Governments consistently overestimate the effectiveness of carbon capture facilities, a report from Imperial College London (ICL) said.
A global initiative to bring down CO2 emissions in the atmosphere, CO2 capture and storage is crucial to reaching the net-zero target by 2050, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
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When the researchers looked at a comparison between official reports and estimations of stored CO2, they discovered overestimates of actual carbon stored by 19 to 30%. Their calculations showed that 197 million tonnes of carbon were captured and stored from 1996 to 2020 but the lack of consistent frameworks for reporting indicated that the current rates of CO2 capture are overestimated.
According to the report, the discrepancy impairs anti-climate change strategies like the Paris Agreement and risks concealing problems that could otherwise be easily resolved, like inefficient technology or transport issues.
“Carbon capture and storage (CCS) is rightly a cornerstone of climate change mitigation, but without a centralized reporting framework we approach climate change on the back foot when we need to be more proactively tackling the issue with robust and accurate reporting,” said Lead author Yuting Zhang, who is a PhD candidate at IMC’s Department of Earth Science & Engineering. “Policymakers should embrace a centralized reporting database that includes rates of carbon capture, transport, and storage, including quality assurance measures like independent auditing.”
The capture capacity globally was estimated at 40 million tonnes annually across 26 CCS sites as of 2021.
No centralized framework exists to report actual CO2 capture, transport and storage rates. Yet, centralized information is required to accurately track the existing operations’ effect on mitigating climate change. Reported differences among different industry-scale CCS facilities could also help pinpoint issues affecting the performance of individual plants.
“Carbon capture has the potential to significantly alter the planet’s fate, but unclear guidance means there’s no international consensus on how much has been stored so far, save for academic calculations,” said Senior author Dr Samuel Krevor.
The ICL report looks at the capture and storage rates of 20 out of the 26 CCS facilities globally from diverse public sources between 1996 and 2020. The researchers estimated the CO2 capture rate at 29 million tonnes in 2019 and the carbon storage rate between 1996 and 2020 at 197 million tonnes.
The report’s authors then looked at the figures reported by think tanks reporting carbon capture capacity. The researchers found that when reporting only capacity, storage rates are overestimated by 19 to 30%. Requiring plants to report actual CO2 capture rates would show more precise results on the effectiveness of CCS, the ICL report concluded.