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Policy parity critical for CCS deployment

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World Coal,

The World Coal Association (WCA) has published a new report that highlights the importance of carbon capture and storage (CCS) to an effective climate change agreement at COP21 in Paris.

“In building a low-emission energy future, policymakers do not have the luxury of picking and choosing technology ‘winners’,” said Benjamin Sporton, CEO of the WCA. “All technologies, including CCS, are required to build a resilient energy system and to meet climate objectives.”

The WCA policy recommendations include policy parity with other low-carbon technologies, a requirement for governments to say how they plan to drive CCS towards commercialisation and global incentives to deploy CCS.

“It is clear that with the ongoing role of coal, we need to focus on widening the deployment of all low-emission technologies,” continued Sporton. “Studies by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have previously suggested that climate action would be 138% more expensive – if not impossible – without widespread deployment of CCS technology.”

But such figures on the cost-effectiveness of CCS have been questioned recently in a study by the University of Michigan, which found that most economic analyses of CCS for coal-fired power plants severely underestimate the technology’s cost and overestimates its efficiency.

The new study argues that the actual cost of CCS on coal-fired power plants is significantly higher than wind and comparable to solar. The cause? Something the researchers refer to as the ‘energy loop’.

"To capture the CO2, you need to generate more energy," explained Sarang Supekar, a postdoctoral researcher in mechanical engineering and first author of the new study. "To get this energy, you burn more coal, which creates more CO2 that needs to be captured. So there's this loop that's happening that needs to be accounted for."

Current literature ignores this ‘energy loop’ when estimating a coal-fired power plants thermal efficiency – which is put at around 26% for a plant with CCS – and thus underestimates the cost of CCS. Taking the ‘energy loop’ into account, however, causes a plant’s efficiency to drop to around 16% and this is the main cause of the cost increase.

"The one-line conclusion is that coal should stay in the ground," Supekar said. "It's not efficient to take it out, burn it and put it back. Renewables, and possibly natural gas power plants with CCS technology, will be much cheaper and more efficient."

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