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Carbon Sequestration: A lack of sustainability planning

Fossil fuel based companies are responding to climate change by developing methods of capturing Carbon Dioxide (CO2) and storing it deep underground in a process known as geosequestration. But is sequestration sustainability management in action or is the focus on sequestration reducing the much needed attention on renewable energy – which doesn’t generate CO2 emissions in the first place?

What is geosequestration? The objective of geosequestration is to remove the CO2 content of emissions, compress the gas and pump it underground into a reservoir generally more than 900m below the grounds surface – Sounds simple enough.

Here is where it becomes messy:

Huge commitment to technology that isn’t even developed
The Australian government has committed a whopping A$1.85 billion to the Carbon Capture & Storage (CCS) Flagships Program which is expected to accelerate the development and demonstration of CCS technologies. The CCS Flagships Program is expected to fund between two to four projects with an electricity generating capacity of 1000 MW. An additional A$385 million has been allocated to fund the National Low Emission Coal Initiative (NLECI). The NLECI will focus on the research, demonstration and deployment of low-emission coal technologies involving carbon capture and storage
Despite this commitment to so called sustainability funding, carbon sequestration technology is not expected to be commercially viable for at least 5 to 10 years.

Renewable energy misses out
At the same time, only $1.51 billion has been committed to renewable energy, with the majority going to solar.

Not a silver bullet
Sequestration can only be cost-effectively used in two circumstances: oil and gas platforms and new coal-fired power stations. Therefore the use of geosequestration encourages growth in non-renewable industries.

Inefficient / Not cost effective
Sequestration reduces operating efficiencies and thus produces more CO2. For example, a proposed project in Victoria had the objective of gasifing brown coal, then converting that gas into energy, whilst sequestering the carbon dioxide produced during energy generation. This process increased the total amount of CO2 produced by a factor of 9 when compared with a conventional oil refinery.
Studies have pointed out that in most cases it would be less expensive for a company to pay a tax on the carbon produced during electricity production than to geosequester that carbon.

Is it worth it?
There is some cases where carbon sequestration has produced truly innovative results. For example traditional cement manufacture produces a considerable amount of carbon emissions, however newly developed types of cement can absorb C02 emissions from ambient air during hardening
However, in most cases R & D in carbon sequestration diverts funds from renewable energy but fails to acknowledge the fact that sequestration relies on non-renewable energy sources which will someday expire. Sustainability planning means creating long-term improved environmental outcomes. Investing in carbon sequestration creates a short term strategy for climate change at a point in time when we need to be planning for our children’s grand-children.

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