28/06/2011

CCS or algae?

Door: Jonathan Verschuuren (TLS) | Categorie: Climate engineering

Storing CO2 under the ground, which climate change specialists often refer to as CCS (carbon capture and storage), is seen as an important step on the road to a society in which we are no longer dependent on burning fossil fuels. The technology for removing CO2 from the air has existed for quite some time already (as evidenced by the addition of carbonic acid to drinks to make them fizzy). In a new generation of power plants, the CO2 could be removed before it ever has the chance to get into the atmosphere. But the transportation of the CO2 to the storage site, and the process of storing it, are more problematic. This is because the CO2 must be transported and stored in such a way that it cannot escape – ever again. A blow-out would not only defeat the whole object of storing the CO2 in the first place, it could also be very dangerous. A small leak from a pipeline in Berkel en Rodenrijs in 2008 received international attention, even though casualties were limited to a few ducks. But the worst case scenario at the back of everyone’s minds is the large-scale escape of CO2 from a lake in Cameroon in 1986 as a result of volcanic activity. The escaped gas suffocated 1700 people. Storage in thinly populated or uninhabited regions or under the sea bed would seem to be the best solution, but the disadvantage of this is that it requires long pipelines. Many trial projects are underway in both Europe and Australia, mostly still in their initial phase. In 2009, an EU directive was issued including regulations on the underground storage of CO2. These focused particularly on preventing any harmful environmental effects, especially over the longer term. The most important legal issue is liability. Who will be responsible if in the future, say 100 years from now, damage is caused despite all the security measures that have been taken? For American and Australian companies, this is now a cause for extreme caution in moving forward with CCS. In the EU, this problem has been solved by the automatic transfer of liability to the state after a certain period of time.

However, it now seems that new technology is becoming available which could be much more lucrative than CCS – that is recycling CO2. In Australia, a company has been set up which uses an industrial application of CO2 to cultivate algae and produce commodities such as cattle food, bio fuels and raw materials for medicines. I’m certainly curious about the legal issues that will arise from that!

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