Capitalising on carbon storage
by Le Quynh Anh
At heart of the fight against global warming is the still argued need to cut greenhouse gas emissions by half by 2050 compared to 2000 levels. The experts hope this will avert a continuing catastrophe.
While many nations agree that the best solution to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere is to stop burning fossil fuels, they also know that this may not be possible given the ever-increasing demand for energy.
Fortunately, rapid technological advancement in the last decade offers a much more feasible approach – so-called Carbon Dioxide Capture and Storage or CCS technology. In fact, the International Energy Agency in its 2008 energy-technology analysis claims that CCS is the only technology that can mitigate greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. It says that one-fifth of emission cuts must come from CCS if there is to be any sizeable reduction.
Like many good ideas, the concept behind the new technology is simple. Rather than being released into the atmosphere, carbon dioxide is buried either deep inside the earth or under ocean beds. In the best scenario, the gas could be stored underground for up to 1,000 years, providing extra time to sort out the problems.
CCS technology can be used to capture carbon dioxide and inject it into underground oil and gas fields, saline formations, and unmineable coal seams. Several large greenhouse gas emitters, including the United States, Canada and European Union nations, particularly Norway, have started to implement CCS demonstration projects. One or two plan to achieve the commercial deployment of CCS within this decade.
In most major world economies, CCS technology is already seen as an important way of ridding the world of greenhouse gases. This means developing countries, including Viet Nam, may be able to benefit from funding opportunities to run CCS projects through the UN-backed Clean Development Mechanism or similar programmes.
Last December, during climate talks in Durban, CCS was included in the Clean Development Mechanism carbon-offsetting scheme. This means that CCS projects are now eligible to receive funding from the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Adaptation Fund.
For Viet Nam, which is heavily dependent on coal-fired electricity and is also extremely vulnerable to disruptive climate change with its long coastal line, CCS is a promising way of achieving national emission targets.
The potential effect of CCS technology seems more significant than other carbon-reduction options, such as renewable energies – solar, wind, wave power and thermal. If one looks at the national energy-development strategy up to 2020 (with a vision to 2050), renewable energies might only account for 5 per cent by 2020 and 11 per cent by 2050.
Meanwhile, during the same period, fossil fuels are expected to still dominate the country's energy generation mix, accounting for up to 70 per cent.
Like any newly introduced concept, CCS brings challenges along with opportunities. One of the major concerns is the economic viability of using the technique.
At present, CCS is still an expensive method of lowering CO2 emissions for any nation, including Viet Nam. However, it should become more cost-competitive as the carbon price is expected to gradually increase as the deadline to cut emissions approaches.
A study by a group of Vietnamese scientists at the Paris-based International Research Centre on Environment and Development argues that dozens of CCS projects would be economically feasible in Viet Nam by 2030 if the carbon price in Viet Nam reached US$40 a tonne in 2030 and $60 a tonne by 2040.
While the prospect of CCS as an effective climate change mitigation instrument appears promising, the problem is that Viet Nam has barely tapped into the opportunities CCS may offer.
If the nation started developing relevant policies and increasing support for research and development into energy technologies, it would have a much better chance to benefit from international assistance – and CCS – when the time comes. — VNS