A Silver Bullet or just ‘Greenwash’?

September 9, 2008

A truck with a CO2 tank stands in front of the mini plant “Schwarze Pumpe” before the first official run in Spremberg SeptemberCan carbon capture and storage (CCS) save the world?

Is this the silver bullet everyone’s been waiting for? Or just pie in the sky? Is capturing and storing carbon dioxide the technology breakthrough to cut greenhouse gas emissions without getting in the way of economic growth and industry’s “addiction” to fossil fuels? Or is it just a “greenwash” — a token gesture by some of the utilities responsible for so much of the world’s CO2 to try to persuade an increasingly green public that the great emitters are doing something to fight climate change?

Those are the questions that were hurled at Vattenfall executives on Tuesday when the Swedish-based utility opened the world’s first CCS plant in a small town south of Berlin called Schwarze Pumpe. The company believes it will be economically feasible before long to capture carbon, liquify it, and store it permanently on a large scale underground. This is only a small pilot plant producing enough power for a town of 20,000. But if it works, Vattenfall plans to build two conventional power plants 10 times larger in Germany and Denmark by 2015 and from 2020 they hope CCS will be a viable option for large-scale industrial use.

Proud as Vattenfall CEO Lars Josefsson and other executives from one of Europe’s largest utilities were at the inauguration of the 30-megawatt lignite-burning plant on Tuesday that cost 70 million euros and removes 95 percent of the CO2 emissions, they were nevertheless pummeled by journalists from across Europe wanting to know about the economics of it (and were told they’re not bad but could be better), whether they have the permits to store the CO2 underground (not yet but expected soon) and whether it was just more “greenwash” (a definite no).

“We take our responsibility seriously,” Josefsson said. “This doesn’t have anything to do with ‘greenwashing’.”

Economists like Nicholas Stern have placed a lot of hope in carbon capture. He told a group of journalists in Berlin last year that with coal so abundant and cheap around the world, it is hard to imagine any solution to climate change without CCS.

But what do the economics of CCS look like? Vattenfall said that CCS will at first cut the efficiency rate from 46 and 43 percent (for hard coal and lignite) by about 10 percentage points — making it roughly 25 percent more expensive to produce the same amount of energy. But they are confident that those efficiency levels would soon be back to their original level before long.

“We aim to show that it’s feasible, that it’s economical,” said Josefsson. “It’s a long-term project. We’ll have to invest many, many billions for the next step. Vattenfall is prepared to invest many billions. We will make electricity clean.”

Vattenfall said the costs of the investment will pay for itself as prices for EU-wide trading in emission rights rise. Tuomo Hatakka, head of the Germany-based Vattenfall Europe unit, said the break-even point is between 30 and 35 euros per tonne — the current price is just under 30 euros but expected to rise.

“It shouldn’t lead to any additional costs,” said Josefsson. “We’re taking the fight against climate change seriously in Europe and we’ve got a market. This is only the start of a long process. There are incentives to solve the problem.”

So is carbon capture a silver bullet — or just ‘greenwash’? I’m not sure it’s the silver bullet, not yet anyhow. But the 70 million euros they spent on Schwarze Pump isn’t chicken feed either. Seeing some tangible steps taken like in Schwarze Pumpe is certainly a better way to spend a day than listening to politicians talking about what needs to be done.


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I think improving cleaning of energy production, using fuels, is the end move in this direction. The “clean energy” sources are the future. Several countries, as Costa Rica, only obtain 5 % of its electric energy from fuels burning. The industrials companies fear lose their
economic advantages if leave the fossils fuels. However, the climatic change pressures on world, yet. Before thirty years, the fossils fuels will be out. Even in the vehicles, the new hydrogen/oxigen piles, with a 70% performance are the first option.

Posted by Luis Rodolfo Cabrera Juárez | Report as abusive

Nice post but what about the developing world’s perspective?


http://www.socialbridges.org/2008/09/10/ employees-csr-awakening-and-impacts-on-d eveloping-countries/

Posted by Saad Khan | Report as abusive

This seem too good to be true. Instead of polluting the air, would we be polluting the earth (underground). What is the danger, if any, of leakage into our groundwater acqifers? What steps, if any, are being taken to ensure groundwater safety?

This form of energy still relies on the mining of coal, the safety of which leaves a lot to be desired. Additionally, such practices as strip mining used in the past, if not controlled, mars the earth’s surface and changes the earth’s contour. I consider this another form of pollution that has not been sufficiently addressed.

The following are excerpts from an article entitled “Time-Resolved Study of Bonding in Liquid Carbon”

Liquid carbon is yet another incarnation, one that can exist only in environments of extremely high temperatures and pressures, such as those found in the cores of gas giants like Uranus and Neptune. Liquid carbon is volatile and thus inherently transient in an unconstrained environment.

As for me, I would invest in the energy that surrounds us; wind, solar, geothermal, tidal, even wave energy. There are no significant adverse impacts of which I am aware for those forms of energy.

Posted by Michael Murno | Report as abusive

A great advancement in coal fired power plants.
This could lead to many more electric cars, without concern about the electrical generation fouling up our air.

No “Luis Rodolfo Cabrera Juárez” common use of hydrogen fueled vehicles will not be practical for a long time, if ever.

Posted by Josh | Report as abusive

[…] optimise the process.  They predict the economic break-even point for this technology is around 35 Euros per tonne, which may not be far off considering that the current carbon price in Europe is just below 30 […]

Posted by CarbonSignal » Germany launches world’s first coal-fired CCS plant | Report as abusive