India is pretty much addicted to non-renewable based energy. Its fleet of coal fired power stations continue to consume cheap coal and belch out harmful emissions into the atmosphere. 13 of the top 20 most polluted cities with particulate concentration are in India. Even as rapid urbanisation and rise in car ownership are taken as pointers for growth, they are also choking the country to death. According to findings by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, approximately 1.4 million die due to conditions caused by air pollution in India each year. And unless appropriate steps are taken, that amount will only keep on increasing.
India released its National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC) on June 30, 2008 listing the eight key missions it attempted to undertake to tackle climate change. The missions were aimed at increasing share of solar energy in the national energy-mix, increasing commercial and domestic energy efficiency, fostering growth of a sustainable eco-system and increasing carbon sinks, etc. However, thermal generation (coal, oil and gas) still accounts for 83.76% of the total electricity generation within the country (as of 2014-15). Of this, coal/lignite accounted for 95.2% with a growth rate of 12.12%. The complete list of figures can be found here. Thus, weaning India off its coal hit is easier said than done. Also, it must be mentioned here that energy intensity for India remains well below the global average of developed nations like the US, the EU and other comparable developing nations like China. A large section of its population are yet to receive access to cheap, affordable energy and as a developing nation India will require significant increases in its energy generation capabilities to achieve its targeted Human Development Index. As a developing nation, India needs to build itself a stable industrial and manufacturing base with its “Make in India” initiative launched by Hon’ble. PM Mr. Narendra Modi. It can thus be safely assumed that India’s energy appetite will keep increasing with a significant portion coming from non-renewable energy sources. Needless to say, the emissions will keep on increasing.
It is here that a saviour might be found in a technology known as “Carbon Sequestration”. Or as it is more commonly referred as, Carbon Capture and Storage or CCS. CCS is essentially a low-carbon technology that captures carbon dioxide emissions from large power sources and industries, compresses it for transportation and then injects it back into a rock formation deep underground at a pre-selected site for safe and permanent storage. These underground storage sites may range from abandoned oil or gas wells to saline formations. The primary advantage of CCS remains in the fact that it allows for the exploitation of cheap coal-based energy while producing significant reductions in emissions. Here is a video by the Zero Emissions Platform (ZEP) which is a coalition by European stakeholders to develop CCS to explaining the technology. CCS works in three major steps.
- Capture – The CO2 emitted is captured for transportation. The carbon dioxide maybe captured either pre or post combustion. Pre-combustion processes like Steam Methane Reformation (SMR) convert natural gas/coal gas into a mixture of hydrogen and high-purity carbon dioxide through a process of catalytic reaction. The carbon dioxide thus collected can be easily be separated for capture. Post-combustion methods involve mechanical and chemical separation of flue gas to obtain a pure stream of CO2.
- Transport – The gas stream is then compressed into a liquid for easy transportation and then pumped to the storage sites using either pipelines or tankers (road/rail/sea).
- Storage – The captured gas is piped to either onshore or offshore storage locations. These locations may either be abandoned oil and gas wells or saline formations. The gas then either dissolves into the saline water or combines with underlying rock to form a mineral compound. In both cases, the gas gets trapped indefinitely. Proper monitoring needs to be carried out to ensure no leakage over the ages. Additionally, this highly pressurized gas can also be pumped into existing oil and gas wells in a bid to increase well pressure as a form of Enhanced Oil Recovery (EOR).
The questions naturally arise. How effective is this technology? Does pumping high-pressure carbon dioxide within the earth’s crust really work? What would its benefits be? And how does it fit India’s requirements?
The good news is that CCS has already been proven at scale with over 74 demonstration projects worldwide with over 25 years of practical experience. Also, EOR has been used by various oil companies in their oil or gas wells for about 40 years to artificially boost production.
Yes, it does help India. India is a country burdened by inefficient lignite-fired power stations with a rapidly urbanising population and high economic growth. A cap on emissions would mean a net cap on economic growth and overall development. CCS frees up this shackle by allowing a net reduction in overall emissions. Thus this keeps India in target to meet its climate change obligations while not compromising on its growth. The importance of CCS is more evident in the industrial sector. While a low-carbon energy sector can be built entirely on renewables (but not advisable), certain industrial processes have a carbon usage built into their profile. The three major industrial emitters are steel, cement and the chemicals industries. While coal in the form of coke is a vital ingredient of iron and steel industry being used as the primary reducing agent, ‘clinkers’ formed from the calcification of limestone is vital to the cement industry. Hydrogenation processes like SMR used in chemical plants and oil refineries produce carbon dioxide as their by-product. These emissions cannot be avoided except with the help of a carbon capture system. Further details can be accessed here.
Now for the bad news. The United Kingdom had floated a commercialisation competition for CCS in 2012. Unfortunately it was cancelled in 2014. Both in their initial and detailed report the HM Treasury have mentioned the lack of a complete cost-benefit analysis as the primary reason behind the cancellation of the programme. A CCS system adds to the overall cost to the consumer because of the large scale installation of infrastructure. On the other side it does help protect the environment and prevent climate change but economically this becomes a much skewed argument towards the direction of cancellation due to escalating cost to the consumer. The argument held here is that CCS, unlike other energy processes is an economic activity rather than a one-off system that can be bought off the shelf and be fitted to any energy generator. As Professor Karen Turner, Director of the Centre for Energy Policy at the International Public Policy Institute, University of Strathclyde likes to put it, “It is more of an economic activity that can be equated to a municipal waste management system than a technology that can just be turned on or off.” She uses what she calls her “bin lorry example” to explain the model. Imagine a municipality with a certain number of houses at a certain location. The houses have residents generating a certain amount of waste daily. This waste could just be dumped outside their houses and be forgotten about. However, while this gets rid of the problem for the moment, it gives rise to a larger problem regarding health and safety. The waste becomes the home and breeding ground for pests like rats and insects like mosquitoes. This affects the health of the residents who have to pay a certain amount in healthcare bills. Now this can be avoided by installing a waste management system that processes and disposes waste in a safe and environmentally friendly manner. While this facility does in fact add to the overall cost that the residents will have to pay, it negates the fact that higher amounts could be possibly paid for healthcare bills. However, even as the facility passes the cost-effectiveness test, the same cannot be said for the garbage collection systems or the ‘bin lorries’. For this a different chain of thought needs to be applied. Think of the garbage lorry as a connection between the two ends of the system. The connection in this case also happens to employ 2 to 3 people. These employees earn a wage and spend the wage on their own food, housing, energy bills, etc. Thus, they become a part of the economy and generate economic growth. Let us now replace the houses with carbon emitters, the waste management system with a CCS storage pumping system and the lorries with a pipeline or tankers. The pipeline system will act as a large scale infrastructure installation that will add hundreds of jobs to the economy while also promoting industrial growth due to increased demand in steel, etc. Moreover, a further advantage of the system in in the fact that the existing natural gas pipelines and infrastructure can be reused with minimal upgrades to transport the gas back in the opposite direction. A report on the same by the Global CCS Institute can be found here. An alternate report listing the economic impact assessment of the development of a CCS system in Scotland by the Scottish Enterprise can be found here.
Thus it is easily seen that India can greatly benefit from the establishment of a working CCS system. Not only shall the creation of a large-scale infrastructure positively impact the domestic industries like steel, construction and cement but also create hundreds and thousands of jobs not only within industries directly related to the sector but also give rise to numerous service and ancillary industries. Though the absence of a pipeline infrastructure in India restricts the advantage of reusing it unlike in the UK or the EU, the sector will still massively benefit the Indian economy. Cheap domestic coal can then be easily exploited cutting down imports and foreign dependence while alternative, cleaner sources of energy can be researched and developed. It also allows the exploitation of alternative fuel systems like hydrogen and actually through biomass-based energy generation allows for a net negative carbon emission.
Not only does this align with our own ‘Make in India’ initiative but fosters domestic economic and social development. However, we do have a long way to cover ahead. As of now, little groundwork has been done regarding the setup of a complete sector. Not only does the technical and storage capacity within the country needs to be assessed but legislative actions needs to be put into place to provide the required support to such an industry. A study conducted by the Global CCS Institute (GCCSI) in collaboration with The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) has created a tool that can be used to determine the country’s present position with respect to CCS development. And India firmly sits in the first stage where the scope needs to be determined to put us onto the second stage, or to put CCS on a policy agenda. Currently, the major power generators are undergoing a crisis due to the weak financial condition of the transmission and the distribution sector within the country. The UDAY or the Ujwal DISCOM Assurance Yojana has been launched by the government recently to ensure the financial turnaround for the distribution companies. Also scams and problems faced in coal block auctions have essentially created obstacles and insecurities in the domestic coal supply. These will need to be attended to first to ensure a smooth sailing. The whole issue of financial risks and legal liabilities in case of carbon dioxide leakage will also need to be addressed.
In all, CCS does have the ability to free India of its energy and emission woes while simultaneously paving the way for future energy and fuel systems like bio-mass and hydrogen.
Written by Sagnik Ghoshal
Special Report: Carbon Capture and Storage by Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [September, 2005]
Carbon Capture and Storage: The solution for deep emissions reductions by International Energy Agency 
India CCS Scoping Study: Final Report by The Global CCS Institute [January, 2013]