John Barry urges wide use of carbon capture and storage

Renewable energy may be the ideal, but it doesn’t happen overnight. “In the meantime, we must start managing the CO2 emissions from fossil fuel emitting power stations, refineries, steel plants, and so on. And carbon capture and storage is the only technology that allows us to do that,” says Barry.

John Barry: The world’s going to be burning fossil fuels for a long time to come. And carbon capture and storage, or CCS, is the best, in some ways the only chance to de-carbonize those fuels.

John Barry is a physicist at Shell. Dr. Barry leads their efforts to capture carbon dioxide, or CO2, emissions from burning fuels like coal and petroleum. After capture, that carbon is stored thousands of meters underground. Carbon capture and storage, said Barry, could contribute in a big way to reducing CO2 emissions from burning fossil fuels.

John Barry: It could be contributing, says the International Energy Agency, nearly 20 percent of the CO2 emissions reductions that we need by the middle of the century.

Carbon capture and storage technologies exist today, said Barry. That includes techniques for scrubbing CO2 from the exhaust gases of a coal-burning power station. But high costs have kept these methods from being more widely deployed.

John Barry: We need to scale them up. We need to drive their costs down, and we need to bring the public along with us so that they’re comfortable with the technology and the role it has to play. In its early higher cost stage it does need some support from government. So we’re very much working in the spirit of public-private partnership today.

One example, said Barry, is the Quest project near Edmonton, announced in October of 2009 and supported in part by the Canadian government. When completed in 2015, Quest is expected to store close to a million tons of CO2 each year. Dr. Barry told EarthSky what he feels is important for people to know about carbon capture and storage.

John Barry: It’s good to think about it in three parts. The first part is the capture. And then there is a transport of captured CO2 to the third part, which is the storage. We transport it from a captured site to a storage site.

Carbon capture requires some clever chemistry, says Barry.

John Barry: When I talk about capture, I’m thinking about the science and technology that’s needed to separate CO2 out from the gases coming out of a power station, for example, the chimney, or emissions of CO2 from our refineries. And to take the CO2 out of those gases and stop it being emitted into the atmosphere needs some quite clever chemistry, something that we know how to do today, but I’m sure it can be done more efficiently when you start to do it on a bigger scale.

Barry said the storage part of the process is probably the most mysterious part.

John Barry: And finally, there’s the storage part, which I think to the general public is the most mysterious part because it involves something that can’t be seen, the deep, underground storage reservoirs. That’s something that is beginning to be proven in places like Norway, where Stat oil has been injected into a reservoir near the Sleipner field for more than 10 years now. And the CO2 stays down there. We can monitor it and show that it’s safely stored and is expected to stay down for the long term.

The challenges to greater deployment of carbon capture and storage are both technical and policy-based, said Barry.

John Barry: Well, the most important hurdle is probably policy. But let me just finish with technical first. So while all the bits of this chain, from capture to transport, to storage, exist today and have actually been demonstrated on some small scale, it hasn’t been done in a joined up way, in a fully integrated way attached to a big power plant, for example. So, we need to scale it up. We need to learn how to make the technology cheaper, above all. It’s something that can be done today but is relatively expensive, and it won’t play its full role if we can’t drive the costs down. And that’s a target of many of the early projects, which governments and industry are jointly funding.

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

Jorge Salazar