1) CCS technology is not cost-effective.
Actually, it is. CCS is more cost-effective than many of the measures that have been taken, or are planning to be taken, to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. A disadvantage with CCS, if you can call it that, is that you can capture a large amount of carbon dioxide. It ends up costing a lot of money, but it is because you are reducing a great amount of carbon dioxide. When it comes to bio-CCS (technology that creates negative emissions), if a service that absorbs CO2 from the atmosphere would cost the same as a carbon tax, the business of carbon capture would be already be making a profit.
A study that the consultancy firm WSP conducted for the City of Stockholm showed that bio-CCS is approximately 16 times more cost-effective in reducing carbon dioxide emissions than placing solar panels on municipally owned buildings. We in the Nordic countries have extremely good conditions to implement CCS to reduce fossil emission as well as create carbon dioxide sinks (negative emissions) through bio-CCS.
2) The climate crisis is too urgent to put our faith in something that won’t be available until the distant future.
I completely agree. The technology for bio-CCS that we are investing already works today, not in some distant future. We are already running it in our research facility in the Stockholm neighborhood of Värtan. From the technical side of things, we could have a full-scale facility up and running by 2025. For us it’s not about the distant future, it’s about what we can accomplish if society wants us to.
Our planned large-scale facility can remove up to 800,000 tons of carbon dioxide per year. To compare, the Swedish domestic flight industry pre-pandemic accounted for approximately 500,000 tons of CO2 per year. We are talking about removing carbon dioxide emissions equal to the domestic flight industry (and more on top of that) as early as 2025. Norway has captured and stored carbon dioxide since 1995, so the technology exists and has been proven. The technology that we want to use to capture carbon dioxide has been used since the mid-1900s, including at four facilities at our former gas plant in the Hjorthagen neighborhood over the course of 40 years.
3) CCS justifies ”business as usual”
Carbon capture and storage from fossil emissions increases the cost of the products that get manufactured. In addition to actually reducing emissions, a higher cost leads to a stronger incentive to switch to other products, goods, services and methods of production.
Bio-CCS, in its goal to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, has a completely different function in climate work. Certain sectors lack a tangible way of reducing their emissions and therefore have a need to counteract them.
In other words: what bio-CCS offers society is the opportunity to counteract the emissions that we, for one reason or another, are not able to reduce. An official Swedish government inquiry that was presented in spring 2020 made that very clear. Reports from the UN’s climate panel IPCC arrive at the same conclusion. In fact, the IPCC points out very clearly that more ambitious climate goals are dependent on implementing CCS technology.
4) There is no single solution
True. There are multiple ways for the global community to absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Technology that captures carbon dioxide directly from the atmosphere is even being discussed – where the concentration hopefully does not exceed 0.045% (450 ppm) in the future. Photosynthesis, together with our energy generation plant, increases the concentration almost 400 times that to 18 percent, making carbon capture much simpler. Planting trees, rewatering and other methods will also be needed to counteract global warming.
Researchers at Chalmers University in Gothenburg have said several times that Swedish paper and pulp mills, as well as the energy sector, can create more than 20 million tons of bio-CCS per year at existing facilities. If this happened, it would mean that Sweden could absorb 40 times more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere than what domestic flights emitted prior to the coronavirus pandemic.
There is no one single action that needs to be taken, rather many measures that need to be implemented at the same time. This is going to look different depending on where you are in the world because local conditions vary. But to cast aside a technology that is mature and that can contribute with massive negative emissions, in my opinion, directly counterproductive.
(This post has been slightly modified from the original Swedish text: a reply to an op-ed critical of CCS published in Sweden’s leading business daily Dagens Industri.)