Mining sector must prepare for CCS to combat climate change

The mining sector must take urgent action to adopt carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology in preparation for national and multinational action to cut carbon emissions,  Prem Mahi, development director at Mott MacDonald has warned.

Mahi, delivered the annual prestige lecture for the Institute of Materials, Minerals & Mining’s regional association for south-east England (MinSouth) at the Royal Academy of Engineering last week. He added that minerals processing, cement and iron/steel plants have to be ‘knowledge ready’ to install CCS by 2050, while all new plants should be designed with CCS as standard in anticipation of global efforts to reduce CO2 emissions. “We want to limit temperature rises to 2oC [above pre-industrial levels],” said Mahi, referring to the COP21 climate negotiations taking place in Paris at the end of the year where it is hoped governments will agree on a binding strategy to limit greenhouse gas emissions. “If we carry on with business as usual, temperature rise will hit 6oC by 2050, with terrible consequences for the environment.”

Mahi explained that CCS will be a crucial part of global efforts to reduce carbon emissions. Although the greatest carbon reduction would come from energy efficiency, this depends on demand-side management which is harder to enforce, meaning other carbon reduction strategies will have to do more.

Applying CCS to the mining sector will be driven by the fact that after the power sector – responsible for 39% of carbon emissions – governments will set their sights on industry as the second biggest source of emissions. “Industry accounts for 26% of carbon emissions and this sector is dominated by minerals processing associated with mining activities,” Mahi said. “Flue emissions lend themselves to carbon capture.”

CCS technology is moving fast. The British government is funding projects at the Peterhead gas-fired power station and the White Rose coal-fired power station at Drax, North Yorkshire, to ensure the UK has expertise in both coal and gas projects which it can export overseas. In India, nine power stations are being ‘future-proofed’ with CCS, while the UAE already has the first CCS iron and steel works. By 2020, iron and steel works will account for 18% of all CCS globally.

Although there is a high cost to implementing CCS, which is still in its early stages, this is forecast to decrease as the technology develops. “As we become more familiar with the technology, the cost will come down,” said Mahi, adding: “Most of the cost of CCS comes from transportation, but this will be mitigated by revenue from using the gas for enhanced oil recovery.”

This process sees carbon dioxide pumped into oil wells to aid extraction. It enhances oil recovery by repressurising the well and by dissolving into the oil, making it more flowable.

Mahi drew parallels between CCS and flue gas desulphurisation which became mandatory in the 1990s.

“Sulphur dioxide was never a part of our calculations until acid rain led to new legislation,” said Mahi. “Now sulphur dioxide capture is an integral part of industry and power generation. The same will happen with carbon capture. Governments will enforce it and the industry will adapt.”