South Africa has indicated that it will continue to explore whether carbon capture and storage (CCS) can play a meaningful role in helping it to reduce the country’s carbon footprint notwithstanding limited progress in international climate negotiations and carbon pricing, as well as Norway’s recent decision to pull back from the development of full-scale carbon dioxide (CO2) capture at Mongstad.
Norway, which is also a supporter of the South Africa programme, is a leader in CCS research and development and has indicated that it continues to support the development of a full-scale capture facility in Norway by 2020, despite the decision to discontinue with the high-profile Mongstad project.
Speaking at South Africa’s third CCS conference in Johannesburg on Thursday, Energy Minister Dikobe Ben Martins reiterated government’s support for the technology, as well as for the work being done by the South African Centre for Carbon Capture and Storage (SACCCS). The centre was established in March 2009 to conduct research and development and to build the necessary capacity to implement CCS locally.
Martins said that government remained of the view that the country’s abundant coal resources should continue to be exploited as part of an increasingly diversified energy mix. However, it also intended honouring the commitment made by President Jacob Zuma at United Nations climate negotiations in Copenhagen, Denmark, in 2009, where South Africa pledged to reduce its business-as-usual emissions by 34% by 2020 and by 42% by 2025 – a commitment premised, though, on South Africa receiving financial and technological support from developed countries.
South Africa has set aside R197-million over a three-year period to support SACCCS in implementing the CCS roadmap that was endorsed by Cabinet in May 2012.
SACCCS’s Brendan Beck, who is also the manager for the proposed CO2 storage pilot project that is due for implementation in 2017, described the discontinuation of the Mongstad project as “disappointing”.
However, he pointed to International Energy Agency (IEA) analysis showing that CCS would remain a critical greenhouse-gas reduction solution for as long as fossil fuels and carbon-intensive industries continue to occupy a dominant position in the energy mix. The IEA believes CCS could contribute one-sixth of total CO2 emission reductions required by 2050, and 14% of the cumulative emissions reductions through to 2050.
Beck also stressed that other projects we under way in Norway, the US, Australia and Algeria, where the technology was being demonstrated. “There are five projects operating in the world that have stored over 5-million tons of CO2.”
Preparations were, thus, continuing on a plan to implement an onshore pilot plant in South Africa, with the source of the CO2 and the eventual storage sites yet to be determined. Further exploration would be pursued in the Zululand basin, on the eastern side of South Africa, and the Algoa basin, in the Eastern Cape.
Owing to South Africa’s relatively undeveloped oil and gas industry, this exploration is likely to increase the capital cost of the South Africa pilot project when compared with similar initiatives under way in Australia. Beck estimates that between $70-million and $80-million will be required for the development.
“We are still working on the costing, which is also site specific,” South African National Energy Development Institute (Sanedi) CEO Kevin Nassiep added. The SACCCS falls under the aegis of Sanedi, the State agency responsible for overseeing energy-related research and development in fields as diverse as renewable energy and energy efficiency, through to green transport and CCS.
Work was also under way on a funding plan, with the financial pledge already made by the South African government said to be providing an important signal to other potential funders of South Africa’s commitment to CCS.
Norwegian Ambassador to South Africa Kari Bjørnsgaard offered assurances that Norway would remain a “strong partner” and noted that the Norwegian Ministry of Petroleum and Energy had pledged R28-million to the country’s CCS activities. The World Bank’s CCS Capacity Building Trust Fund was another likely source of additional funding.
But Beck stressed that the thrust at SACCCS was not to pursue the solution “at any cost”, but rather to understand the potential for CCS in South Africa.