COP28: CCS dependency to cost $1tn a year more than renewables route, study says
A new report from the University of Oxford has found that net-zero pathways heavily dependent on carbon capture and storage (CCS) will cost at least $1tn more per year than scenarios involving renewables. The report highlights the gross underestimation by countries pushing for CCS technology as a substitute for immediate emissions cuts. Transitioning to renewables to reach net zero emissions would cost at least $30tn less. The report also warned that heavy dependence on CCS would be economically damaging and called for governments to scale up investment and stick to essential use cases for CCS.
New Delhi: Net-zero pathways heavily dependent on carbon capture and storage will cost at least $1 trillion a year more than scenarios involving renewables, a new report has found, highlighting the gross underestimation by countries pushing for the nascent technology as a substitute for immediate emissions cuts.
Transitioning to renewables to reach net zero emissions by middle of the century would cost at least $30 trillion less, the report, Assessing the relative costs of high-CCS and low-CCS pathways to 1.5 degrees, by the Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment at the University of Oxford, said on Monday as major economies prepare to unveil shared carbon storage goals at the ongoing COP28 summit on Tuesday.
“A low-CCS pathway is expected to produce average savings of at least US$1 trillion per year compared with a high-CCS route,” the report said. Incidentally, this figure is what some estimates suggest is needed by developing nations to cope with the climate crisis.
The report, however, pointed that the low CCS methods emerging as more economical does not mean that “no-CCS would be better still”.
“For a few particular industries, such as cement production and some chemical sector processes, CCS will almost certainly be required, while scenarios also indicate a need for negative emissions before and beyond mid-century,” the report said.
Put simply, CCS is trapping CO2 emissions at source and storing them deep underground.
Some forms of such technology have existed for at least five decades, but have come to dominate conversation since countries agreed on an “unabated” phase down of coal power at COP26 in 2021.
A footnote in the latest IPCC synthesis report said the abatement of fossil fuel production and use would come through interventions that reduce the amount of greenhouse gas emissions and could involve “capturing 90% of more CO2 from power plants”.
Major economies like the US, and oil-producing countries, like the UAE, which also holds this year’s COP presidency, have been pushing for CCS to be used to allow their oil and gas operations to keep running.
But scientists have warned that the technology is nowhere near the required commercial scale, and may act as a greenwash for these countries.
The Oxford study appeared to reinforce the fears.
In a summary of cost estimates of fossil power with CCS over the last 40 years, the researchers found no evidence of falling costs.
“Via an extensive search of industry reports and academic papers, we find that in more than 40 years, estimates of the costs of fossil power with CCS have not declined at all, indicating a lack of technological learning in any part of the process,” it said.
The report cited the use of amine solution for carbon capture deployed in gas processing plants since the 1970, to say that it has not “produced any appreciable technological learning”.
In contrast, renewable technologies like solar, wind and batteries have fallen in cost dramatically.
“The costs of solar and wind power and battery storage have been falling consistently for the last four decades, due to innovation and technological learning,” it said.
Heavy dependence on CCS would be “hugely economically damaging”, Rupert Way, honorary research associate at the Oxford Smith School, who is one of the authors, said in a statement by the centre.
“Any hopes that the cost of CCS will decline in a similar way to renewable technologies like solar and batteries appear misplaced,” he said. “Our findings indicate a lack of technological learning in any part of the process, from CO2 capture to burial, even though all elements of the chain have been in use for decades.”
On the scale of CCS growth, the report said that while the volume of CO2 being captured and stored has approximately doubled in the last decade to 49 MtCO2/yr in 2022, the low-CCS pathway would entail approximately a 13-fold scale-up by 2030. This increases to 85-fold in a high-CCS pathway.
“Governments would need to virtually double the existing pipeline and ensure all projects in it get built within the next seven years,” it said.
The low-CCS route will also be more benign from a social and ecological perspective, the report said.
“This (high-CCS route) entails a greater demand for land for energy crops. The requirement incurred in 2050 by the high-CCS scenarios is on average 1.3 million sq km more than in the low-CCS scenarios,” it said, adding that the area is more than one-third the size of India.
“The land use changes required by heavy reliance on biomass – often coupled with CCS – would likely threaten essential resources, like food and water, impacting their availability and prices. It could also further pose risks to human rights, and put into jeopardy biodiversity and ecosystem services, deteriorating the resilience of our ecosystems,” co-author Dr Andrea Bacilieri at the Institute for New Economic Thinking, University of Oxford, said.
Urging governments to get serious about CCS, study author Richard Black, honorary research fellow at the Grantham Institute, Imperial College London, said: “That means three things: scaling up investment, sticking to essential use cases, and being very clear that CCS cannot be a blanket solution. CCS will likely be needed for some industries and perhaps for negative emissions, but seeing it as a way to compensate for ongoing fossil fuel burning is economically illiterate.”
The responsibility lies with the oil industry, Fatih Birol, executive director of the International Energy Agency, said last week.
“The industry needs to commit to genuinely helping the world meet its energy needs and climate goals – which means letting go of the illusion that implausibly large amounts of carbon capture are the solution,” he said.
Climate advocate and former US Vice President Al Gore called the current state of the technology a “research project”.
“The current state of the technology for carbon capture and direct air capture is a research project,” he told Reuters in an interview on Sunday.
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