Big problems demand bold solutions. And few problems are vexing people around the world quite like the issue of rising levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
The joint venture announced by Masdar and Adnoc this week to create the region’s first carbon capture and storage project is certainly bold, but the benefits – if the scheme can be shown to be viable – are also potentially vast.
Carbon sequestration has been around as a technology for decades but has only relatively recently been used to slow down the increase in greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere, with the first project opening in Saskatchewan, Canada, in 2000. A dozen similar schemes have followed and the Masdar/Adnoc venture is one of several more in development.
But the stumbling point for all these projects has always been one of economics. Scrubbing carbon dioxide from power plant emissions significantly increases the cost of producing energy and also requires reasonable proximity to geological features suitable for sequestering it.
In this, the UAE has two significant advantages.
One is that the geological features where up to 800,000 tonnes a year of carbon will be pumped are some of the UAE’s older and increasingly marginal oilfields. Injecting the CO2 into the wells will have the benefit of allowing the extraction of oil that would otherwise be too difficult to access.
This was, after all, the reason this technology was invented in the first place, before its role in carbon sequestation became important.
The second point is the UAE has the political will, financial clout and research capabilities to test new technologies and make them work.
The freedom from the need to turn an immediate profit is a rare luxury, but one the UAE has at its disposal, as has been demonstrated by its development of the Shams 1 solar power station in the desert of Al Gharbia.
Nobody should underestimate the challenge of finding a cost-effective way to meet the challenge of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
Many previous theories and attempts have revealed unintended consequences. Once the ocean depths were seen as the best place to store excess carbon dioxide, only for it to be rejected because it would acidify the oceans, creating an even bigger problem.
The path ahead for Masdar and Adnoc is far from easy. But by trying it, they are showing the boldness of vision needed to fix a big problem.