The Future of Coal: Clean coal technologies and CCS in the EU and Central East European Countries

January 13, 2012 | 00:00

The Future of Coal: Clean coal technologies and CCS in the EU and Central East European Countries

The study “The Future of Coal: Clean Coal Technologies and Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS)” addresses the global and European dimensions of CCS - the opportunities but also the challenges associated with this new technology that may spark a revolution in our future energy policies.

Its starting-point is the realization that coal is not an outdated, disappearing source of energy. Quite contrary to the predominant perception in Europe, coal is in fact the second-most important source of energy after oil globally, largely due to high consumption rates in emerging countries. And coal is still on the rise – the International Energy Agency projects a further increase in coal use and states in its World Energy Outlook 2011 that, with no change in policies, coal consumption could even overtake oil by 2035. Since coal is here to stay, at least over the medium-term, it is necessary to point out that it should not be demonized as an energy source. Instead, new and innovative solutions are needed to maximize its energy potential while keeping environmental costs to a minimum.

We shall have to live with oil, coal, and gas for a long time; therefore it is necessary to work for the “greening of fossil fuels”. Given the twin challenges of achieving long-term energy security, on the one hand, and mitigating the effects of climate change, on the other, this study highlights the potential for coal in conjunction with CCS technologies to actually help address both simultaneously.

Currently, CCS is the only technology that can capture at least 90% of the emissions from the world’s largest CO2 emitters. The study investigates the countless opportunities for the application of CCS, even beyond coal-based industries. In the long term, for example,even stored CO2 may possess economic value, rather than just being a waste product. Given these fascinating developments and the challenges ahead, the study implores us to rethink our approach to energy in the 21st century.

Instead of a strict dichotomy, coal (but also other conventional energy sources) in conjunction with CCS and renewables may actually be best seen as complementing each other. yet there are many tasks still ahead for European policy-makers before CCS can be a vital component of our energy systems, not only in Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, which are the empirical focus of this research.

One of the primary challenges that needs to be addressed before the large-scale development and widespread application of CCS technology is realistic, is to prove its competitiveness and commercial viability. It cannot be denied that technological change always involves significant costs, which is why coal-based energy with CCS will be more expensive than its counterpart without it. But there are several reasons for being cautiously optimistic.

First, there is a growing awareness that outsourcing emissions does not equal an actual reduction; if the carbon content of imported energy sources and products is included in, for example, Europe’s balancesheet, the relative cost of developing and implementing new, domestic technologies goes down. Second, CCS is not only needed in coal-based industries, but in many others, including gas and oil, which will also involve considerable start-up costs. Third, stored CO2 should not be looked at as a waste product; many applications are currently being developed through which CO2 can have economic value, for example in Enhanced Oil and Gas Recovery or for storing electricity from renewable energy sources in gas pipeline networks (“Power-to-Gas” projects). Finally, the development of CCS technology means that there will be a huge export potential for European power plant manufactures and operators as well as industrial technology companies that will create hundreds of thousands of jobs in Europe.

All in all, despite the enormous costs, CCS holds such a huge potential that the initial challenges, at least, do not seem insurmountable.

To read the full report, click here.


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