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Impression of GHGT11 Kyoto

3 December 2012

The following text is a personal impression of Sander van Egmond and does not necessarily represent the views and opinions of the CATO community.


Last week over 30 participants of CATO visited the bi-annual international CCS conference (GHGT-11) in Kyoto and presented numerous presentations and posters. During the conference we also presented our special issue of the International Journal of Greenhouse Gas Control. All participants wore small CATO clips on their lapels to make themselves known as CATO participants. Based on the reactions from in and outside CATO, my impression is that we did a great job in showing that CATO is one of the leading CCS research programmes in the world.

About the conference itself, I halt between two thoughts. On the one hand, the atmosphere was inspiring. Kyoto is a fine city, with a relaxed atmosphere in spite of its over 1.5 million inhabitants. The hundreds of temples offered a peaceful retreat. As the first international climate agreement was made in the same conference building, it inspired me to work even harder on CCS as one of the climate mitigation options. I had interesting conversations with many familiar and new people who work on different topics of CCS. On the other hand, as is often the case, I had mixed feelings about the quality of the presentations, some of which were far below an acceptable level.
One of the eye openers for me was the presentation on shale gas in the USA by Frank O'Sullivan of MIT. This revolution is far bigger than I realized so far, and it has far-reaching consequences. The CO2 emission of power plants in the VS is dropping due to the shift from coal to gas. Consequently the coal is dumped in Europe, resulting in a doubling of the coal import in the last 3 years that will raise our CO2 emission. Ironically, the US did not sign the Kyoto protocol, whereas the EU did. This example shows how mankind is able to make fast shifts in the energy sector.
Still, without CCS being implemented on a much bigger scale, we will not be able to reduce our CO2 emissions fast enough. The Global CCS institute gave overview of the development of the real CCS projects in the world. This is not an optimistic story. One exception is maybe China where the CCS implementation is still more or less going as planned. To camouflage this low progress the international community is now using the phrase CCUS, where the U stands for Utilization. The idea is that using the CO2 instead of storing it will help with the business case and thus the introduction of CCS. ‘U" often stands for the application of enhanced oil recovery, for instance in China. Although this approach may help CCS, this is not why I once chose to work on CCS. Since for every molecule of Carbon that is injected in the oil reservoir several Carbon molecules come out again, this is not a long term solution for climate change, even though it clearly helps businesses in the short term.
My last remark on the conference programme is about the lack of reflection on CCS as a whole. CCS is a contested technology, with societal groups expressing different expectations and opinions. That is oneof the main reasons why progress is so slow. Nevertheless, social science topics were heavily underrepresented and NGOs and critics of CCS were virtual absent. Many engineers still seem to think that implementation of a technology only depends on their own monodiscipline and they point to the government to take care of the rest. This attitude explains why the CEO of Toshiba made a keynote presentation announcing the need to build 1500 new nuclear power plants. None of the 1500 participants challenged this startling proposal.
After this experience, I felt even more privileged to be a part of the CATO community, with a more integral approach and an open mind for scientists with dissenting ideas. I spent my last day in Japan cycling through Kyoto with some CATO-people before returning to Amsterdam.
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3 December 2012

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