A growing consensus exists among climate scientists, economists, and policy makers that the link between man-made emissions of greenhouse gasses (GHGs) and climate instability is sufficiently likely to motivate global actions. Energy use and energy generation are at the heart of the problem, with the International Energy Agency (IEA) forecasting that global electricity generation will nearly double from 2005 to 2030.
Approximately 50 percent of the electricity in the U.S. is generated by coal-fired power plants. For much of the rest of the world, that number approaches 70 percent. While we can accelerate a transition to cleaner, “greener” energy by curtailing the construction of new coal-fired power plants in favor of renewable energy generators, it will take time to replace that much existing power-generation capacity. Whether we like it or not, humanity will depend on fossil fuels for its energy for the near term.
One of the solutions to reduce GHG emissions from fossil fuel energy generation is carbon dioxide (CO2) capture and storage (CCS). CCS technologies capture the CO2 emitted from power plants and industrial sites; compress this CO2; and transport it to suitable permanent storage sites, such as deep underground. CCS is in the relatively early phase of development, with several key questions remaining unanswered, including about its costs, timing, and relative attractiveness vs other carbon-lowering opportunities.
CCS provides the main abatement lever for stationary fossil-fuel consumers like coal-burning power plants and can facilitate a transition to the cleaner power generation scenario mentioned above while maintaining the power generation levels an increasingly developed world demands. CCS could also provide the main means of curbing GHG emissions from heavy industrial sectors such as the steel and cement makers and petroleum refineries, which together, account for ~15 percent of the nation’s CO2 emissions.
Sandia National Laboratories is a multi-program laboratory managed and operated by Sandia Corporation, a wholly owned subsidiary of Lockheed Martin Corporation, for the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration under contract DE-AC04-94AL85000.