Carbon capture and storage offers the only realistic way to reduce global carbon dioxide emissions by the required amount by 2050, according to the latest issue (160 EN4) of the ICE Energy journal.
Centre for European Energy Strategy director Rolf Linkohr writes that regardless of developments in renewable energy, fossil fuel will remain the world's primary source of power for the foreseeable future.
"Coal use, in particular, is set to increase, driven by a booming power sector demand in China and India. Furthermore, coal is relatively cheap and will be available for many centuries," says Linkohr.
Between now and 2030, he adds that carbon dioxide emissions will jump by more than 50%, from the current 28Gt/year to about 42Gt/year, with the USA, China, Russia and India contributing two thirds of the increase.
However, climatologists say the world needs to reduce emissions to 23Gt/year to stabilise atmospheric carbon dioxide levels at 450 parts per million.
While new coal-fired power stations can reach 46% efficiency compared to existing efficiencies of 30% to 40%, and up to 55% is possible, Linkohr says this will not solve the problem. "In the long term, only carbon capture and storage offers the potential for near-zero emissions from coal-based power plants," he adds, even though the technique reduces generating efficiency by around 10%.
Linkohr cites Statoil’s Sleipner carbon storage project in the Norwegian North Sea as proof the technology works, such that Norway is now on target to be carbon neutral by 2030.
However, to avoid transport costs, future storage sites should ideally be underneath existing power stations - but people living nearby will need a lot of convincing that carbon dioxide is not actually toxic.