Urgent action is needed in the mining sector to adopt carbon capture and storage (CCS). Existing minerals processing, cement and iron/steel plants with a long operating life have to assess CCS capacity, while all new plants should be designed to be carbon capture-ready in advance of likely domestic or international legislation to curb industrial carbon emissions.
Such legislation will form part of worldwide efforts to limit global temperature rises to 2˚C above pre-industrial levels, above which the impacts of climate change will be unpredictable, dangerous and difficult to manage. If carbon emissions continue unabated, global temperatures are predicted to rise 6˚C by 2050. Multinational action to tackle emissions is crucial, with governments meeting in Paris for the COP21 climate negotiations at the end of the year in the hope of agreeing a binding strategy to tackle climate change.
A significant contribution towards reducing emissions could come from CCS, with the International Energy Association (IEA) projecting up to 14% of CO2 reductions by 2050 will come from CCS technology. Although energy efficiency could make a larger contribution to carbon reductions, the fact that this depends on demand-side management, which is harder to enforce, means other carbon reduction strategies such as CCS have to do more.
The mining sector, dominated by iron/steel, cement and minerals processing plants, is likely to face legislation enforcing CCS, as industrial activity resulted in 26% of all carbon emissions in 2011, second only to power generation. And, unlike other sectors such as transport and agriculture, the preponderance of flue gas emissions in power and industry lend themselves to carbon capture technology.
Although one of the obstacles to deploying CCS is the cost, this will be offset to some extent by using carbon dioxide for enhanced oil recovery – pumping it into oil wells to aid extraction – while building pipelines for clusters of CCS projects will allow sharing of costs.
CCS will also decrease in price as the technology develops, and there has been much recent progress. The British Government is funding CCS projects at the Peterhead gas-fired power station and the White Rose coal-fired power station at Drax, North Yorkshire, to ensure the UK has expertise in both coal and gas projects, which it can export overseas. In India, nine power stations have been examined for ‘future proofing’ with CCS, while the first CCS iron and steel works is completing in the UAE in 2016. By 2050, 32% of CCS is expected to be in industrial, mostly in the mining sector.
If legislation makes CCS mandatory in industry, it will undoubtedly result in upheaval and additional costs for businesses as it is rolled out across the sector. In fact, there are many parallels with flue gas desulphurisation which became mandatory in the 1990s. While sulphur dioxide was never a part of our calculations until acid rain led to new legislation, it is now an integral part of industry and power generation. The same will happen with CCS. Governments will enforce it and industry will have to adapt. But those least affected by new legislation will be the businesses that prepare for CCS now.