The advent of the 21st century has put mankind in a conundrum. There are two paths before us. One, we can continue with our decadent lifestyles without any thought of maintaining the fragile balance between ecological protection and economic growth. Or we can put on our thinking hats, deliberate and then come up with new and innovative solutions that not only allow us to prosper economically but also protect the environment. There is no doubt that fossil fuels are ecologically degrading and are dangerous for us and the environment. However compared to the sources of energy, being touted as their replacements, fossil fuels, are much safer bet. They are cheap, fairly reliable, available widely and can be transported much easily. Unlike solar and wind energy, fossil fuels are reliable and don’t produce toxic by-products that will continue to exist for thousands of years ( read, nuclear power). Also, the transition from a fossil fuel based economy to a renewable/hydrogen powered economy will be very expensive and one, that will be very difficult for lower to middle income countries. In country like ours, where energy penetration is quite low and the people can not afford to spend a lot on energy, there is a need to maximum energy generation from the cheapest sources. Needless to say, with our growing population and galloping standards of living, the demand for energy is only going to rise. Hence, there is not only a need to judiciously exploit all available sources of energy but also develop methods to mitigate their harmful impact on the environment.
There is a need to develop either technologies that will improve the efficiency of our existing systems or we can develop alternative technologies that can reduce our carbon footprint by removing the emitted carbon from the system. Multiple solutions exist in the later. One such approach is Carbon Capture and sequestration (CCS). As the name suggests, this approach involves the capture of carbon dioxide, a major greenhouse irritant, from either the atmosphere or a flue gas stream and injecting it into a depleted sub-surface bed, away from the atmosphere. This depleted sub-surface bed can be a former oil/gas reservoir, a salt dome or deep marine porous sediments. Generally, the only criteria needed to determine a suitable candidate for carbon sequestration is the availability of suitable trap for the long term storage of captured Carbon. In India, there is certainly no shortage of such storage spaces. However, there is a need for Indian Energy Planners to be educated about the pros and cons of CCS.
CCS can be used in conjunction with our existing power plants or with newer plants. We can set-up ultra-large mega power plants on the Indian Coastline that will burn coal to supply electricity to our citizens. The carbon emitted by these power plants can be captured by various methods ( sorbents, MOFs, porous networks) and be transported and injected into the porous media beds in the deep-sea floor. These sites for carbon sequestration are located at a reasonable distance away from the India coastline. Given our increasing population on the Indian coastline and the viability of CCS in reducing carbon footprint, this proposed method is the best possible way ahead for our nation.
There is no denying the fact that India needs energy and lots of it. However, we need that energy fast and we need it to be cheap. The proper application of CCS can allow us a leverage, a post-sellby date for our existing coal-fired energy infrastructure. However, we need to understand that CCS is not a panacea and the sooner, we transition to cleaner sources of energy, the better it will be for the environment.