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The CCS Paradox

Carbon capture and storage, it is the fossil fuel industry’s answer to demands for emissions reduction. CO2 is caught right at the chimney of a powerplant, compressed and stored in underground caverns. Some imagine a market for CO2, as for instance greenhouses can use CO2 as fertilizer (often gas is burned to generate it).

The choice for using CO2 for CCS (which spans Carbon capture and storage, not CO2 capture and storage) is made because it is the shortest path to pretending to prevent CO2 emissions. It has the lowest cost in terms of energy extracted from fossil fuels (although it needs to be filtered out and compressed). Cost however is a vague term in the fossil fuel sector. Prices are always kept at a level that keeps powerplants running, unless the coal and gas really run out.

The strange thing is that CO2 capture is about the only way we are supposed to believe we can capture carbon. But what about coal, gas, oil, plastic. Capturing hydrocarbons makes more sense to begin with, burning fossil fuels didn’t only create massive amounts of CO2, but also of H2O, So much H2O was formed it will add to the sealevel rise. The paradox is that our economy can’t handle true carbon capture and storage when it is involves synthesizing hydrocarbon fuels. It views that as making fuel! It views that as competing with fossil fuels in the energy market!

The CO2 problem could be attacked (maybe not solved competely) by building solar driven hydrocarbon synthesis factories in the Sahara desert, far form the civilized world. The installations would cover a couple of hundred miles by a couple of hundred miles, they’d be gigantic, but they would do the job. There would be no lack of energy to build them, because they’d be making gigatons of fuel. They could be producing at several times the rate of our present oil and gas wells.

This is the CCS paradox : In doing it right you will outproduce the fossil fuel sector, yet you will not need to burn the fuels you make because you have renewable sources to live on. You will have a carbon fuel storage problem. Where are you going to leave the oceans of oil you may generate?

The fossil fuel sector doesn’t need to store CO2 from burning coal, it needs to find its ‘reverse’. It needs to start building the next generation Power to Gas (followed by Gas to plastic for storage) and other synthetic fuel plants. It is totally feasible. It is totally within their expertise and they can afford it, they should embrace the opportunity because if done right it would give them a lasting existence until renewables are so a bundant nobody really needs to work anymore…

The thing difficult to express is that when people think about reducing emissions, 10%, 15%, 80%, that’s all fine, but they really need to be -200%. Also the targeting 0% emissions by installing renewables is really modest considering there is not just 1 fossil fuel equivalent to be generated using the sun, but 2250. We could be 2250 times more wealthy than we are today..


The systems for power to gas, power to NH3, power to methanol, plastic or oil that have already been build now seem to offer a small contribution to the fossil fuel pool. This economic framing obviously hinders the rollout of these technologies. As we have explained banks, getting most of their revenue from fossil fuel use (directly and indirectly) make the new technologies compete with fossil fuels, which are costless to the producer. This is why we came up with the term ‘extraeconomics’ to mean the creation of resources that are not available to the wider economy, that are therefore preserved and accumulated.

We imagine that CCS through the synthesis of fossil fuel equivalents has to be done extraeconomically. The bases where CCS is done this way have to be independent, protected like a plantation against robbers. Investment in them has to be direct, not credit based etc. etc. Once one can think of a initiative that does CCS by making plastic with sunlight for instance, extraeconomically, it is possible to see how this plastic will pile up in the middle of the desert or somewhere on the bottom of the ocean and just stay there. The potential for our planet to produce extraeconomical is gigantic, abundance however is not ‘economic’.

Leave a solar panel in the desert with a peltier cooling based watermaker for 30 years, come back and you’ll find a forrest,with inhabitants. This is also CCS..

The fossil fuel industry can really help with this work, it won’t because obviously it wants us to think capturing and storing CO2 is a good idea. We need to go beyond fighting symptoms, and build the cure. All the technology needed exists today, so tell them to do it, or tell politicians to do it : Break the paradox and get real about CCS.