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Why some are worried about its role

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A detail of the pilot carbon dioxide (CO2) capture plant is pictured at Amager Bakke waste incinerator in Copenhagen on June 24, 2021.

IDA GULDBAEK ARENTSEN | AFP | Getty Images

LONDON — Carbon capture technology is often held up as a source of hope in reducing global greenhouse gas emissions, featuring prominently in countries’ climate plans as well as the net-zero strategies of some of the world’s largest oil and gas companies.

The topic is divisive, however, with climate researchers, campaigners and environmental advocacy groups arguing that carbon capture technology is not a solution.

The world is confronting a climate emergency, and policymakers and chief executives are under intensifying pressure to deliver on promises made as part of the landmark Paris Agreement. The accord, ratified by nearly 200 countries in 2015, is seen as critically important in averting the worst effects of climate change.

Carbon capture, utilization and storage — often shortened to carbon capture technology or CCUS — refers to a suite of technologies designed to capture carbon dioxide from high-emitting activities such as power generation or industrial facilities, that use either fossil fuels or biomass for fuel.

The captured carbon dioxide, which can also be captured directly from the atmosphere, is then compressed and transported via pipeline, ship, rail or truck to be used in a range of applications or permanently stored underground.

There are a number of reasons why carbon capture is a false climate solution. The first and most fundamental of those reasons is that it is not necessary.

Carroll Muffett

Chief executive at the Center for International Environmental Law

Proponents of these technologies believe they can play an important and diverse role in meeting global energy and climate goals.

Carroll Muffett, chief executive at the non-profit Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL), is not one of them. “There are a number of reasons why carbon capture is a false climate solution. The first and most fundamental of those reasons is that it is not necessary,” he told CNBC via telephone.

“If you look at the history of carbon capture and storage, what you see is nearly two decades of a solution in search of a cure.”

‘Unproven scalability’

Some CCS and CCUS facilities have been operating since the 1970s and 1980s when natural gas processing plants in south Texas began capturing carbon dioxide and supplying the emissions to local oil producers for enhanced oil recovery operations. The first one was set up in 1972.

It wasn’t until several years later that carbon capture technology would be studied for climate mitigation purposes. Now, there are 21 large-scale CCUS commercial projects in operation worldwide and plans for at least 40 new commercial facilities have been announced in recent years.

A report published by CIEL earlier this month concluded that these technologies are not only “ineffective, uneconomic and unsafe,” but they also prolong reliance on the fossil fuel industry and distract from a much-needed pivot to renewable alternatives.

Employees near the CO2 compressor site at the Hawiyah Natural Gas Liquids Recovery Plant, operated by Saudi Aramco, in Hawiyah, Saudi Arabia, on Monday, June 28, 2021. The Hawiyah Natural Gas Liquids Recovery Plant is designed to process 4.0 billion standard cubic feet per day of sweet gas as pilot project for Carbon Capture Technology (CCUS) to prove the possibility of capturing C02 and lowering emissions from such facilities.

Maya Siddiqui | Bloomberg | Getty Images

“The unproven scalability of CCS technologies and their prohibitive costs mean they cannot play any significant role in the rapid reduction of global emissions necessary to limit warming to 1.5°C,” the CIEL said, referring to a key aim of the Paris Agreement to limit a rise in the earth’s temperature to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

“Despite the existence of the technology for decades and billions of dollars in government subsidies to date, deployment of CCS at scale still faces insurmountable challenges of feasibility, effectiveness, and expense,” the CIEL added.

Earlier this year, campaigners at Global Witness and Friends of the Earth Scotland commissioned climate scientists at the Tyndall Centre in Manchester, U.K. to assess the role fossil fuel-related CCS plays in the energy system.

The peer-reviewed study found that carbon capture and storage technologies still face numerous barriers to short-term deployment and, even if these could be overcome, the technology “would only start to deliver too late.” Researchers also found that it was incapable of operating with zero emissions, constituted a distraction from the rapid growth of renewable energy “and has a history of over-promising and under-delivering.”

In short, the study said reliance on CCS is “not a solution” to confronting the world’s climate challenge.

Carbon capture is ‘a rarity’ in Washington

Not everyone is convinced by these arguments, however. The International Energy Agency, an influential intergovernmental group, says that while carbon capture technology has not yet lived up to its promise, it can still offer “significant strategic value” in the transition to net zero.

“CCUS is a really important part of this portfolio of technologies that we consider,” Samantha McCulloch, head of CCUS technology at the IEA, told CNBC via video call.

The IEA has identified four key strategic roles for the technologies: Addressing emissions from energy infrastructure, tackling hard-to-abate emissions from heavy industry (cement, steel and chemicals, among others), natural gas-based hydrogen production and carbon removal.

For these four reasons, McCulloch said it would be fair to describe CCUS as a climate solution.

At present, CCUS facilities around the world have the capacity to capture more than 40 million metric tons of carbon dioxide each year. The IEA believes plans to build many more facilities could double the level of CO2 captured globally.

“It is contributing but not to a scale that we envisage will be needed in terms of a net-zero pathway,” McCulloch said. “The encouraging news, I think, is that there has been very significant momentum behind the technology in recent years and this is really reflecting that without CCUS it will be very difficult — if not impossible — to meet net-zero goals.”

Electricity pylons are seen in front of the cooling towers of the coal-fired power station of German energy giant RWE in Weisweiler, western Germany, on January 26, 2021.

INA FASSBENDER | AFP | Getty Images

Meanwhile, the American Petroleum Institute, the largest U.S. oil and gas trade lobby group, believes the future looks bright for carbon capture and utilization storage.

The group noted in a blog post on July 2 that CCUS was a rare example of something that is liked by “just about everyone” in Washington – Democrats, Republicans and Independents alike.

Where do we go from here?

“Frankly, tackling climate change is not the same as trying to bring the fossil fuel industry to its knees,” Bob Ward, policy and communications director at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change at the London School of Economics, told CNBC via telephone.

“If the fossil fuel companies can help us get to net zero then why wouldn’t we want them to do that? I think too many environmental groups have conflated their dislike of oil and gas companies with the challenge of tackling climate change.”

When asked why carbon capture and storage schemes should be in countries’ climate plans given the criticism they receive, Ward replied: “Because if we are going to get to net zero by 2050, we have to throw every technology at this problem … People who argue that you can start ruling out technologies because you don’t like them are those who, I think, haven’t understood the scale of the challenge we face.”

The CIEL’s Muffett rejected this suggestion, saying proponents of carbon capture technologies are increasingly reliant on this kind of “all of the above” argument. “The answer to it is surprisingly easy: It is that we have a decade to cut global emissions in half and we have just a few decades to eliminate them entirely,” Muffett said.

“If on any reasonable examination of CCS, it costs massive amounts of money but doesn’t actually reduce emissions in any meaningful way, and further entrenches fossil fuel infrastructure, the question is: In what way is that contributing to the solution as opposed to diverting time and energy and resources away from the solutions that will work?”

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All-electric aircraft from Rolls-Royce completes maiden flight

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Matt Cardy | Getty Images News | Getty Images

Rolls-Royce’s first all-electric aircraft has completed its maiden flight, soaring across skies in the U.K. for around 15 minutes this week.

In a statement, the company said the aircraft’s trip on Wednesday marked “the beginning of an intense flight-testing phase” that would involve the collection of performance data on its electrical power and propulsion system.

According to Rolls-Royce, the airplane — dubbed the “Spirit of Innovation” — utilized a 400 kilowatt electric powertrain “with the most power-dense battery pack ever assembled for an aircraft.” Eventually, the firm wants the aircraft’s speed to exceed 300 miles per hour.

The Spirit of Innovation is the result of a program called ACCEL, or Accelerating the Electrification of Flight. Partners in the initiative include electric motor and controller specialist YASA and Electroflight, which Rolls-Royce described as an “aviation start-up.” YASA is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Mercedes-Benz.

In terms of funding, 50% has come from the Aerospace Technology Institute in partnership with the U.K. government’s Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy and Innovate U.K.

In a statement issued alongside Rolls-Royce’s announcement, U.K. Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said the aircraft’s flight was “a huge step forward in the global transition to cleaner forms of flight.”

Read more about electric vehicles from CNBC Pro

The environmental footprint of aviation is significant. According to the International Energy Agency, carbon dioxide emissions from aviation “have risen rapidly over the past two decades,” hitting almost 1 metric gigaton in 2019. This, it notes, equates to “about 2.8% of global CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion.”

Elsewhere, the World Wildlife Fund describes aviation as “one of the fastest-growing sources of the greenhouse gas emissions driving global climate change.” It adds that air travel is “currently the most carbon intensive activity an individual can make.”

Looking ahead, Rolls-Royce — not to be confused with Rolls-Royce Motor Cars, which is owned by BMW —said it would use and apply tech from ACCEL in products connected to the commuter aircraft and electric vertical takeoff and landing markets.

Alongside aircraft manufacturer Tecnam, Rolls-Royce is also working with Norway-headquartered airline Wideroe on the delivery of “an all-electric passenger aircraft for the commuter market.”

The last few years have seen a number of companies attempt to develop plans and concepts related to low and zero-emission aviation.

Last September, for instance, a hydrogen fuel-cell plane capable of carrying passengers took to the skies over England for its first flight.

The same month also saw Airbus release details of three hydrogen-fueled concept planes, with the European aerospace giant claiming they could enter service by 2035.

Back in 2016, the Solar Impulse 2, a manned aircraft powered by the sun, managed to circumnavigate the globe without using fuel. The trip was completed in 17 separate legs.

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Retail sales post surprise gain as consumers show strength despite delta fears

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Retail sales posted a surprise gain in August despite fears that escalating Covid cases and supply chain issues would hold back consumers, the Census Bureau reported Thursday.

Sales increased 0.7% for the month against the Dow Jones estimate of a decline of 0.8%.

A separate economic report showed that weekly jobless claims increased to 332,000 for the week ended Sept. 11, according to the Labor Department. The Dow Jones estimate was for 320,000.

Economists had expected that consumers cut back their activity as the delta variant continued its tear through the U.S. Persistent supply chain bottlenecks also were expected to hold back spending as in-demand goods were hard to find.

The pandemic’s impact did show up in sales at bars and restaurants, which were flat for the month though still 31.9% ahead of where they were a year ago.

However, sales were strong for most areas during the month, when back-to-school shopping generally results in a pickup in activity, especially so this year as schools prepared to welcome back students after a year of remote learning.

The headline number would have been even better without a 3.6% monthly drop in auto-related activity; excluding the sector, sales rose 1.8%, also well above the 0.1% expected gain.

With fears rising over the pandemic, shoppers turned online, with nonstore sales jumping 5.3%. Furniture and home furnishing also saw a healthy 3.7% increase, while general merchandise sales increased 3.5%.

Electronics and appliances stores saw a 3.1% drop, while sporting goods and music stores fell 2.7%.

The numbers overall reflected a more resilient consumer, with sales up 15.1% from the same period a year ago.

The retail upside surprise was tempered slightly with a disappointing read on jobless claims.

Initial filings increased 20,000 from a week ago after posting a fresh pandemic-era low. Still, the four-week moving average, which accounts for weekly volatility, declined to 335,750, a drop of 4,250 that brought the figure to its lowest point since March 14, 2020, at the pandemic’s onset.

The claims total came under heavy seasonal adjustments, as the unadjusted figure showed a drop in filings of 23,331 to 262,619.

Continuing claims also declined, falling by 187,000 to 2.66 million, also a new low since Covid hit. The four-week moving average nudged lower to about 2.81 million.

However, those receiving compensation under all programs actually increased just ahead of the expiration of enhanced federal jobless benefits. That total, though Aug. 28 and thus before the expiration, rose by 178,937 to 12.1 million.

In a separate economic report, the Philadelphia Federal Reserve reported that its manufacturing activity index rose 11 points to 30.7, representing the percentage difference between firms reporting expanding activity against those seeing contraction. That number was well ahead of the Dow Jones estimate of 18.7.

This is breaking news. Please check back here for updates.

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StanChart chairman still sees opportunity in China as regulations tighten

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Tourists visit the Bund waterfront area on May 10, 2021 in Shanghai, China.

Wang Gang | Visual China Group | Getty Images

But overall, I think China continues to be a tremendous source of opportunity for the private sector.

Jose Vinals

Chairman of Standard Chartered

“There’ve been some articles in the media about — is China becoming uninvestable? I don’t think so,” Jose Vinals told CNBC’s Hadley Gamble on Wednesday.

A number of sectors may be “a little bit more challenged now” and investors need to look more carefully at what investments they are making, he said.

“But overall, I think China continues to be a tremendous source of opportunity for the private sector,” he said, pointing out Beijing has slowly opened up its financial sector, granting some international firms access.

The regulatory crackdown in China has been interpreted differently by big names in the financial world, including Ray Dalio, George Soros and David Roche.

Inflation expectations

Separately, Vinals said he doesn’t expect inflation to be a big problem.

“I still subscribe to the view that inflation that we’re seeing in the United States and in other Western countries in particular … has an important transitory component,” he said.

Read more about China from CNBC Pro

Fed Chair Jerome Powell similarly believes that inflation will soon subside and has said he wants to see more strong employment reports before the central bank starts paring back its bond purchases.

Vinals said many Western countries are operating below their maximum economic potential, adding the Federal Reserve is likely to hike rates early next year.

“My baseline is that inflation will not be a big problem. But there is a risk that it may become more of a problem than we think,” he said, acknowledging that it would “complicate things” for the world.

“But I see [inflation] more as a downside risk to the global economic recovery, than as the base case for the economic outlook,” he said.

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