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Relying on carbon capture and storage (CCS) to cut CO2 emissions would cost $30tn dollars more than building out renewable energy, a report from the Oxford Smith School has found.

Using CCS in power generation “makes little sense” from a financial point of view, the report said.

Doing so would cost around $1tn a year more between now and 2050 than using renewable energy and increasing energy efficiency to reduce emissions.

CCS will feature heavily at COP28 this week, with fossil fuel producers arguing it can play a key role in cutting emissions and achieving climate goals.

High costs

“Relying on mass deployment of CCS to facilitate high ongoing use of fossil fuels would cost society around a trillion dollars extra each year – it would be highly economically damaging,” said Dr Robert Way, Honorary Research Associate at the Oxford Smith School. The authors of the report said this number was “almost certainly” an underestimate.

The report found that the costs of CCS have not declined “at all” in the last 40 years, suggesting they are very unlikely to fall sufficiently in the time required to cut emissions and limit warming to 1.5C. This is in stark contrast to renewables, where the cost of solar has fallen 90% and wind 70% in the last 15 years. The cost of batteries used for energy storage has fallen by 80% in the last decade. Renewable costs are expected to continue tumbling as production ramps up further.

“Any hopes that the cost of CCS will decline in a similar way to renewable technologies like solar and batteries appear misplaced”, said Way. “Our findings indicate a lack of technological learning in any part of the process, from CO2 capture to burial.”

The report says, therefore, that governments are putting themselves at a “competitive disadvantage” by pursuing CCS. 

‘Prioritise renewables’

Despite having been around for decades, CCS currently captures 0.1% of global emissions each year. Most planned projects do not get off the ground due to high building and operating costs, while capture rates have been disappointing. Despite targeting rates of 90% of emissions, in practice many plants achieve just 60%-70% and some less than 50%. 

Nor can CCS capture emissions from the end use of oil and gas, such as burning petrol or cooking gas. These so-called scope 3 emissions account for 80%-95% of the emissions from oil and gas majors.

The report does say there is a limited role for CCS in hard-to-abate sectors, such as cement production and some chemical processes. But from both an economic and climate perspective, it concludes that governments should prioritise the rapid build out of renewables, energy efficiency measures and the electrification of transport, heating and industry.