John Barry on new technologies to capture carbon dioxide

John Barry leads one of Shell’s efforts to manage carbon dioxide emissions – thought to be changing Earth’s climate. He spoke to EarthSky about carbon dioxide capture and storage technology.

John Barry: We know that the C02 concentration in the atmosphere has gone up measurably in recent years. We also know that it’s not what’s happened so far that is the problem. It’s what’s going to happen over the next 100 years if we don’t start to manage the problem.

John Barry leads one of Shell’s efforts to manage carbon dioxide emissions – thought to be changing Earth’s climate. He spoke of carbon dioxide capture and storage.

John Barry: Carbon dioxide capture and storage is one of the technologies that offers the most promise for making a difference to CO2 emissions in the short to medium term – I’m thinking 10 or 20 years. A hundred years out, maybe there will be technologies we haven’t thought of today.

He said the best hope of capturing CO2 is at what he called point sources.

John Barry: Think of oil refineries in my own business. They use a lot of energy to make the fuel we use to drive our vehicles. You actually have a hope of capturing that CO2 at the point source, using some sort of a chemical technology to capture the carbon dioxide and take it to a point where you can store it safely, deep underground.

So the idea is to filter the carbon out of the exhaust from a power plant with a chemical before it reaches the smokestack. The CO2 gas is then sent via pipeline under thousands of feet underground or below the sea floor, in a sense back where it came from. Or the carbon can be captured before anything is burned in newer plants that first convert coal into a gas, where the CO2 is more easily separated out. Either way, Barry is hopeful about carbon capture and storage.

John Barry: That’s potentially one of the most promising technologies, because about a third of the emissions today are coming from things like power stations, where this sort of technology might be applicable and might make a radical difference to the CO2 emissions from those power stations.

Barry said Shell is in an early stage of rolling out full scale projects after proving each part of the technology over many years, and spoke of efforts underway in the U.S., Europe and elsewhere.

He also pointed to the FutureGen in the US and the European Technology Platform for Zero Emission Fossil Fuel Power Plants as efforts underway now to build coal-fueled, near-zero emissions power plants.

John Barry: We’ve done some calculations, and we think that rolling out carbon capture and storage, from about 2020 onwards on a large scale, will avoid about 230 gigatonnes, or 230 billion tonnes.

That’s close to eight years worth of CO2 emissions at today’s levels.

This podcast was made possible in part by Shell – encouraging dialogue on the energy challenge.

Jorge Salazar