Co2-Storage Offers a Controversial Solution to Global Warming


Barendrecht, a sleepy suburb near Rotterdam, and home to some 50,000 people. Recently, Barendrecht became the center of the debate on one of the hottest global issues: climate change. There are serious plans to store 10 million tons of CO2 in empty gas fields below Barendrecht using a new technique called carbon capture and storage, or CCS. CO2 emissions are causing climate change, and CCS is posed as a new solution to reduce these emissions. Barendrecht is chosen for its location close to pure sources of CO2, especially the factories of Shell Pernis. It will be the first time CCS is applied in residential areas, but how does it actually work? Shell Pernis produces, among others, hydrogen, and pure CO2 is emitted in this production process. That is one of the reasons why this CO2 from this refinery is transported through this pipe to Barendrecht. In Barendrecht, there are two locations, indicated on the map with 'Barendrecht' and 'Barendrecht Ziedewij' where a second compressor is used to increase the pressure to such an extent that the CO2 can easily be pumped down and stored in the former gas fields. This is the kind of rock currently filled with gas, and in here, CO2 can be stored when all the gas is extracted. The technique is ready, but the people living on the gas fields are scared.

Here we are in front of the site where CO2 will be inserted in the ground. Over there you can see the installation, where the CO2 will be injected, which is just a few hundred meters away from a residential area. We think it is not necessary. If we can store it below the sea, why not store it there? It could leak over there, at the injection site, which means it could spout out of the ground. Calculations have been made that are supposed to indicate the right safety levels, or to prove at least that it will not vent into the residential areas. However, these calculations can be criticized in many ways. Besides local safety issues, an intense debate about CCS is going on, for example, on its efficacy on a larger scale. Rolf Schipper, spokesperson of Greenpeace, and Wim van de Wiel, spokesperson of Shell International, both have different opinions on this issue.

It is clear that 'CO2-dumping' is only used as an excuse to build four old-fashioned coal power plants in the Netherlands. Storing CO2 emissions of coal power plants consumes so much energy that when four coal power plants are built, a fifth coal power plant is needed to be able to store all CO2. That is indeed the case right now, but a lot of work is being done to reduce this energy demand. It is expected that in future for every eight coal power plants, just one is needed to generate the power to apply CCS. If indeed the technique improves, there is still discussion about the scale on which CCS can be applied. All empty gas fields in the Netherlands are suitable for CO2 storage, below land, as well as below sea.

That is a total capacity of about two billion tons. If you want to store all CO2 emitted in the Netherlands in one year, we need 200 fields like Barendrecht. Obviously, this is a very unrealistic way of solving the climate problem. As long as there is discussion about the efficacy and the possibilities would CCS be a solution to the problems of climate change? At the same time, we should work on the world of the future, and CO2 storage is, as we see it, no more then a transition measure to a world with sustainable energy production. A transition technology is expected to actually exist right now until better solutions are available. However, the opposite is true. CO2 dumping does not exist yet, it might be available in 10 or 20 years, while the real solution, less energy consumption and constructing clean energy facilities — wind farms and solar cells — do exist already. It should be 'and, and, and.

' As I said, we need to work on sustainable energy production, and less energy consumption and CO2 storage. They should be applied together, simultaneously. The global energy demand will increase to such an extent the coming years, especially in the Third World, that we have to use all options. If you want to proceed to a clean energy provision, we should start dealing more efficiently with energy, for example, by insulating dwellings or constructing fuel efficient cars, and secondly, invest in a real clean energy provision which consists of wind farms, solar energy and hydroelectric power stations. The discussion on the pros and cons of carbon capture and storage continues. In the meantime, the decision on CCS in Barendrecht has been postponed until after the summer..