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Carbon Capture Squeezed


Attempts to realise carbon capture and storage (CCS) continue apace, in an effort to keep burning fossil fuels in a low-carbon future.  They may, however, be dead on arrival.

When it comes to electricity generation, renewables are already squeezing out conventional coal fired power plants on cost.  Adding in the extra expense of separating out the carbon dioxide emissions, compressing them, and then pumping them underground, only makes coal's job that much harder.  Moreover, the few commercial CCS ventures to date have mostly come in late and over budget, if at all.  Now the Boundary Dam Carbon Capture project in Saskatchewan has shown that operating costs for these facilities are also difficult to keep a lid on.  Significantly, Boundary Dam was touted as the world's first commercial power plant running carbon capture and storage.

The only future for coal seems to lie with radical departures from how we now burn it, such as chemical looping combustion.  However, given that our tried and tested ways of burning coal for electricity generation are finding it difficult to compete with wind and solar power, it is hard to see any new technology incorporating carbon capture being competitive.  The path forward for carbon capture appears narrow and shrinking.

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