Pilot site for carbon capture project due to be up and running in 2024

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The Council for Geoscience plans to pilot a carbon capture and storage plant.
The Council for Geoscience plans to pilot a carbon capture and storage plant.
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  • The Council for Geoscience will implement a pilot carbon capture and storage project in Mpumalanga, with the aim to assist in climate change mitigation.
  • The total budget of the project is $38 million, which is jointly funded by the World Bank and the government.
  • Sasol, which is working with the Council for Geoscience says that its own assessments have found carbon sequestration not to be economically viable.

A pilot site for a project that captures and stores carbon dioxide is set to be operational from early 2024, according to the Council of Geoscience. 

The carbon capture and storage of carbon dioxide (CO2) has been identified by the CGS as one approach to climate change mitigation. Carbon capture technologies involve capturing carbon emissions from industrial activity, including power generation, and then transporting it to be kept underground. It is a form of carbon sequestration, which generally involves the removal of CO2 from the atmosphere. 

Earlier this month, the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change published a report warning of extreme weather events expected if global temperatures keep rising. Southern Africa is expected to become warmer and drier - making it difficult to adapt to climate change, according to one of the authors of the report. This risks more "day zero" droughts, especially in Gauteng, Fin24 previously reported 

Curbing carbon emissions will help to keep global temperatures from rising beyond 1.5 °C, in line with the Paris Agreement on climate change. The South African government has implemented a carbon tax to encourage firms to lower their emissions. It works on a polluter-pays principles - meaning firms pay more tax for higher emissions. 

Efforts are also being made to decarbonise the electricity sector, too. Coal accounts for about 80% of electricity generation - contributing to South Africa being the 12th biggest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world.

Power utility Eskom plans to decommission coal-fired power stations - CEO André de Ruyter has said that 8 000 MW to 12 000 MW of coal-fired power will be shut down in the next ten years. De Ruyter has been outspoken about the cost competitiveness of renewables as a business case. During an address at the University of Pretoria, last week, he said that it would require around R180 billion for Eskom to build 7 400 MW of "clean capacity" and at least 244 MWh of battery storage, in the next five years. 

Eskom - which is the country's biggest greenhouse gas emitter - aims to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Coal is still included in the Integrated Resources Plan of 2019, in order to test clean coal technologies, Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe said previously.

The government is partly funding the carbon capture and storage project with the World Bank, according to the CGS. "The total project budget is $38 million, which is jointly funded," it said. 

The project will be based in Mpumalanga.

The province is home to a number of Eskom's coal-fired power stations as well as Sasol's collieries and its Secunda Synfuels plant. Mpumalanga is largest carbon dioxide emitter in the country, the CGS noted. The province also accounts for 83% of coal production in the country. 

According to the CGS, the coal industry in the province has contributed to provincial and socio-economic development. The use of carbon capture and storage technology at large emitters is needed to help achieve a just transition to a low carbon economy, the CGS said. 

"The pilot project will target injecting approximately 10 000 - 50 000 tons of CO2. Critical data and information will be gathered during this phase. 

"Thereafter, the intention is to upscale this to full commercial operation, which would target several million tons of CO2," the CGS said. 

"Several of these operations, together with other low-carbon technologies, would have the potential to meet South Africa's climate change mitigation scenarios," it added. 

The CGS said it had engaged with Sasol and Eskom and other critical stakeholders. "Due to the nature and criticality of this project, extensive partnerships and collaboration with key stakeholders is crucial to ensuring this project is successful." 

Sasol said that it has been evaluating the potential for CO2 sequestration for a while, as a means means to reduce CO2 emissions from its South African operations.

"Unfortunately, due to the limited knowledge of geological structure of the southern African continent, our view is that there are limited opportunities to safely and securely sequestrate meaningful volumes of CO2 as part of Sasol’s overall mitigation strategy."

According to Sasol's assessments, the cost of sequestrating CO2 is very high. "… These costs may not provide and economically viable solution," it said. "While Sasol's Secunda operations has CO2-captured streams that could be considered sequestration ready, we remain of the view that suitable environmentally and economically viable destinations have yet to be identified."

On its involvement with the CGS's carbon capture and storage project, Sasol said there is a collaboration agreement in place to assist with the test site in Mpumalanga, which aims to assess the technical feasibility of CO2 sequestration in the area. Sasol intends to provide relevant information related to geological maps and analyses, as well as groundwater and air quality information, among other things. It will also provide industrial CO2, for the sequestration assessment.

"Sasol remains intent to collaborate with the view to learn more about the success factors for CO2 sequestration and explore through partnerships for larger-scale opportunities."

Sasol will announce new targets on reducing greenhouse gas emissions as well as goals for 2050 at its capital markets day to be held in September 2021.

Sasol views the use of renewable energy as "one of the key levers" to reduce its greenhouse gas footprint.

Clean coal a 'myth'

Robyn Hugo, director of climate change engagement at Just Share, a nonprofit shareholder activism organisation, previously told Fin24 that the issue with carbon sequestration technologies are their cost and geology.

"The cost is prohibitive, and studies show that, even if it were affordable, South Africa's geology is not conducive to large-scale carbon capture and storage. We should be focusing all of our efforts and budget on the development of large-scale renewable energy generation," Hugo said.

A study commissioned by the Centre for Environmental Rights and conducted by consulting engineer Dr Ranajit Sahu - who has over 30 years' experience in power plant design and has taught at universities on air pollution - shows that carbon capture technologies are "unproven" and "cost prohibitive at scale".

It also found that South African coal fired power stations have been unwilling to pay for pollution control technologies - like flue gas desulphurisation meant to reduce sulphur dioxide emissions. Eskom has said it would cost R40 billion to install this technology at its Medupi plant.

Sahu said that even if these technologies are installed, it would not be possible to eliminate pollution completely.

According to Sahu, regardless of the use of carbon sequestration technologies at a plant, "clean coal" is a myth, given that negative impacts of pollution is spread across the value chain.

"Of course, in addition to impacts from the plant, a coal plant will need to rely on an extensive supply chain starting at the coal mine and through disposal of the coal ash, with transportation in between – all of which not only have significant air impacts but also water and waste impacts. Thus, 'clean coal' is a myth."

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