A major contributor to the increased concentration of atmospheric CO2 is the use of fossil fuels to generate energy. Whether uttered through the grinning teeth of campaigning politicians or simply the abysmal ratings of your student housing energy efficiency documents, CO2 emission will have likely caught your attention at some point in the past.
But what is the future of CO2 emission reduction strategies? The common opinion is that, perhaps as a halfway house to exclusively renewable alternatives, Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) is the answer. And it would appear that the EU shares this view; it has just announced 300m euros of funding into a UK CCS project.
CCS is a technique that captures CO2 emissions at the source and stores them elsewhere, typically in porous rocks, such as carbonates, or in emptied oil and gas fields. A UK project named White Rose CCS aims to capture the CO2 emissions from a new coal-fired/biomass facility near Drax power station in Yorkshire. The gas will be stored under the North Sea. White Rose claims it will be capable of capturing 90% of the emissions, amounting to around two million tonnes per year, and supply electricity to 630,000 homes. The initiative aims to show the world that CCS can be done in a cost effective manner and to reduce CO2 emission to meet future environmental targets.
The development of the technology sounds very good in theory, but there are some concerns with regards to practice. These include the long-term safety of storing the CO2 and the potential increase in the cost of electricity the system may cause. There is also the issue of the environmental impact of fossil fuel extraction and transportation; these are not addressed by CCS.
The significance of this development is that there could potentially still be room for fossil fuels in a low-carbon future, assuming a universal CCS conversion. But how realistic is this aim? And would the money spent rolling out CCS as an alternative not be better spent on researching new, revolutionary, completely renewable technologies that could match the energy demand?