Forecasted spike in carbon capture promises rise in new environmental pollutant
Sep 07 2023
As global attention on climate change and carbon footprints intensifies, businesses are desperately seeking solutions to mitigate their emissions. One technology that has taken the forefront in this fight is Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS). While CCS holds promise in capturing up to 20% of CO2 from flue gas streams, it inadvertently gives rise to concerns about amine emissions, a byproduct of this process.
CCS employs amine-based solvents, widely recognized for their efficiency in removing CO2 from industrial emissions. This popularity stems from amine systems' effectiveness, cost-saving ability due to normal operating temperatures and pressures, and its established use in gas sweetening processes.
Yet, the CCS process isn't flawless. Amines, during carbon capturing, can leach into the environment. This leaching can occur via various avenues, such as acid reactions, evaporation, or oxidation. Consequently, there are concerns about amine emissions from exhaust gas streams, potential leaks from the system, and contamination of wastewater effluents.
While amine emissions warrant attention, what they transform into might be even more alarming. Research indicates that nitramine and nitrosamine, degradation products of amines, may have poor biodegradability, high toxicity, and increased mobility. As a result, there's growing apprehension about their long-term effects on human health, especially when found in drinking water. Although current concentrations of these compounds remain low in our environment, their potential to persist and accumulate necessitates further investigation.
Despite the recognized importance of understanding these emissions, a lack of regulation around amine concentrations in flue streams and wastewater makes it challenging to get a clear picture. The absence of standardized data collection also creates knowledge gaps about the true scale and impact of these emissions in natural settings.
As amine emissions come under scrutiny, the financial aspects of carbon offsetting also paint a concerning picture. PwC's research indicates that the cost of carbon offsetting could skyrocket by 2030. In 2022, FTSE 350 companies reported £38m in voluntary carbon offset purchases. This amount is projected to soar by over 256% to £135m in a decade, potentially reaching £365m by 2050.
Most of these offsets currently fall under "avoidance offsets" – projects focusing on reducing emissions, such as renewable energy or forest conservation. However, many argue for the prioritization of "removal offsets," which involve extracting and storing CO2. If companies were to pivot predominantly towards removal offsets, the costs could surge to an overwhelming £438m by 2030 and peak at £2.6bn by 2037.
This economic strain raises concerns about companies' abilities to achieve their net-zero targets. As costs escalate, businesses might find it increasingly challenging to afford these offsets, especially if they haven't factored in these anticipated price hikes.
With the dual challenges of potential environmental repercussions from amine emissions and the steep costs of carbon offsetting, businesses are at a crossroads. To navigate these challenges, companies must adopt longer-term offset purchase agreements, develop internal carbon pricing mechanisms, and place a greater emphasis on genuine decarbonization. Moreover, transparency in reporting their carbon offset strategies will be critical to gaining stakeholder trust.
While the quest to achieve net-zero emissions is commendable, it is essential to ensure that the methods employed do not give rise to new environmental concerns or put undue financial strain on businesses. The focus should be on developing comprehensive, sustainable solutions that address both the environmental and economic aspects of carbon mitigation.
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