Home > Climate Change > Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS): grants, prizes, and concerns

Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS): grants, prizes, and concerns

On Tuesday, the US Dept. of Energy announced it was distributing $575 million USD in grants to 22 projects in 15 states, in an effort to deploy Carbon Capture and Storage / Sequestration (CCS) technology within the next 10 years.  The money was allocated under the Economic Stimulus package (ARRA 2009). 

The Washington Post reports that the Dept. of Energy has invested $4 billion USD in CCS, leveraging $7 billion USD from the private sector.  Interestingly, this massive investment comes as a grant – not as a prize.  The difference being that prizes reward for success, whereas grants allocate money up front, creating jobs, but not necessarily ensuring the desired outcome.  In the case of CCS, the desire outcome is an environmentally sound means of reducing carbon emissions. 

There are many concerns over the environmentally soundness of CCS, including:

  • The potential for stored carbon to leak underwater into oceans, decimating marine ecosystems, including fisheries;
  • The potential for stored carbon to leak into the atmosphere, undermining the mitigation potential of CCS;
  • The decreased pressure to shift away from “brown” energy sources, in particular coal combustion for electricity; and
  • The increased consumption of gas and coal when carbon capture is used on power plants, due to the energy intensive nature of carbon capture. 

The Washington Post only mentions the risk of asphyxiation due to a massive leak of stored CO2 near populated regions.  This is certainly a concern, but just one.

As the Deepwater Horizon disaster has shown, the ability to stop underwater leaks is very difficult.  Detection of slow leaks above and below ground is also very difficult.  The increased consumption of coal with carbon storage will correspond to increased production of mercury, requiring more effective abatement technologies than are currently available and environmentally sound storage of mercury (which is uncertain at this time), to prevent increased atmospheric emissions of mercury.

Perhaps a series of prizes to identify and design effective solutions to the environmental risks of CCS, simultaneous to or preceding the development of the technology, would be a worthwhile investment – to say the least.  In this way, ad hoc remedies may be less necessary to correct for inadequate risk assessment, as witnessed by the catastrophic disasters and series of failed corrective measures that took place in the Gulf of Mexico over the course of nearly three months.

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