Cutting down carbon dioxide emissions in India’s coal sector

A recent study, commissioned by Christian Aid and written by researchers from the Universities of Surrey and Edinburgh, reveals the prospects for Carbon Capture & Storage (CCS) technology in India. It examines whether CCS could be a suitable technology for cutting down India’s carbon dioxide emissions. Drawing on a survey of energy experts with particular knowledge of the country, it also explores how CCS might be developed and deployed in the Indian context.

Professor Matt Leach, Director of the Centre for Environmental Strategy at the University of Surrey: “India is currently ranked fourth in the world in terms of its total annual carbon dioxide emissions. Identifying technically and socially viable options for India to participate in global action to mitigate the risk of dangerous climate change is, therefore, critical. This study shows that CCS could play a vital role in future action to reduce Indian greenhouse gas emissions within a portfolio of measures that could be implemented internationally.”

Survey respondents expect that coal will remain ‘king’, playing a significant role in providing energy and electricity in India until 2050 at least. This is despite measures to significantly increase the role of other energy resources, such as wind, solar and nuclear energy. In this context, CCS technologies could be important. For example, it is expected that a typical CCS project at a power plant burning coal could reduce carbon dioxide emissions from that plant by at least 90%.

Rudra Kapila of the Scottish Centre for Carbon Storage, the lead author for the study, explained: “Currently CCS technology is not deemed a priority for the Indian government. The survey results suggest that it could become more important in the future though. As a developing country, India faces significant challenges in deploying low carbon technologies such as CCS. Our research suggests that developed countries will need to take the lead on demonstrating CCS at commercial scale before any commercial-scale CCS projects can be considered in India. An appropriate international framework for CCS development and deployment is required. It will need to carefully consider local conditions so that appropriate measures for knowledge sharing and technology transfer can be identified. Some survey respondents also suggested that developed country governments should contribute to the financing of initial projects and wider deployment of CCS in India.”

India is currently building a fleet of Ultra Mega Power Plants (UMPPs) that will use significant volumes of coal to make electricity for several decades. They will not use CCS when they start-up in the next few years. Having the option to fit CCS to these plants later in their lives could, however, make a significant contribution within an international context for reducing carbon dioxide emissions in the future. The report, therefore, suggests that India could be given appropriate support to ensure that these plants are built ‘carbon capture ready’. This should ensure that CCS technology could be installed in the future.

Hannah Chalmers, a postgraduate researcher at the University of Surrey who also contributed to the report, said: “Making a power plant ‘carbon capture ready’ is mostly about intelligent use of space. When a power plant is designed as carbon capture ready, designers make sure that it is technically feasible to add CCS with relatively minor modifications to the basic power plant. Possible carbon dioxide transport routes and storage options are also identified in a typical carbon capture ready study. Making a power plant carbon capture ready is expected to add around 1% to the cost of building the initial plant. This should be money well spent since it would make it much easier to add CCS technology as quickly and cost effectively as possible in the future.”

The Scottish Centre for Carbon Storage, established in 2005 with funding from The Scottish Funding Council, is a partnership between the British Geological Survey, Heriot Watt University and The University of Edinburgh, and is the UK’s largest grouping of CO2 storage researchers.  The centre combines worldclass expertise based on petroleum and hydrocarbon geoscience in 3D regional and field scale geological modelling, geophysics, geo-engineering and subsurface fluid flow. The centre also has expertise across the full CCS chain, and frequently provides media assistance (print, radio, and TV), advice to UK and Scottish Government, and policy advice and opinion.

The research report is available at: www.geos.ed.ac.uk/ccsindia

Christian Aid’s report, Capturing India’s Carbon, is available at: http://www.christianaid.org.uk/images/carbon-transfer-report-oct09.pdf