Green coal in the red

Green coal in the red

Date: 22 May 2015


Accessibility: Publicly available

Capturing the carbon emitted by utilities and factories has enormous appeal, but the EU has struggled to deal with the technology.

Turning coal into a green fuel is the promise of Carbon Capture and Storage, a technology that scrubs carbon dioxide from power plant emissions and then pumps the greenhouse gas deep underground — but the EU’s hopes of using CCS as a key part of its climate policy have fizzled.

That was the idea at Bełchatów in central Poland, the site of a gargantuan open pit lignite mine that feeds directly into a power plant which is Europe’s largest CO2 emitter. Places for openings for connections to a CCS plant can be seen on the enormous pipes funelling waste gases at the plant, but they were never used. A CCS demonstration plant was planned, but the project narrowly missed out on an EU grant and it was cancelled in 2013.

The problem is that the EU’s flawed Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) has set such a low price for CO2 emissions that it doesn’t make economic sense to proceed with expensive CCS projects. That was supposed to be addressed by last week’s agreement to reform the ETS  by introducing the Market Stability Reserve (MSR) to absorb surplus carbon allowances and push prices higher. But the final impact will probably be too small to revive CCS hopes.

“The MSR is a short term measure to try and lift the price,” said Jude Kirton-Darling, a Labour MEP from the UK. “ETS reform is crucial, but it’s only part of the story. Ultimately, if we’re serious about tackling climate change, we’ll need regulations as well.”