Japan urged to rethink carbon capture systems

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Akihabara News (Tokyo) – The Renewable Energy Institute, a Tokyo-based think tank, recently released a report claiming that Japan’s 2050 energy goals depend too much on problematic carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies.

The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry has said it will introduce a mixed power generation system in Japan by 2050, which would see renewables limited to around 50-60% – a proportion which falls well below the 90% recommended by the International Energy Agency.

Japan hopes to achieve its carbon neutral goals through the widespread use of CCS.

CCS refers to the underground storage of carbon to prevent it from rising up into the atmosphere and worsening the climate crisis. CCS advocates believe CCS has a crucial role to play in meeting climate obligations.

For its part, the Renewable Energy Institute argues that the Japanese government’s plans rely too heavily on CCS as a means of preserving thermal power plants, noting that it is economically inefficient and ultimately impractical.

Indeed, the CCS is losing some of the international popularity it once enjoyed. CCS projects currently in operation are few in number due to the relatively high economic and environmental costs of their implementation. Of the 31 CCS projects currently in operation around the world, 28 store their carbon in underground reservoirs on land.

As noted in the Renewable Energy Institute report, however, suitable terrestrial sites in Japan capable of storing large amounts of carbon have yet to be discovered.

Therefore, the Japanese government is now exploring the possibility of storing carbon offshore; that is, under the seabed.

The Renewable Energy Institute notes that any attempt to implement such a policy would be extremely costly compared to an earth storage system, in part due to the lack of existing research. Moreover, the technology needed to transport the carbon to industrial-scale offshore storage sites is not yet proven.

An additional possibility the Japanese government is exploring is exporting carbon to foreign sites in Southeast Asia for processing and storage, which could lead to international complications. The Renewable Energy Institute calls this a “double vulnerability”.

The norm for most nations, the report points out, is simply to phase out thermal power plants.

For Japan, earthquakes present a particular risk for CCS storage projects.

Research by the US Department of Energy concluded that tremors could potentially cause carbon reservoirs to leak, leading to environmental damage to soil, groundwater and surface water. Of course, carbon leakage into the atmosphere would also negate the technology’s expected environmental benefits.

The report points out that Japan’s current energy strategy does not include plans to research and combat this potential threat.

Additionally, studies from Stanford University and the US National Research Council have concluded that CCS itself is capable of triggering earthquakes.

The Renewable Energy Institute fears that the Japanese government’s plans fall far short of the emerging global standard to tackle the threat of carbon emissions and create unnecessary risks.

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