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Project: An analysis of how climate policies and the threat of stranded fossil fuel assets incentivize CCS deployment

Research Team: Victoria Clark and Howard Herzog

Sponsor: Carbon Sequestration Initiative

Year: 2015

To be on track to stabilize climate change, scientists estimate that up to two thirds of global coal, oil, and natural gas reserves will need to remain stranded in the ground. Carbon capture and storage (CCS) is the only technology that has the potential to mitigate climate change while utilizing these potentially stranded fossil fuel assets. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), International Energy Agency (IEA), and other international expert organizations see CCS playing a large role in the mix of climate mitigation technologies, but deployment has been slow. In light of the expected role of CCS and current limited deployment, this thesis explores the political and financial incentives that can further drive funding and implementation of CCS projects and evaluates the role of CCS in rescuing potentially stranded fossil fuel assets.

This thesis includes three detailed analyses: (1) an evaluation of proposed command-and-control regulations from the US EPA for new and existing fossil fuel-fired power plants; (2) cases studies of how two successful CCS projects, Boundary Dam in Canada and Gorgon in Australia, were incentivized; and (3) an analysis of results from the AMPERE modeling study to estimate the global scale and value of stranded fossil fuel assets.

From these analyses, five key conclusions are drawn. (1) CCS has the potential to rescue substantial coal, natural gas and oil assets and has the potential to hugely reduce global mitigation costs compared to a scenario without CCS. (2) The design of policy is crucial for CCS. Carbon pricing mechanisms must have a price high enough to incentivize CCS; command-and-control policies must not create loopholes for lower cost technologies; and financial incentives must provide sufficient funds, flexibility, and time to complete projects. (3) The role of bioenergy with CCS (BECCS) in top-down climate stabilization scenarios needs to be better understood, as these models seem to be overly optimistic regarding BECCS. (4) On an individual project level, stranded assets have the most value when there is no viable substitute available (e.g., transportation fuels) or when the fuel user also owns the asset (e.g., utility-owned lignite). (5) CCS on fuel production processes (e.g. oil refining and natural gas processing) are easier to finance than fuel utilization processes (e.g. power generation and cement production), but power plants remain the biggest potential market for CCS if it is to become a major climate mitigation technology.

Clark, V. "An analysis of how climate policies and the threat of stranded fossil fuel assets incentivize CCS deployment," M.I.T. Masters Thesis, May (2015). <PDF>

Clark, V. and H. Herzog, "Can “stranded” fossil fuel reserves drive CCS deployment?," Energy Procedia, Vol 63, pp 7261-7271, (2014). <PDF>

Clark, V.R. and H.J. Herzog, “Assessment of the US EPA's Determination of the Role for CO2 Capture and Storage in New Fossil Fuel-Fired Power Plants,” Environ. Sci. Technol., 48:14, pp 7723–7729, DOI: 10.1021/es501748r, June (2014). Note: Subscription required to view article <Link to online journal article>