About Me

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Chemical engineer working in the field of bulk chemicals for e.g. plastics and energy, specifically energy efficiency and renewables.

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

My problem with carbon capture and storage.

The European Energy Review has in the previous few months published a plethora on the subject of carbon capture and storage. Their viewpoint has been both positive and negative. For example, there are two articles showing the case for and against CCS.
Both of these are well written articles and well researched. Both points of view are valid and the question put simply comes down to whether you believe that fossil fuels are needed or not. Assuming that you agree with a goal of a low carbon future, CCS is thus the only way to provide for that while using our remaining reserves of fossil fuels. However the other side would argue against that as it adds to complacency and the CCS is too expensive so we run the risk of running with the status quo.

However my problem with carbon, capture and storage is more to do with the name and thus the implications thereafter. Why? The name is incorrect. The process of CCS is described in many places but essentially, energy is expended to take carbon dioxide out of flue gas streams and then inject this carbon into the ground where it should stay. That is a disposal operation and not a storage operation. Routes for using that amount of CO2 have not been identified and even those proposed (i.e. solvents) are still in very early stages of development and because of the harsh conditions, are a long shot at best. In other words the technology should be called carbon capture and disposal or CCD.

Yet everyone seems to be missing this point. Obviously a disposal technology is at the bottom of the waste pyramid. Thus using this technology only promotes the excessive use of our resources and does not prompt us to use alternatives and cut back. The flip side to this is that storage sounds better and disposal. Further fossil fuels will be necessary for at least the next 50 years (the Germans are projecting at least till 2030 though estimates are broadly showing that half of the grid is based on intermittent sources. Using intermittent sources to power a grid is not feasible according to E.ON and I agree with E.ON; see the summary).

In that context we see a boarder fault. Efficiency in our system is never really brought to the fore. Despite the large subsidies for alternative energy sources and CCS, standard efficiency saving measures are not funded very well. For example estimates at the cost of CCS in the prototype stage suggest that to capture most of the CO2 from a power station, we would require that station to use approximately 30% more fuel to keep its current output. Remember that is at the prototype stage and that is at the initial stages of injection when pressures underground are minimal. Thus we are already loosing an efficiency battle here before we begin.

From that point of view I have large reservations on CCS. I am not necessarily against CCS in total as  I can see that fossil fuels will be required but the emphasis should be on using less and not on making the system more inefficient. The CCS option should really be a last resort. That does not mean that renewable are the answer solely either. Extending the issue is very complex and I can only hope to have sprinkled a bit of light onto the issue regarding my position.

Friday, 13 January 2012

Year of Travel

In 2011 I will write my first end of year review. This is a catalogue of things I have done in the past year.
2011 is the year of travel (a nod to Earth abides where there is a custom of calling years after events). This year I have travelled to a fair few countries. I easily exceeded by my annual travel to one new country rule that I try to keep. 

 My first stop was spending New Year with friends in Rouen. This was the first time in that part of France and I even managed to get there using passable French. I tried skiing for the first time in Switzerland in February and even managed to get across the country and see some friends in Zermatt. The skiing part is where you tell your body to become a giant snowball. I much preferred the hiking with crimps. The Matterhorn is stunning and I had a quite chuckle as I sipped on coffee in front of the fabled mountain. 
I also entered Spain for the first time but via Catalunya (they are proud of that sort of thing). I met up with a former colleague and friend in Barcelona for April. I also had the surprise of staying in a Villa outside Barcelona which was truly beautiful. Next I managed to cycle form Alkmaar to Apeldoorn, again to meet a former colleague and friend. During the early summer, I travelled to Cologne which I have described earlier. It is a truly amazing city. 

After that, I joined my local rugby club for the Ameland beach rugby festival. Far too much booze was to be had under the auspices of long and ‘serious’ conversations. In other words the craic was mighty and banter was to be had. Then I went home to Ireland to see my parents. I climbed the Galtee mountains for the first time (why have I waited so long) and tried to meet as much of my extended family as I could. Even some of our American family made an appearance. 

Next my job contract ended on October the 1st. I had seen it coming and was happy to leave. Instead of rushing out to get a new job, I decided to cycle the Rhine after the rugby world cup was finished for Ireland. Finally I was to get one last surprise. I was invited to Swansea and Cardiff (travel expenses paid) for a weekend; another country to tick off the list.

During the year various friends stopped off and enjoyed my hospitality. Two from New Zeeland, one from Australia and a multitude from Ireland made the journey to the low lands. I can truly say that with the upheaval in my job (I will be going abroad for a new job) and all the travel, this year was the year of travel.

Next up will be carbon capture and storage. Shudder. Even including the lie that is storage makes me cringe.