One Finite Planet

Carbon Capture and Storage: When it works, and why it doesn’t for work ‘blue hydrogen’.

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There are both vocal supporters and vocal opponents of carbon capture and storage, and there are arguments for both sides. This page goes beyond reporting on how carbon capture and storage fails to make current 'blue hydrogen' projects sustainable, and looks at the underlying principle that dictates why carbon capture and storage, despite having genuine valuable applications, can never enable 'blue hydrogen' to be environmentally sustainable, but is so popular politically.

Carbon Capture Can Reduce CO2.

It Even Happens Naturally.

The blue line, CO2 levels, have been ‘captured’ down to 1/1,000 original levels.

Despite what you might read, carbon capture and storage can work. It turns out plants have been successfully capturing and storing carbon billions of years. In fact, it is plants successful capture of CO2 over the history of the Earth that has prevented us from being fried by the relentless warming of the Sun.

This capture process has taken a long time, and consumed a lot of solar energy, but nothing on that scale is needed to today, as plants are still at work sequestrating CO2, they could just do with a little help.

Plants are inefficient at capturing solar energy to power the sequestration process, but the sequestration efficiency is unmatched. So far, our technology allows for more efficient capturing of solar energy to power sequestration, but we have no more efficient process for the sequestration itself.

This natural sequestration combines the carbon with hydrogen, storing the carbon as hydrocarbons and releasing the oxygen into the air. Storing the carbon as hydrocarbons successfully retained the carbon in the ground until at some point, someone decided to dig some of it up, burn the hydrocarbons and put CO2 back into the air, undoing millions of year work by plants. Oh well.

Can We Improve On Nature, Or Is this Hubris?

There has been a sad history of attempts to improve on nature. For example, there was a time when it was proposed that formula could be better than breast milk for babies.

Now consider using plants for carbon capture. The process is solar powered, produces zero harmful wastes or environmental damage, and should work particularly well in a warming environment will rising CO2 levels, which is ideal for plant growth. The problem it seems, is that we do not want to have land dedicated to nature. That does seem a pity, but such is life it seems.

Artificial Carbon Capture.

There are two main processes of carbon capture and storage:

  1. direct air capture
    • capturing CO2 from the air just like plants, but not yet economical as the cost is higher than the carbon price, as direct air capture requires more energy than natural forestation/reforestation.
  2. point source capture
    • capture of CO2 at the point of emission

Both are explained in detail elsewhere, and it adds little value to repeat an explanation here. Also, how is not the point.

While exactly how effective the techniques are is not agreed, what should be agreed is:

  1. There are techniques carbon capture and storage which capture some CO2
  2. No technology available can capture and store of all (100%) CO2.
  3. Capture and storage requires energy, and the required infrastructure is an economic cost.

This means even with any CO2 emitting process, it is possible to reduce emissions through “point source capture”, and then offset the remaining emissions through “direct air capture”, provided sufficient budget and energy can be allocated cancellation of emissions.

Cement production, which produces emissions, is a logical potential application, provided there is a market cement willing to pay a higher price to cover the cost of the infrastructure and the extra energy.

The Blue Hydrogen Contradiction.

What Is ‘Blue Hydrogen’: Hydrogen From Fossil Fuel with Emissions Abatement.

The answer is in the title, but is explained in more detail here. Fossil fuels are basically hydrocarbons, formed from carbon and hydrogen atoms, and when they burn, which is combining with oxygen, the produce water (H2O) from hydrogen and carbon dioxide (CO2) from the carbon. ‘Grey’ hydrogen is when only the carbon is combined with oxygen, and the CO2 is released. Blue hydrogen is when, at least in theory, the CO2 is carbon captured and stored.

Blue Hydrogen Projects Do Carbon Capture, But How Much Is Not Captured?

There are already demonstrations of carbon capture and storage, with impressive sounding numbers as to the amount of carbon captured, and the environmental benefit of all that captured carbon.

However, it is essential to look beyond merely how much has been captured, and and also consider how much has been emitted. Some project with impressive sounding numbers on capture, have emissions that are so excessive they more than eradicate any benefits from the capture.

It turns out that for some projects, even the capture itself may produce more emissions than is captured, even when producing products that themselves will result in even further emissions.

The point is, while CO2 may indeed be captured, PR releases stating how much is captured really reveal the true story.

The studies show, So Far, Capture and Storage For Blue Hydrogen Fails.

This is already well documented, even by me in the ‘blue hydrogen‘ section of the exploration “Hydrogen: Facts vs Myths“, and in the “Blue Hydrogen. The greatest fossil fuel scam in history?” video by “Just have a think”. Then there are studies of the effectiveness, or perhaps more accurately the ineffectiveness, of ‘Blue Hydrogen’ projects, as described in this video.

I may add more links, but the revelation that so far, ‘blue hydrogen’ results in more emissions than simply burning natural gas, is not new. Nor is it news that since more natural gas is consumed by shipping ‘blue hydrogen’ to consumers than just shipping natural gas, natural gas suppliers are very enthusiastic the opportunity.

In the End, Blue Hydrogen Ever Being Carbon Neutral Is Illogical.

Back to first principles, and recapping:

  1. Carbon capture and storage requires energy, both for any ‘point source capture’, and for whatever additional .
  2. Fossil fuels such as natural gas are the result of natural carbon capture and storage, with solar as the energy source.
  3. The potential energy of natural gas is what is released by reversing the natural capture and storage, and recovering some of the original energy input.
  4. Extracting natural gas requires energy.
  5. Steam reformation and other methods of extracting hydrogen from fossil fuels all require energy.

The big problem, is the every process step in extracting blue hydrogen and then carbon capture and storage of the emissions requires energy.

When producing cement or another commodity, which generate emissions, the cost of the energy can be added into the final price, but unless that energy itself is from carbon neutral sources, the the process of sequestration itself is generating more emissions, creating the need for ever more sequestration.

In the end, ‘blue hydrogen’ can only be carbon neutral if is only viable if:

  1. a source of renewable energy is available as an energy source for the sequestration
    • or
  2. a method of sequestration substantially more energy efficient than forestation/deforestation is found.

In principle, the idea of powering the mining natural gas, hydrogen extraction, and sequestration of the CO2, all from energy originally added by natural sequestration, and still having power left over, is somewhat similar to a perpetual motion machine.

Blue hydrogen could make sense, if a method of sequestration an order of magnitude more efficient at sequestration than forestation/deforestation is found. Or renewable energy is used for the sequestration. However, if you have renewable energy, it far more efficient to produce green hydrogen the mine natural gas, extract hydrogen using steam reforming, capture some the emissions using point source capture, and then use direct air capture to return to carbon neutrality. If some new efficient sequestration technique is developed, that would be better deployed reducing CO2 levels, rather creating more emissions and then trying to clean them up after a process that started with first raising CO2 levels.

Politics Clashes With Reality: Only Direct Air Using Renewables Is Real

Political Dream: Keep Both Fossil Fuel Political Donors, and Climate Lobby Happy.

Political parties and candidates the world over are huge beneficiaries of money from ‘big oil/gas’. Money helps win elections, but then there is an electorate to satisfy that enough is being done to address climate change. Carbon capture and storage sounds like the perfect solution, and if it takes more then 8 years to be proven wrong, then a large number of politicians will never have to worry.

Certainly, there is some greenwashing taking place, and target is to make fossil fuel projects sound sustainable:

This week a peer-reviewed study confirmed what many have suspected for years: major oil companies are not fully backing up their clean energy talk with action.

The great greenwashing scam: PR firms face reckoning after spinning for big oil

Carbon Capture And Storage For Energy Production Is Pure Greenwashing.

That political dream is the greatest stretch when it comes to energy production. The theory that we can keep the energy from the fossils fuels, and have free energy to run the capture and storage process, plus have energy left over to use direct air capture to offset the escaped greenhouse gases, will never add up.

Sure, there will be carbon that is captured and can be quoted as “moving in the right direction”, or even “mitigations some of the environmental damage”, but the fossil fuels for energy can never become carbon neutral though carbon capture and storate, a process which islf requirs significant energy.

Generating emissions and catching them again, is in the same realm as alchemy and perpetual motion. The energy comes form a reaction that produces the emission, and the energy cost of capturing all the emissions exceeds the energy generated.

Next, the carbon capture is too expensive for the amount of efficiency it provides.  This discourages companies from utilizing carbon capturing since they’re not necessarily gaining profit.  The high cost is due to the resources needed to build carbon capture facilities.  Not only are steel and concrete (two costly materials) required to make carbon capture, but in order to maintain the facility, electricity is needed.  When compared to a plant that doesn’t implement carbon capture,  the costs of electricity increase between 30 and 80%. Electricity is also used when compressing CO2 to make it ready for transport and injection.

Princeton

This is in a world where renewables are already less expensive then fossil fuels for energy.