Climate Change

Climate Emergency CoP 25: Carbon capture does more harm than good

It increases air pollution and social costs

By Mark Jacobson
Last Updated: Thursday 12 December 2019
Carbon capture does more harm than good
Photo: Getty Images Photo: Getty Images

Carbon capture and storage or use (CCS/U) and Synthetic Direct Air Capture, Storage or Use (SDACCS/U) increase greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, air pollution and costs relative to spending the same money on replacing fossil fuels or biofuels.

My recent study published in Energy and Environmental Sciences found that a net of only 10.8 per cent of a CCU plant’s emissions and 10.5 per cent of the CO2 removed from the air by a SDACCU plant are captured over 20 years, and only 20-31 per cent are captured over 100 years.

The low rates are due to uncaptured emissions from equipment energy use, uncaptured upstream emissions, and uncaptured coal combustion emissions.

Moreover, these plants increase air pollution and total social costs relative to no capture. Using wind to power the equipment reduces emissions relative to using natural gas but still allows air pollution to continue, and increases the social costs relative to no carbon capture.

Conversely, using wind to displace coal altogether reduces emissions, air pollution and social costs substantially. Spending money on wind-powered carbon capture always increases emissions compared with spending the same money on replacing fossil fuels and biofuels with wind.

In sum, CCU and SDACCU increase or hold constant air pollution health damage and reduce little carbon, even without considering leakages. No improvement can change this conclusion since carbon capture always incurs an equipment cost never incurred by wind, and mostly increases air pollution and fuel mining. Once fossil power plant emissions end, CCU and SDACCU social costs need to be evaluated against the social costs of natural reforestation and reducing non-energy halogen, nitrous oxide, methane and biomass burning emissions.

(The author is director, Atmosphere / Energy Programme, Stanford University, US)

This is part of Down To Earth's print edition dated December 1-15, 2019

To read more on the ongoing Conference of Parties 25 click here

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