Carbon Sequestration: Too Little, Too Late?

Carbon Sequestration: Too Little, Too Late?

A few carbon capture and sequestration projects are under way, but economics and politics are holding the technology back.

The capture and sequestration of carbon dioxide at a huge scale is required to make a dent in climate change.

To impede climate change, scientific studies suggest, billions of tons of carbon dioxide need to be captured from hundreds of fossil-fuel power plants in the next few decades—and as soon as possible. Without large-scale carbon capture and sequestration (CCS), other measures—including rollouts of renewable and nuclear power—will not avert catastrophic climate effects in the coming century and beyond (see “The Carbon Capture Conundrum”).

SaskPower plant
This coal power plant in Saskatchewan is the first commercial-scale coal power plant to capture and bury most of its carbon dioxide emissions.
CCS technologies are getting more sophisticated and efficient, and a few full-scale projects are going online. At the same time, researchers warned last week in Austin, Texas, at the world’s largest conference on CCS that the technology remains economically practical in only a few situations.

The most significant recent advance was the opening of a 110-megawatt coal power and CCS plant in Saskatchewan, called Boundary Dam, built by the provincial utility SaskPower (see “In a First, Commercial Coal Plant Buries Its CO2”). Michael Monea, president of SaskPower’s carbon capture and storage initiatives, spoke with almost religious fervor at the conference about the project, which will capture 90 percent of its carbon dioxide. “Build more of them, build them bigger, and it will have an effect on the world—I believe that,” he said.