Nature & Wildlife

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Carbon Capture and Storage

Remember the term “clean coal”? Twenty years ago, it was presented as the magic ‘silver bullet’ that was to be the saviour of the fossil fuel industry. Under the name “carbon capture and storage” (CCS), it was a process of capturing carbon dioxide released by burning coal and gas to generate electricity, and then storing it underground.

From the start, it was acknowledged that the process would significantly add to the cost of producing electricity, as much as double according to some estimates. However, for some inexplicable reason, Australian governments have persisted, granting huge amounts of tax-payers’ money to the fossil fuel industry to develop the process.

To date, at least $40 billion dollars have reportedly been thrown at CCS research over a 20-year period, only $60 million of which has ever led to a commercial scale project. Unfortunately, that project, at Chevron’s Gorgon gas project off the north coast of Western Australia, failed dismally when sand blocked the well that was supposed to store the carbon. As a result of that failure, the Gorgon project has emitted over 7 million tonnes of greenhouse gas in excess of its environmental approval.

All the time, the cost of renewable solar and wind energy has been dropping and is now cheaper than regular coal and gas fired electricity. Even the government has acknowledged that by cutting renewable energy subsidies to those technologies, claiming they are now self-reliant. Instead, as part of the much-heralded COVID 19 “gas-led recovery”, they are proposing to channel renewable energy funding into the CCS ‘money pit’, a technology that, even if it can be made to work, will guarantee increased electricity costs.

The pursuit of carbon capture, however, is not altogether a waste of time and money. There are scientists out there working on ways to extract carbon from the air and turning that carbon into products. Funding that sort of research makes a lot more sense to many of us, but then, we aren’t politicians who need the political donations for which fossil fuel companies are renowned.

John Edwards