Carbon capture and storage (CCS) is increasingly depicted as an important element of the carbon dioxide mitigation portfolio. However, critics have warned that CCS might lead to “reinforced fossil fuel lock-in”, by perpetuating a fossil fuel based energy provision system. Due to large-scale investments in CCS infrastructure, the fossil fuel based ‘regime’ would be perpetuated to at least the end of this century.
In this paper we investigate if and how CCS could help to avoid reinforcing fossil fuel lock-in. First we develop a set of criteria to estimate the degree of technological lock-in. We apply these criteria to assess the lock-in reinforcement effect of adding CCS to the fossil fuel socio-technical regime (FFR).
In principle, carbon dioxide could be captured from any carbon dioxide point source. In the practice of present technological innovations, business strategies, and policy developments, CCS is most often coupled to coal power plants. However, there are many point sources of carbon dioxide that are not directly related to coal or even fossil fuels. For instance, many forms of bio-energy or biomass-based processes generate significant streams of carbon dioxide emissions. Capturing this carbon dioxide which was originally sequestered in biomass could lead to negative carbon dioxide emissions.
We use the functional approach of technical innovations systems (TIS) to estimate in more detail the strengths of the “niches” CCS and Bio-Energy with CCS (BECCS). We also assess the orientation of the CCS niche towards the FFR and the risk of crowding out BECCS. Next we develop pathways for developing fossil energy carbon capture and storage, BECCS, and combinations of them, using transition pathways concepts. The outcome is that a large-scale BECCS development could be feasible under certain conditions, thus largely avoiding the risk of reinforced fossil fuel lock-in.