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The cost of CO2 transport and storage

As a chemist, I am mostly interested in the cost of capturing CO2, and in the opportunities for new technology innovations to reduce that cost of capture. However, capturing CO2 is generally of minimal use if there is not also transport and storage. I thought it was worth reviewing at the costs at the other end of the pipeline. For this blog post, I am referencing this lovely master's thesis by Erin Smith, for Howard Herzog's group at MIT, which does a nice job of summarizing costs as a function of volume and geography..

The general approach in academic and policy circles is to follow the Big Round Number theory of economic costs, and set carbon transport and storage costs at $10/ton. This is not awful, but it ignores the constraints of regional geology, The cost is a reasonable estimate for mid to large scale CO2 capture in North America, the Middle East, and Russia, which all have access to favorable geology for storage. This keeps the average length of a pipeline low, and encourages economies of scale.

In Europe and Japan, CO2 might have to be transported by boat, similarly to how LNG is transported to these countries today. Costs of $35/ton or more are quite plausible. This won't stop either country from engaging in capture, but it certainly encourages the construction of any green alternative.

China, of course, is a mystery, as it is with everything. The base assumption from the thesis is that the cost of nuclear is so low in China that they are likely to invest in new nuclear over retrofitting coal to capture carbon. We'll have to wait and see whether this is right.

At the extreme, large scale projects in North America which capture carbon at volumes of 15 MT/yr could reasonably see transport and storage costs drop below $5/ton. This is impressive, and given the scale of infrastructure being built today, seems like a real possibility in some parts of the country. Scale matters a lot, and this industry is scaling fast.

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