Experts discuss carbon capture in Abu Dhabi

International experts meet in Abu Dhabi to discuss carbon capture and storage.

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Political and economic leaders will have to invest in carbon capture and storage if the technology is to help in significantly reducing greenhouse gases.

This was one of several themes at a meeting of international experts in Abu Dhabi this week to discuss methods of the technique, also known as CCS.

The talks focused on technology that can collect the emissions from burning fossil fuels and store them deep underground in geological formations.

Dr Wolf Heidug, a senior analyst at the International Energy Agency (IEA) and one of the speakers at the conference, said such technology had a role to play in reducing greenhouse emissions but that it was more important for some countries than others.

“We see that CCS has a potential role to play in actually mitigating carbon dioxide emissions in the atmosphere,” Dr Heidug said. “It is not the only option that can be used to abate carbon dioxide emissions but it has a role in the portfolio of other options.”

The technology is of particular interest to countries that rely significantly on coal, oil and gas to produce energy, he said.

“For some countries it makes a lot of sense, for other countries it may make less sense. The trick is to find out where it could be applied and also incorporate it into the energy policy of a country,” Dr Heidug said.

As an oil producer, the UAE has repeatedly shown an interest in the technology, supporting the inclusion of CCS projects in the Clean Development Mechanism, a United Nations scheme to find projects that reduce emissions in developing countries.

The green energy company Masdar and the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company have also announced plans for a project in Abu Dhabi, collecting and burying emissions from the Emirates Steel complex at Mussaffah.

The discussions coincided with an announcement by the World Meteorological Organisation that at 393.1 parts per million (ppm), carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere had reached a record high last year.

The atmospheric increase from 2011 to last year was higher than the average growth rate over the past decade, the organisation said.

To avoid catastrophic changes to the climate, politicians are negotiating a global treaty aiming to curb emissions at 450ppm.

While the UAE is firmly behind CCS, in other countries, particularly in Europe, some environmentalists question the technology.

Dr John Gale, general manager of the IEA greenhouse gas research and development programme, said carbon capture projects in Norway and the United States had been run without any known harmful effects.

But Dr Gale he said more study was needed into how much carbon could be stored underground and where.

“In a sense, we have the capturing technology, we know how to transport carbon dioxide. We do not really know globally where we are supposed to put it.”

Another challenge is the high cost of implementing CCS projects. Dr Gale said “a realistic market price” for carbon emissions was required.

Efforts are being made in several parts of the world to create such a price, including in the European Union where large emitters have to pay if they go above certain quotas.

But the recent prices of €3.8 (Dh18.73) a tonne are too low, according to Mr Gale.

Dr Mohammad Abu Zahra, assistant professor of chemical engineering at Masdar Institute, said: “If we want to deploy the carbon dioxide capture technology in the near future, that is feasible because the technology is known. People are running it in different applications.

“The only obstacle, really, is to have a major political and financial decision to invest in this technology. There is a future for it but it requires some push.

“That is happening but it is in my opinion slower than it should be,” he said, referring to the deployment of the technology around the world.

The meeting was organised by the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology in partnership with the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia.