Carbon dioxide is an important greenhouse gas that is causing the earth to become hotter. Life and business in industrialized countries in particular drives up emissions. What hope do technologies that simply capture the gas offer?
One of the most contentious points at the World Climate Conference is: Will the international community decide to phase out the fossil fuels coal, oil and gas – and under what conditions? Oil states in particular are insisting that the conference at best agrees on a commitment to phasing out the resulting emissions – and not a farewell to the energy sources themselves. That would leave a fairly large loophole open for technologies to capture and store climate-damaging carbon dioxide. Critics fear that this will ultimately only serve as a fig leaf to continue emitting large amounts of greenhouse gases.
What is CCS?
CCS is an English abbreviation for “Carbon Dioxide Capture and Storage”. This refers to the capture and underground storage of carbon dioxide (CO2), which is produced, for example, in industrial plants and when burning oil, gas and coal. Using energy-intensive processes, the greenhouse gas is captured, liquefied under pressure and then pressed and stored in former gas and oil deposits, in rock containing salt water or in the seabed. This is intended to prevent CO2 from entering the atmosphere and accelerating global warming.
CCU goes a little further. The term stands for “Carbon Dioxide Utilization”. The captured carbon dioxide is further used, for example as a raw material for the chemical industry.
Is CCS already being used?
Yes, for quite a while now. CCS has been used on an industrial scale in the subsurface of the North Sea off the coast of Norway since 1996, writes the Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources (BGR) on its website. According to the Global CCS Institute, there are currently a good 40 systems in operation worldwide that can store 49 million tons of CO2 per year. This corresponds to significantly less than two per thousand of global emissions from fossil fuels. Many more projects are being planned.
What risks are associated with CCS?
The Federal Environment Agency sees the “enormous additional energy expenditure” for the capture, transport and storage of CO2 as particularly problematic: “The use of CCS technology increases the consumption of the limited available fossil raw materials by up to 40 percent.” As a rule, no health effects for humans are to be expected during normal operation. However, there are risks from accidents in which CO2 suddenly escapes or from a gradual release. In the USA, there was damage to a pipeline in 2020 that, among other things, transported CO2. According to authorities, more than 40 people had to be treated.
CO2 leaks could also pose risks to groundwater and the soil, explains the Federal Environment Agency. The escaped CO2 could also release pollutants underground.
What fears are there with regard to climate protection?
Critics such as environmental associations warn that climate protection will progress even more slowly internationally if the technology is used. If CO2 can be captured again, then there will be less effort to avoid it in the first place, they argue. “CCS technology sets the completely wrong course. Heavy industry could continue as before instead of converting its climate-damaging production and developing sustainable products,” says the German Association for the Environment and Nature Conservation.
Should CCS also play a role in Germany?
Yes. Suitable geological conditions can be found in Germany, for example in the North German Basin, according to the BGR. But the federal government is considering exports instead. An important target country for this would be Norway, which has decades of experience with storing CO2 deep beneath the seabed. Even the Greens, led by Economics Minister Robert Habeck, are now supporting the use of the technology. In some industries, such as cement plants, production cannot be made completely CO2-free, which is why CCS should also be used to a limited extent.
According to the law in Germany, the storage of carbon dioxide is currently only permitted to a limited extent for research, testing and demonstration purposes. The federal government wants to change this in order to make it easier to build CO2 pipelines, regulate the use of CO2 and reduce barriers to exports.
The federal government had actually announced a “carbon management strategy” for this year. The work is “already well advanced,” assures the ministry.
What potential does CCS have worldwide?
According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the technically possible geological storage capacity is estimated to be on the order of 1,000 billion tons of CO2. That is more than is needed by the year 2100 to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees compared to pre-industrial times. However, the regional availability of storage could play a limiting role and: “The implementation of CCS is currently encountering technological, economic, institutional, ecological-environmental and socio-cultural obstacles.”
The IPCC writes that CCS use is currently far below what is necessary to limit global warming to 1.5 to 2 degrees. In the energy sector, other options have many times the savings potential in 2030, for example, but only cost a fraction of CCS. Specifically, the IPCC mentions, among other things, solar and wind power as well as the reduction of methane that escapes when using coal, oil and gas.
I have been working in the news industry for over 6 years, first as a reporter and now as an editor. I have covered politics extensively, and my work has appeared in major newspapers and online news outlets around the world. In addition to my writing, I also contribute regularly to 24 Hours World.