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Vital coal-cleaning technology under pressure
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1st March 2013
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Carbon capture and storage (CCS) was necessary to meet the challenge of keeping the effects of climate change to a minimum by limiting the global temperature rise to only 2 °C by 2020; however, the technology faced severe financial and logistical challenges, several speakers at the CCS EU-RSA Partnerships conference, held in Midrand last month, pointed out.

The conference, which was jointly hosted by the European Commission (EC), State-owned power utility Eskom and carbon management and financing company EcoMetrix Africa, was aimed at sharing information on some of the CCS advances being made in Europe under the Octavius research programme.

Octavius, which began in March last year, is a five-year EC-funded project and falls under the commission’s seventh framework programme. It is coordinated by public-sector research and training centre IFPEN, with the intention of demonstrating energy efficient carbon dioxide (CO2) capture processes at industrial pilot plants in Europe.

“The goal of limiting the global temper-ature rise to only 2 °C by 2020 would be impossible without CCS, but the commer- cial viability of CCS is still a concern,” European Union delegation to South Africa head of development cooperation Richard Young said at the conference.

CCS is particularly important to South Africa, owing to the country’s reliance on coal.

“South Africa ranks among the ‘dirtiest’ energy producers in the world, with Eskom producing the second-most emissions of any utility on the planet. As a country, South Africa contributes 1.5% to global emissions and ranks twelfth on the global emissions list,” sustainableIT, an information tech- nology and services-based company special- ising in carbon reduction through the application of smart technology, states on its carbon report website.

Also speaking at the conference, con- sulting firm Mac Consulting principal consultant Dave Collins said the only way the coal industry could compete in future with other forms of energy, such as nuclear, would be to reduce its greenhouse-gas emissions.

He said implementing renewable-energy solutions was going to take time and that, currently, coal was still the most affordable means of generating electricity.

“However, this could change if carbon taxes are implemented, which is why CCS is of great importance,” Collins added.

Meanwhile, the International Energy Agency (IEA) stated that, with the policies currently in place, CO2 emissions worldwide were expected to double by 2050, which correlated to an increase in temperature of between 5 °C and 7 °C by 2100. This was well above 2 °C below which the temperature rise had to stay to mitigate the most significant effects of climate change, South African Centre for CCS (SACCCS) manager Brendan Beck said at the conference.

“To stay below 2 °C, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said, instead of South Africa’s emissions doubling by 2050, it had to halve its emissions between now and 2050. This represents the challenge that the country is facing and the space in which CCS is being developed,” he added.

IEA analysis suggests that CCS will play a vital role worldwide to limit global warming, making up one-fifth of the required emissions reductions by 2050. For CCS to reach this potential, about 100 CCS projects would need to be implemented by 2020 and more than 3 000 by 2050.

“CCS would also be a critical means for Europe to meet its 2050 target to reduce emissions by 80% to 95%,” Young added, highlighting that CCS had to remain firmly on the agenda.

However, Eskom group executive for sustainability Dr Steve Lennon said at the event that enthusiasm about CCS seemed to be waning.

He pointed out that, while there had been significant interest in CCS in 2007, it was currently regarded as more of a longer-term solution, especially in the US.

“The industry seems to have taken its foot off the pedal with regard to CCS and this has to be revitalised,” he urged.

CCS in South Africa
Department of Energy chief director for hydrocarbons Muzi Mkhize disagreed with Lennon, saying that South Africa’s interest in CCS had not waned, but had rather increased, with the CCS Roadmap having been endorsed by Cabinet in 2012.

The endorsement by Cabinet followed a voluntary commitment to reducing South Africa’s CO2 emissions by 34% by 2020 and by 42% by 2050, provided that the country received technological and financial support.

The SACCCS has identified five steps in a strategy aimed at commercial application of CCS in South Africa.
The first step is a preliminary invest- igation of CCS potential in South Africa, the results of which were released during 2004. This investigation showed that Africa, theoretically, had capturable emissions and potential storage sites. Based on this premise, further investigations were initiated.

Following the preliminary theoretical study, a project to derive more authoritative storage information started in September 2008. The ‘Carbon Dioxide Geological Storage Atlas’ located and characterised potential storage sites on a theoretical level. The report will be taken into the SACCCS programme of work and be further developed to locate a storage site suitable for the test injection.

Preparations are under way for the third step, in line with the Cabinet-endorsed roadmap, for the first test injection to take place by 2016 and, should the concept be proved, the fourth step would be the development of a demonstration plant by 2020 as a precursor to a commercial-scale facility by 2025.

Engineering News reported in September last year that the South African ‘Carbon Dioxide Geological Storage Atlas’, which was released in 2010, determined that 98% of potential storage is offshore. However, the current research focus for a possible test injection is on the 2% onshore portions of the Outeniqua basin, called the Algoa basin, and the Zululand basin.

The focus on the onshore portions of the two basins would reduce the costs involved in research and testing and it would allow for better development of local specialist skills capacity. Having the project onshore would also enable the public and government to witness the project and learn about the use of CCS technologies, Beck told Engineering News in September.

“Building on the work of the ‘Carbon Dioxide Geological Storage Atlas’, the SACCCS is planning further exploration of these basins. Exploration will entail establishing the geological suitability of the regions and it will be supported by environmental assessments and engagement with all relevant stakeholders. If this explor- ation is successful and an appropriate site is identified, the SACCCS will consider the development of a CO2 test injection project to further evaluate and build experience on the technology in a South African context,” he said.

“The CO2 test injection project will enable South Africa to better understand the role of CCS in reducing CO2 emissions and meet the challenges of climate change. The test injection project is the next milestone in the South African CCS roadmap, which was endorsed by Cabinet in May,” Beck added.

Cost and Financing of CCS
Beck stated at the conference that the cost of CCS had to be considered. “According to the IEA, for CCS and other technologies to be delivered, the price of carbon has to be about $200/t in 2050, while it is currently only about $4 or $5 a ton.”

“There is a misconception relating to this required price of $200/t in 2050 and it will be extremely expensive, compared with the current price of carbon,” he said, adding that, in reality, CO2 did have a price tag, as it had an impact on the climate, which, in turn, impacted on farming and agriculture.

“Irrespective of what we price carbon at, we are already paying the price for CO2 emissions. So, $200/t cannot be compared with paying nothing; it has to be compared with the price of doing nothing,” he stressed.

Lennon said that he did not believe that enough funds were being made available for the development of CCS in South Africa, but that he also understood the difficulty in obtaining funding for such projects.

“The sooner we can get progress on international funding mechanisms that will assist us in rolling out this technology in developing countries, the better. Meanwhile, we should see how we can improve the relationship that we have with the EU,” he said.

EcoMetrix MD Henk Sa agreed that, while CCS could contribute to South Africa reaching its target to reduce emissions by 34% by 2020, cost was a major constraint.

“This challenge could, to some extent, be addressed by using a range of domestic and international finance measures,” he said.

“We should not be focusing on how high the carbon price has to be to ensure CCS affordability, but rather on how we could use the other instruments that we have at our disposal to make the solution viable,” he said, adding that such measures included international and domestic funding, carbon tax mitigation and carbon credits, as well as possibly classifying CCS projects as a way of generating green electricity.

To secure the necessary funding, there had to be more South Africa-based guidance from government on how it will provide finance for CCS and to secure international funding, an online project was needed. “One could not get all the necessary funding with a theoretical project, an actual site and capture solution was needed,” Sa said.

Young suggested that “some of the funding that had previously been put into renewable energy could perhaps be used for CCS initiatives.”

Way Forward
During a panel discussion at the conference, Department of Energy (DOE) coal and gas policy director Landi Themba said there was definite commitment from government with regard to CCS and that the DOE acknowledged the intentions of the EU in ensuring that the effects of global warming were mitigated.

He added that government was com- mitted to ensuring that a regulatory framework supporting the development and deployment of CCS was established.

“However, while this is still in progress, I believe that we can use the current legislative framework in terms of the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act and the National Environmental Management Act to address the imple- mentation of CCS,” Themba said.

Eskom environmental economics chief adviser Gina Downes explained that it was difficult for an institution such as Eskom to put money into at-risk projects, such as CCS, as it was account- able to the public for how it spends its money.

“On the way ahead, we need to have a single view on what is happening currently with regard to CCS and I think that we should establish some kind of steering or working group between South Africa and the EU to increase this cooperation and, specifically, to establish and complete pilot CCS projects in South Africa.

These pilot projects should not only be technological, but also form an enabling environment for the large-scale roll-out of CCS,” Lennon said.

Young added that there were six con- ditions pertinent to the successful imple- mentation of a CCS project: the correct legislation, successful demonstration, commercial viability, public acceptance, infrastructure and innovation, adding that the outlook, based on these prerequisites, was not positive.

However, he emphasised that change had to take place, as CCS had a critical and essential role to play in mitigating the risks of climate change.

Edited by: Martin Zhuwakinyu


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