy production in 2010.”

The prospects for future development and application of CCS technology will be influenced by a variety of factors, according to the report. In March, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposed regulations on CO2 emissions from new power plants. As a result, U.S. power producers would soon be unable to build traditional coal plants without CO2-control capabilities. The technology will likely become increasingly important as power producers adjust to the new regulations, the institute noted.

Around the world, an international regulatory framework for CCS is developing slowly, while the technology has been factored into international climate negotiations, the institute said. Its classification as a Clean Development Mechanism, which was created through the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and allows industrialized countries to gain credit for emissions reductions they achieve through funding development projects in developing countries, has raised objections, however, from those who argue that it risks prolonging the use of carbon-intensive industries.

There are now seven large-scale CCS plants under construction worldwide, bringing the total annual storage capacity of plants either operating or under construction to nearly 35 million tons of CO2 a year, said the report. According to the International Energy Agency, an additional $2.5 trillion–$3 trillion will need to be invested in CCS between 2010 and 2050 in order to halve global greenhouse gas emissions by mid-century, the report said.

An example of stagnation in the U.S. for CCS project construction is American Electric Power (NYSE: AEP), which in 2009 started operating a small-scale CCS facility at its Mountaineer coal plant in West Virginia. But, even though a scale-up of that project would have gotten U.S. Department of Energy funding help, AEP then shelved the scale-up project, citing the current uncertain status of U.S. climate change policy and a weak economy.

About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.