Imagine a demonic puppet has chained you in a swimming pool that is half full of water and rapidly filling. In order to survive, you are tasked with sucking out the water through a straw. This is the promise of carbon capture technology.

It’s an impossible task to remove enough CO2 emissions with carbon capture alone. This solution will only solve a fraction of the problem, while public funds are sucked from future generations and the atmosphere continues to rapidly fill with climate-destabilizing pollutants.

Now imagine that COP28 was overrun with demonic puppets from the fossil fuel industry. Corporate leaders, captured media, lobbyists and politicians are all telling us that the swimming pool game is our best chance of survival when in reality, it is their best chance of survival.

At the start of the COP proceedings, Scientific American published an opinion piece by Jonathan Foley warning us not to fall for the deception. The battle lines have clearly been drawn. Activists, scientists and people who want to see a future powered by clean energy are calling carbon capture a scam, with ample arguments to support this claim.

Fossil industry spokespersons and many government officials offer a sobering narrative that it will be impossible to phase out fossil fuels in a timely manner. In the meantime, carbon capture will reduce our emissions annually by millions of tons. They’re not wrong.

Capturing carbon from flue gas released from industrial and power plants is technically feasible and there are many companies with commercialized technology ready to be deployed.

One of the more common carbon capture techniques involves sending the exhaust gases from burning fossil fuels through a chamber, where a solid or liquid chemical is injected to collect the CO2 molecules from the gas in a process called absorption.

In the desorption process, the CO2 and the chemical mixture are heated to separate the CO2, which is further processed or transported via pipeline to a storage location, typically an underground geological formation.

Advantage Energy operates the Glacier natural gas production facility near Grande Prairie, Alta., and it has been capturing carbon since 2011. A pre-combustion technology has been removing CO2 from the natural gas produced at the facility, thereby reducing CO2 emissions when the gas is burned to heat a home, building or industrial process.

The fossil fuel industry promotes #CCS as a way to help reduce #GHG #emissions. In reality, #CCS is growing at a snail’s pace in comparison to wind and solar energy, writes @winexus #COP28 #NetZero #FossilFuel #ClimateChange #RenewableEnergy

Advantage has recently added post-combustion technology developed by Entropy Inc., increasing its CO2 capture at the Glacier plant from 10 kilotonnes (Kt) to 200 Kt annually. The site is considered the world’s first commercial project to capture carbon from the combustion of natural gas and the technology is expected to reduce the gas plant’s emissions to net zero by 2025.

Another interesting commercial project is NET Power’s first utility-scale, 300-megawatt (MW) gas-fired power plant using a novel design to capture CO2 in the electricity generating process. The plant will capture an estimated 860 Kt of CO2 annually.

Projects like these are important steps towards decarbonizing fossil fuel combustion. However, in many cases, like the Glacier gas plant, the site only captures 20 to 30 per cent of the CO2 emissions. The majority of CO2 is released into the atmosphere when Advantage Energy’s natural gas is burned in residential, commercial and industrial furnaces for heat.

If Entropy’s solution can scale to a size capable of capturing the post-combustion emissions from a natural gas power plant, this could be a viable retrofit solution, while NET Power might one day be the de-facto solution for new power plants.

The problem is that these and other carbon capture solutions are costly to operate and in most cases, the capital costs are prohibitively expensive. Without legislation to require carbon capture, there is no sensible business case for companies to increase debt and operating costs just to clean up their emissions.

This is the main reason why there are only 40 commercial CO2 capture facilities in operation around the world — and these operations are only capturing an estimated 45 megatonnes (Mt) of CO2 annually.

More rapid deployment of carbon capture is expected, but carbon capture projects can take years to build. In the case of NET Power, its first power plant won’t be completed until 2028.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) reported that CO2 emissions in 2022 reached a record 36.8 billion tonnes. Our near-term carbon capture capacity is indeed a very tiny straw. Capacity would have to grow by a factor of 1,000 in order to abate all our CO2 emissions and begin to draw down the CO2 we’ve already dumped into the atmosphere.

In reality, carbon capture is growing at a snail’s pace in comparison to wind and solar energy. According to the IEA, new capacity from these renewables will grow by 440 gigawatts (GW) in 2023 and by next year, will reach a total capacity of 4,500 GW globally.

Consider that 1 GW of wind capacity displaces an estimated 1.3 Mt of CO2 emissions from natural gas and 1 GW of solar capacity displaces 700 Kt of natural gas CO2 emissions. New wind and solar capacity in 2023 alone far exceeds the total CO2-capturing capacity of decades worth of carbon capture projects.

At COP28, there was a strong focus on reaching an agreement on phasing down "unabated" coal and increasing "low-carbon fuels."

Although there are many promising carbon capture solutions, the simple fact is that these will only help reduce CO2 emissions. It will take decades more to roll out these projects.

A phaseout of fossil fuels is the only way the world is going to reach net-zero emissions by 2050, and renewable energy represents a viable and cost-effective solution that is capable of the exponential growth required to meet the 2050 goal.

Rob Miller is a retired systems engineer, formerly with General Dynamics Canada, who now volunteers with the Calgary Climate Hub and writes on behalf of Eco-Elders for Climate Action, but any opinions expressed in his work are his own.

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Carbon capture is nothing but pure greenwashing by the oil & gas industry and won't solve the emissions problem. It seems as Canadians, it is up to us to reject vehicles that run on fossil fuels, which is the only message oil & gas will understand and can't stop.

Oil & gas will never totally disappear as many products are based on them, but eliminating the byproducts out of a vehicle tail pipe will go a long way.

It's true, there are many uses of crude oil and natural gas that don't involve burning them. Plastics, blacktop, various waxes and lubricant oils and stuff. And, well, there are problems with a lot of these, but those problems are not nearly as serious as disrupting the whole world's climate and ending civilization. I think there's a serious conversation to be had about reducing plastic use and waste, but I'm not nearly as categorical there as I am about the burning thing--it is a different argument. If we end the use of oil and gas and coal as fuels, I'm willing to talk about their future as materials.

For right now, let's just keep in mind that if you are a government, and you have a million bucks, or a hundred million, that you could spend on subsidizing oil companies to do carbon capture, or you could spend on building renewable energy, you should do that second thing. Period. And in fact as a general rule, ANYTHING the oil and gas industry wants you to spend money on, you should not spend money on--the simple fact that it is a thing they want shows you it's the wrong thing. So not just carbon capture, but also hydrogen and nuclear reactors (particularly SMRs), you can tell are stupid ideas just there to waste your time and money so you can't use it for actually replacing fossil fuels with real things that really work, simply because the fossil fuel lobby are getting behind them. Just build the damn renewables and electrify everything.

"Just build the damn renewables and electrify everything."

Amen to that!

@ Rob Miller

Thank you for this right-to-the-point article. And for the links and data that prove CCS is nuts when wind, solar and batteries are already off the shelf and working well at affordable prices.

I would really like to have a EV but I have had headaches with battery tools that I have had for about three years max, ever three or so years the battery dies and the (replacement battery) is the same price as a complete new tool.
I just have my reluctance to invest in a EV and have the battery in it do the same thing, last three years and cost me $10,000 or more to replace it.