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Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS): A Distant Possibility, Shri R V Shahi, Former Secretary, Ministry Of Power

Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS): A Distant Possibility
[R V Shahi's Weekly Column for Infraline, January 28, 2008]

In the wake of India's highly optimistic energy development programmes and plans to substantially enhance the level of per capita energy (including electricity) consumption, the global attention on India's energy linked activities has increased. Notwithstanding the fact that the per capita emission of carbondioxide, which is only slightly above one tonne in India as compared to 4 tonnes global average, 19 tonnes in U.S.A and more than 10 tonnes in U.K, since in the next 20 to 25 years the energy generation growth in India is targeted to be around 9%, to ensure that the targeted economic growth rate is achieved, it is natural that such massive expansions entailing also massive increase in CO2 emission is viewed with seriousness and concern. The associated aspect, however, is the national compulsion, keeping in view the Millennium Development Goal, to enhance the level of energy consumption for people below poverty line and also for those in rural areas as well as in urban areas who may be above BPL but their standard of living is inadequate. The objectives of rapid development and of mitigating climate change concerns have both to be concurrently pursued - a highly challenging task for countries like India. To a great extent these objectives are highly conflicting in nature - pursuing one increases CO2 emission, while pursuing another, constraints the process of development and leads to continuing poverty of several million people in India (almost 300 million people below poverty line). The Integrated Energy Policy which was formulated in 2006 projects a 9% growth and it also assumes that the major portion of the capacity addition will have to come through the route of coal based power generation.

IRADe, in association with Planning Commission, Govt. of India, Department of Science and Technology, Govt. of India, Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, U.K. and British High Commission in Delhi organized on 22 - 23rd January, 2008, an International Workshop on "Carbon Capture and Storage in the Power Sector : R&D Priorities for India" at Delhi. I had the occasion to chair the plenary session on Carbondioxide Storage. In this session, we had four eminent speakers presenting very well researched papers - Dr. Michel Nindre from the Bureau of Research in Geology and Mines (France), Dr. Sam Holloway from the British Geological Survey and a close associate on the IPCC special report on Carbondioxide Capture and Storage, Dr. Balesh Kumar from the National Geological Research Institute, Hyderabad and Dr. Gautam Mukhopadhayay, Deputy Director General of the Geological Survey of India.

In my opening remarks, I made the following brief observations :

  • As per long term Integrated Energy Policy, India must target to increase its generation capacity to about 800 GW in next 25 years by 2032 if it has to bring the living standards level of people even at par with China (as at present) and such other countries. In spite of maximum efforts to develop generation capacity by exploiting fully the hydro potentials, substantial capacity addition through nuclear route in this time frame and creating as much as possible capacities through non conventional routes of generation, inevitability of coal as the main fuel for major proportion of capacity addition may have to continue.

  • United Nations framework convention treaty on climate change provided for "common but differentiated responsibility." India does not have a targeted reduction target.

  • To compare the CO2 emission level in different countries the only reliable parameter would be per capita emission rather than absolute amount of emission, though sometimes many analysts try to present the absolute values.

  • India has not been able to even provide electricity connectivity to almost 56% of its rural population. We must recognize that 70% of India lives in villages. Indian Govt. is committed for an inclusive growth, which only means that rural population should also have the benefits of modern amenities, none of which will be possible without reaching them energy and electricity.

  • In the last five years, several global initiatives have been launched to tackle the problems relating to climate change. India has taken very active participation in all these initiatives.

  1. In June 2003 when the Govt. of U.S.A came out with the initiative of Carbon Sequestration Leadership Forum (CSLF). India was one of the 16 nations of the world to have participated in drafting of the Charter and to have signed the Charter.

  2. I was personally involved in the drafting of this Charter. I recall that in the objective of the Charter as originally drafted there was a provision relating to "Development and Deployment" of new technologies. We had considerable amount of discussion on this issue. India and many other countries were of the view that since these are R&D efforts and they are going to take long time to be developed and particularly to be cost effective, it may not be in order to stipulate "Deployment" at this stage. Accordingly, the word "Deployment" was dropped in the final draft.

  3. Since then during the period June 2003 to January 2007, I was a Member on the Policy Group of CSLF and we had several rounds of meetings at different places. This initiative has indeed brought into focus the need for Research and Development on this subject.

  4. CSLF also constituted Technical Group to identify research projects to be undertaken by different countries either on their own or in collaboration with other countries. Technical Group has been doing exceedingly good work and monitoring the progress. One of the co-chairmen on the Technical Group is from India. Two Indian projects have also been identified to be done in collaboration with others.

  5. India also chaired a sub-group on part financing of research projects, I made presentations at least in three meetings but it appeared that financial support for pursuing these projects was somewhat difficult. I wish the participating countries had a better and a more positive view on financing, in which case CSLF initiative could have yielded much better outcomes.

  6. International Partnership for Hydrogen Economy was launched in November, 2003. India has not only been one of the founding members but has been actively participating in the activities of this partnership.

  7. India has been an active member on the Methane to Market Partnership Initiative, which was launched in November, 2004.

  8. The most important and powerful initiative on this issue has been the Zero Emission Future Zen Project of 275 MW started by the U.S.A Government. When invited, India was the first to have agreed to participate and to contribute to the proposed Fund for development of this project. Accordingly I, as Secretary (Power) had the privilege to be a Member on the Steering Group of the Future Zen initiative. I also had the privilege of signing the Agreement with the Govt. of United States in April, 2006. Subsequently the first meeting of the Steering Group held toward the end of 2006, which I attended, formulated detailed approach.

  9. The Govt. of India has also been an active member on the Asia Pacific Partnership on Clean Development Mechanism.

  • Thus, it can be seen that the concern of the Govt. of India to work towards cleaner environment by reducing CO2 emission is adequately reflected by the sincere efforts that it has been making through various global initiatives as also through a number of actions which have been initiated within the country, some of which are outlined below:

  1. India has enormous potential of the order of 150,000 MW of hydro electric power projects. We have hardly harnessed 35,000 MW (about 23% of the total). The long term policy is to fully exploit these potentials over next 20 to 25 years. The seriousness of the concern is adequately reflected by the fact that in the current Five Year Plan alone about 15,000 MW will be added.

  2. In the beginning of the 10th Five Year Plan, to further accelerate the Micro and Mini Hydro Project development it was decided that projects of capacities up to 25 MW (as per earlier policy - 3 MW) will be treated as Mini Hydel Project and therefore they will qualify for benefits and concessions provided by Ministry of Non-Conventional Energy Sources. This initiative has led to a large number of private developers implementing these projects.

  3. Indian Govt. took-up the matter in various debates and discussions in global fora - I was personally involved in a number of these discussions - to bring home the point that all hydro electric projects, irrespective of the size and capacity, should be treated as renewable. For the first time the World Energy Council in their Annual Energy Statement in 2004 recognized this and accordingly expressed about the renewable nature of hydro projects. Slowly this proposition is getting accepted and recognized.

  4. In the recent years, Govt. of India has stressed the need for accelerating the pace of generation capacity through non conventional sources of energy. In the total generation mix, about 8% is accounted for by the non conventional sources. If we add - and there is no reason why we should not add - hydro electric capacity, the overall percentage would workout to more than 30% of the installed capacity from renewable sources.

  5. In the current Five Year Plan (2007-12) there are programmes of the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy to add more than 10,000 MW which would mean doubling of their capacity within one Plan period of five years.

  6. The National Electricity Policy emphasizes that percentage of nuclear power capacity should increase. At present it is less than 3%. The long term perspective is that over a period of 25 years this proportion could increase to about 7%, which would mean enhancing the capacity from 4,000 MW to over 55,000 MW.

These are affirmative actions and each one of these strategies is very powerful to make a significant dent on the issue of global warming, because each one will substitute significant portion of power generation which would have otherwise been available only from fossil fuel based power generation systems and, to that extent, would have added substantially to CO2 emission.

The four expert presentations made in this session aimed at bringing out the possibilities and also the problems of CO2 storage. The four presentations made a balanced view of the issue. I would attempt only to summarise the various view points as brought out through these studies. Storage of CO2 in itself is a challenge. But, perhaps equally challenging is the capture of CO2. Unless technological efforts on both these fronts fructify, success of the CCS would remain a distant dream.

  1. In Indian context, identification of sites for storage is somewhat premature. I recall when this issue was discussed couple of years back. The consensus was that through demonstration projects unless efficacies of carbon capture technologies and of storage technologies are established and unless they reach the domain of being somewhat cost effective, any discussion of sites in Indian context would only create an out-of-tune expectation and therefore present a distorted picture.

  2. Studies have been done by National Geological Research Institute. Studies have also been jointly done by British Geological Survey, Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad and National Institute of Technology, Bhopal. Geological Survey of India have also carried out their studies to explore various possibilities. The findings of the joint study in collaboration with the British Geological Survey could be summarised as below:

  1. CO2 storage by absorption onto coal is not going to make a significant impact on national CO2 emission. In all less than 350 million tone of CO2 could be absorbed through this method and therefore this may not be a preferred course of action.

  2. In case of oil and gas fields the total storage is estimated to be between 3.8 and 4.6 X 109 tonnes CO2. This possibility will need to be further investigated.

  3. There is insufficient data to estimate accurately the storage capacity of saline aquifers.

  4. Therefore these studies highlight only oil and gas fields to be the possible storage sites.

The study done under the ageis of the National Geographical Research Institute has examined and analyzed various possibilities. These include CO2 storage in deep saline aquifers, sequestration in Basalt formation, storage in Methane Hydrates, Ocean sequestration and Terrestrial sequestration etc. They have come to the following conclusions:

  1. CO2 Storage Research and Development is still in early stage in India. Developing cost effective technologies for these CCS are major challenges to Scientists and Researchers.

  2. The environmental risks involved in the storage of CO2, particularly in geological formations and in oceans have to be evaluated in detail by monitoring and modeling in terms of long term stability.

The latest issue of The Economist (January 19 - 25, 2008) has carried two important pieces - one on "Global Warming" and another on "Get your Energy Here". I consider it worthwhile to give couple of extracts from the first and one from the second.

"Europe's main tool for cutting carbon is its Emissions - Trading Scheme (ETS). Firms in the dirtiest industries in all the member states are issued with permits to emit carbon dioxide; if they want to pump out more, they have to buy more permits. The higher the price, the greater the incentive to cut emissions.

From the start, permits were given away free (as business wanted) instead of being auctioned (as economists wanted). As a result, in non-traded sectors (especially energy, the biggest polluter) firms have been passing on the cost of carbon to customers and making windfall profits. What's more, swathes of industry were left out of the scheme altogether. And many countries over-estimated their emissions, so too many permits were issued. As a result, the carbon price crashed and, ten years after the European Union signed the Kyoto protocol and five years after it ratified it, most European countries do not look like meeting their commitments."

"That is a serious consideration, particularly when other developed countries (especially America) are slow to adopt carbon constraints. Yet a study of British industry published this week by Britain's Carbon Trust undermines the idea that a carbon price of ?20 ($30) a tonne - high enough to make a range of clean-energy technologies worthwhile-would be a huge burden. It suggests that industries making up less than 1% of Britain's GDP (and 50% of its manufacturing emissions) would be "significantly" affected. Aluminium, cement and some steel production are the most vulnerable. The Carbon Trust reckons that the ETS can bring about deeper cutbacks in its next phase, after 2012, without damaging competitiveness."

"Energy = much confusion, squared
By far the loudest grumbling, though, is being prompted by specific targets that tell each government how big a slice of their energy mix must be renewable by 2020. Countries with feeble records on Renewable Energy (such as Britain) will be required to make astonishing leaps : in Britain, renewables are supposed to rise sevenfold, from less than 2% of the energy mix to around 14%. Class swots on Renewable Energy are just as cross, because past efforts have been ignored in setting new targets. Sweden, which currently gets about 40% of its energy from hydro power and so on, will be asked to find more than half its energy from renewables, pushing it into unknown territory at unknown cost."

All these sum up to a situation that the adverse effect of CO2 emission, no doubt, needs to be minimized and therefore CCS is one of the many options. But we must recognize that this option is not a quick fix but it is a long haul. Being associated with energy sector for over 30 years, I have seen how various research and development projects have taken their own time to reach the stages of pilot projects, prototypes, demonstration projects and then to commercial scale manufacturing. These are not in terms of years but decades. A few examples would perhaps illustrate the point:

  1. We have been talking of Integrated Gasified Combined Cycle (IGCC) over 30 years now. In the world there are a few examples of successfully operating plants of a reasonable size. In India, on Indian coal which is quite different, a small demonstration plant was set-up by BHEL. We have been trying to scale up to 100 MW, but in spite of our best intentions and efforts we have not been able to do so on Indian coal. Wherever it has been done, as reported, the prices are 40 to 50% more than conventional plants and therefore it requires a subsidy support.

  2. We all know that solar energy is almost unlimited. Research and Development efforts for last over 40 years have brought us to a stage but even now it is 7 to 8 times costlier than conventional power and therefore for developing countries like India its acceptability is posing to be a serious problem.

Any technology to be researched, innovated and developed will take time. Sometimes they might appear to be frustrating exercises. But if scientists and technologists give up, developmental process will be halted. CCS has a laudable objective. But researchers as well as policy planners must be prepared for a long wait till this technology, when developed, reaches a point that power plant developers all over the world, and particularly those in developing nations, adopt this. Until then all our affirmative actions, on lines of Indian initiatives, must not only continue but must be scaled up. In my assessment CCS technology, including technologies to manage the environmental ramifications of CCS, are giving to take not less than 15 - 20 years before they become deployable on a reasonable scale. Efforts of researchers must continue and policy planners must support these research projects.

Copyright : R.V. SHAHI