UN IPCC Climate Change Synthesis Report shows requirement for huge carbon reductions to meet global climate target
Early November saw the release of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s ‘Climate Change 2014 Synthesis Report’, the first synthesis report since 2007. It shows that concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are at their highest point in at least 800,000 years, and that the global annual total output is increasing. The effects are already evident, as the report states: “In recent decades, changes in climate have caused impacts on natural and human systems on all continents and across the oceans.” These effects are expected to intensify over the coming decades, with impacts not only on human health, food production, natural disasters, and sea levels, but on the likelihood of conflict and the alleviation of poverty. To be likely to reduce average global temperature increases to below the internationally-agreed target of 2 oC, global concentrations of GHGs must be below 450 ppm by 2100, with a reduction from 2010 emissions of between 40 and 70% by 2050, and 80 and 120% by 2100 (amounts over 100% being taking the gases from the atmosphere). Current CO2 levels are at around 400 ppm. The chair of the IPCC, Rajendra Pachauri, said “The solutions are many and allow for continued economic and human development. All we need is the will to change.” With so much of global CO2 equivalent emissions being attributed to the burning of fossil fuels and industrial processes (around 65% of anthropogenic emissions), and fossil fuel use intensifying in much of the world, especially the developing world, the IPCC sees the use of carbon capture and storage vital to meeting the world’s climate goals. Dr Pachauri said “With CCS it is entirely possible for fossil fuels to continue to be used on a large scale.” Interestingly, the report estimates that without CCS, the economic cost of reducing emissions would be twice that with CCS. One colourful response to the report came from Bill McKibben, from climate campaign group 350.org: “For scientists, conservative by nature, to use ‘serious, pervasive, and irreversible’ to describe the effects of climate falls just short of announcing that climate change will produce a zombie apocalypse plus random beheadings plus Ebola.”
Coal industry carbon reduction strategy to take two-tier approach
An article in World Coal magazine by Anglo American’s ‘Coal Stewardship Manager’, Nikki Fisher, has reviewed the strategic direction of clean coal development. The article (available to the public in a shortened form) is focused almost exclusively on carbon emissions, and considers that the industry is taking a two-tier approach. The first is in increases in plant efficiency by designs incorporating pulverised coal combustion and integrated gasification combined cycle technologies, which can reach 46% efficiency, or more typically 40%. As the average plant currently runs at 30% efficiency or less, burning less coal to produce the same amount of electricity via efficiency improvements could save up to 30% of carbon emissions (at a maximum) from coal firing. Recent moves by the World Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development not to fund new coal projects may backfire, the article claims, because countries wishing to install coal-fired power generation capacity would instead build cheaper, less efficient plants. It is suggested that the most pragmatic option for the coal industry (where the financing is available) would be to pursue efficiency improvements while carbon capture and storage technology improves from a technical and economic point of view. CCS is the second tier; the article suggests that both policy and funding support are required to help develop the technology, the policy mechanisms perhaps starting at subsidy incentives for CCS deployment (and funding for research), moving later to a price on carbon. CCS funding in recent years has been insufficient for development at the pace believed to be required.
Peabody shares rise as Republicans win US midterm elections
Shares in US miner and power generator Peabody Energy rose 13% after the Republican candidates won a sweeping victory in the US midterm elections on 4 November, tightening their control on the House of Representatives and giving them control of the Senate (from January 2015) for the first time in eight years. Peabody hopes that the Obama administration’s proposed new carbon emissions rules for fossil-fuel fired power plants will be repealed or changed fundamentally in the future, allowing an easier path to the building of new coal-fired power plants (i.e. without the need for carbon capture and storage). The Republican Party has already stated that blocking the proposed new rules is an energy policy priority, though President Obama has the power to veto any legislature during the last two years of his presidency. It promises to continue to be a period of debate and change, with the presidential elections of 2016 to be highly influential on the future direction of US energy policy.
US DoE lab develops aqueous carbon capture technology
The US Department of Energy’s Savannah River National Laboratory has developed a new process to aqueously capture carbon dioxide from flue gases, according to a press release from the DoE. The process uses “a mass transfer system that is suspended in a deep, water-filled sealed well.” Hydrostatic pressure, along with several energy recovery processes, reduce the overall costs of capturing the carbon by around 50% compared to existing processes, according to the DoE. Moreover, the CO2 can be used for enhanced oil recovery. The Principal Technical Advisor, Gerald Blount, said that “The process is non-hazardous, carbon-neutral, scalable and easier to implement than competing capture systems.” If it proves to be so, it would have a marked impact on future CCS projects.
Algae Biomass Organization pushes for CCU to be included as a carbon reduction measure in US EPA rules
Quite apart from the development of CCS is the development of CCU – carbon capture and utilization. The Algae Biomass Organization, the trade association of the algae industry, has been running a campaign for CCU to be recognised by the US Environmental Protection Agency as an approved emissions reduction strategy under its proposed new power plant regulations. CCU, as the name suggests, uses carbon dioxide as a feedstock to produce commercial products such as fuels, chemicals, fertilizer, plastics and feed ingredients. Algae are often an intermediate step to arriving at such products; the largest demonstration projects so far have shown carbon reductions of 68-80% (though the press release from ABO did not state the circumstances). A petition is currently being circulated by ABO so that it may be presented to the EPA, asking for inclusion into the new rules.
Eskom coal silo collapses, puts 1.8 GW of capacity out
A 10,000 tonne coal storage silo at South African state power utility Eskom’s 4.1 GW Majuba power station in Mpumalanga collapsed on November 1, cutting 1.8 GW of power generation capacity at the plant out, resulting in power cuts around the country. Majuba has six units, and all six have been affected by the silo collapse, though within two days around half of the lost generation capacity was restored by rerouting some of the coal supply streams, utilising mobile feeders. The silo was constructed in 1994, and was visually inspected just last year, when it was found to be in a good condition, according to Eskom. The collapse is an especially unwelcome blow for the company, as it was already facing financial problems (from price capping) and a lack of generation capacity to meet demand. Nobody was injured during the collapse; an investigation into it is expected to take up to six months.
Enel weighing options to sell Slovenske Elektrarne
Enel has received more than five non-disclosure agreements from potential bidders for its 66% stake in Slovakian power utility Slovenske Elektrarne, which it put up for sale mid-way through the year. Enel is attempting to pay down around €4.4 billion ($US 5.5 billion) of its €41.5 billion ($US 61.7 billion) debt this year so that it maintains its current credit rating, and Slovenske Elektrarne is valued at around €3.8 billion, meaning it might account for something over half of Enel’s goal (though the valuation is complicated by ongoing work on a nuclear power plant, which may cost twice its original budget). Speculated bidders have been the Czech Republic’s CEZ and Russia’s Rosatom, and Chinese investors are also said to be interested. Enel paid €839 million for its stake in Slovenske Elektrarne in 2006, and has invested further resources into the company since then, particularly into the nuclear power plant. The deadline for non-binding bids is the end of November. Enel may not actually sell Slovenske Elektrarne, however, as it may cover the €4.4 billion through the sale of Romanian assets and a ~20% stake in Endesa, the Spanish utility that Enel owns. Enel is pursuing all three sales to keep its options open (and, presumably, prices high).