Carbon removal and phasing out of coal

Synopsis: Possibility of phasing out coal, challenges involved and major issues with carbon removal technologies.

Why phasing out of coal is necessary?

Among fossil fuels, coal has the highest contribution to carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. Almost 40% CO2 emitted from the burning of fossil fuels in 2019 came from coal-fired power plants and industry.

Coal production also releases methane (CH4), a more potent greenhouse gas than CO2. It accounts for 35% of CH4 emitted by all fossil fuel-related sources, says IPCC’s Sixth Assessment Report (AR6).

What are the global coal CO2 emission trends?

According to the AR6 report,

– fossil CO2 emissions have slowed down in the past decade. CO2 emissions from coal use grew at 4.8% per year in the 2000s but slowed to 0.4% per year in the 2010s.

– The global pipeline of proposed coal power plants has collapsed by 76 per cent since the Paris Agreement in 2015 and 1,175 GW of planned coal-fired power projects have been cancelled in this period.

Who are the major consumers of coal?

Despite the progress, coal still accounts for 34% of the world’s power production in 2020.

China: China alone contributed 50 per cent of the world’s CO2 emissions from coal in 2019 and runs over half of the world’s operating fleet, which is still growing.

Other major consumers of coal are Japan, South Africa, Russia and South Korea. None of them have a target date to phase out coal.

Within the EU-27, Germany has the largest coal fleet — its phase-out target is 2038, with added effort to advance the date to 2030.

Asia-Pacific: As a result, today Asia-Pacific is the highest consumer of coal. Within the region, China, now a global superpower and developed nation, uses the lion’s share; in 2020, it accounted for 68 per cent of the 33,604 terawatt-hours (TWh) of coal power generated in the region.

India still gets over 70 per cent of its energy from coal

USA: While it has drastically reduced the use of coal since the early 2000s due to a boom in shale gas, its coal consumption in 2020 was about 2,556 TWh, compared to India’s 4,871 TWh. Thus, India does use twice as much coal but with a population four times larger than the US.

UK: UK’s energy mix is still heavily dependent on oil and gas — natural gas is not a “clean energy source. Moreover, UK, has recently turned its coal-fired power plants back on because of record high nature gas prices.

So, there is still a long way to go before the world can meet to discuss climate crisis and the light bulbs are not powered by coal.

What are some issues with the carbon removal technologies?

The best-known technologies are:

Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS)

Direct Air Capture and Storage (DACS)

Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS)

Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS): CCS captures waste CO2 from large sources such as factories or fossil fuel power plants and stores it underground.

– Issues: There’s little role for CCS in the future as electricity production needs to be largely shifted to renewable sources by 2050. Despite its existence since the 1970s, CCS is yet to scale up to levels adequate to meet IPCC’s goals.

Direct Air Capture and Storage (DACS) technology, as the name suggests, sucks CO2 directly from the air. Among the various carbon removal technologies, DACS is the only one that can remove carbon at climate-significant scales.

– Issues: If it is run on renewable energy, it could deliver negative emissions. However, it consumes large amounts of electricity, making the technology expensive.

Bio-Energy Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS), captures CO2 from biomass-based power plants.

– Issues: Economic viability of the technology is also highly uncertain — the cost is estimated at $15-400 per tonne CO2e. Besides, BECCS threatens food security by promoting diversion of land for biofuel production. It is estimated that rolling out BECCS at scale will require up to 3,000 million hectares — about twice the land currently under cultivation globally.

Source: This post is based on the following articles

Agenda for CoP26: How to achieve net zero‘, Agenda for CoP26: Why the phasing out of coal won’t be decided in a jiffy‘ published in Down to Earth on 27th Oct 2021.

An inclusive climate deal is what CoP-26 must deliver‘, ‘How India plans to make its stand clear at COP26published in Livemint on 29th Oct 2021.

 

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