Skip to Content

Carbon Ready

Sequestration science is far ahead of needed policy.
September 1, 2006

Pumping liquid carbon dioxide underground on a massive scale so it won’t contribute to global warming has been talked about for years. ­Howard Herzog, an MIT chemical engineer and the program manager of the Carbon Sequestration Initiative, an industrial consortium, says the most recent international conference on the subject–in Trondheim, Norway, earlier this year–made clear two things: First, the geological questions are being resolved favorably. Second, without policies that put a price on CO2, it’s unlikely that any sequestration facilities will actually get built.

Norway’s Sleipner natural-gas field has sequestered carbon dioxide underground for 10 years. (Courtesy of Statoil)

TR: How has interest in this field grown?

Herzog: When this international conference series started in 1992, it had 250 people and less than 100 papers. We had 1,000 people in Norway, and 500 papers.

TR: Norway was the first to enact a CO2 tax, in 1991. How has this played out?

Herzog: It sent a signal to see if there was a way to reduce CO2 emissions and resulted in a large project in the North Sea to sequester carbon dioxide from a natural-gas field.

TR: What do we know about its performance?

Herzog: There is no indication of any leaks, and they’ve done some seismic tests that show the CO2 is staying in the underground geological formation. The amount of monitoring hasn’t been such that you can say for certain there are no leaks–but none has been detected.

TR: What about the question of geologic suitability generally?

Herzog: At the Norway meeting, the biggest category of papers was on geological storage. I think the work coming out says they are gaining a higher degree of confidence that this will work–and work well, if implemented with good practices.

TR: What else is emerging on the policy front?

Herzog: With a European carbon-trading system, several utilities have announced projects to build plants with CCS [carbon capture and storage], which is indicating at least at the high level that those price signals were enough to induce serious interest.

Outside of Europe, despite the lack of specific policies, there is still a lot of interest in this technology. People feel that over the next 10 years, policies will be put in place throughout most of the developed world.

TR: What will it take to get sequestration projects built?

Herzog: Utilities are not going to build them unless the policy is in place or they are really sure that policy is imminent. It’s easier to announce projects than build them.

TR: How about in the United States?

Herzog: In the next three years, the chances of anything happening are negligible. But within the next 10 years, I think the chances are greater than 50/50 that we’ll have some kind of carbon policy. I think no matter who is elected in the 2008 election, there will be changes.

SAMPLING OF LARGE-SCALE PROPOSED PROJECTS TO CAPTURE CO2

Company or consortium (location)Fossil fuelFate of CO2Possible openingBP (Scotland)Natural gasEnhanced oil recovery2009BP (California)Petroleum CokeEnhanced oil recovery2011Statoil/Shell (Norway)Natural gasEnhanced oil recovery2011FutureGen (United States)CoalSequestration2012RWE (U.K. and Germany)CoalSequestration2014 and 2016Monash (Australia)CoalEnhanced oil recovery2015Vattenfall (Germany)CoalSequestration2015

Source: MIT Laboratory for Energy and the Environment

Keep Reading

Most Popular

wet market selling fish
wet market selling fish

This scientist now believes covid started in Wuhan’s wet market. Here’s why.

How a veteran virologist found fresh evidence to back up the theory that covid jumped from animals to humans in a notorious Chinese market—rather than emerged from a lab leak.

light and shadow on floor
light and shadow on floor

How Facebook and Google fund global misinformation

The tech giants are paying millions of dollars to the operators of clickbait pages, bankrolling the deterioration of information ecosystems around the world.

masked travellers at Heathrow airport
masked travellers at Heathrow airport

We still don’t know enough about the omicron variant to panic

The variant has caused alarm and immediate border shutdowns—but we still don't know how it will respond to vaccines.

egasus' fortune after macron hack
egasus' fortune after macron hack

NSO was about to sell hacking tools to France. Now it’s in crisis.

French officials were close to buying controversial surveillance tool Pegasus from NSO earlier this year. Now the US has sanctioned the Israeli company, and insiders say it’s on the ropes.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose WongIllustration by Rose Wong

Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review

Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.

Thank you for submitting your email!

Explore more newsletters

It looks like something went wrong.

We’re having trouble saving your preferences. Try refreshing this page and updating them one more time. If you continue to get this message, reach out to us at customer-service@technologyreview.com with a list of newsletters you’d like to receive.