Rio chief presses hard on CCS rhetoric

RIO Tinto Energy CEO Harry Kenyon-Slaney made a splash calling for carbon capture and storage (CCS) at scale, but glossed over the all-important economics.
Rio chief presses hard on CCS rhetoric Rio chief presses hard on CCS rhetoric Rio chief presses hard on CCS rhetoric Rio chief presses hard on CCS rhetoric Rio chief presses hard on CCS rhetoric

Rio Tinto’s energy chief executive, Harry Kenyon-Slaney

Richard Collins

“Understand this. CCS is technically available. It’s been commercially deployed in gas processing and enhanced oil recovery for over a decade. Applying it to power generation is primarily a commercial challenge. And they can be met through technology and cost reductions,” he told a business lunch on Tuesday.

Except that last week’s National CCS conference heard there was no appetite in Australia for investment in CCS and no prospect of change until a long and loud carbon tax is introduced to underpin it – but Rio itself was a vocal opponent of the recently departed carbon legislation (see Related Stories).

And the coal industry has been almost nowhere in terms of R&D in what the CSIRO energy supremo Alex Wonhas said is a highly strategic defensive investment. He told the CCS conference that CSIRO has in recent months committed a third of its $60 million a year budget on low-carbon energy to CCS, giving it more urgency than the Australian Coal Association.

The ACA's COAL21 Fund was established in 2006 with a $1 billion kitty over 10 years but has spent only a third of that, while also changing the constitution in December 2012 to include an objective of: "Promoting the use of coal both within Australia and overseas and promoting the economic and social benefits of the coal industry."

The rhetoric from Kenyon-Slaney, who is also chair of the World Coal Association, was strong – “the problem of emissions-driven climate change is among the world’s biggest and most pressing” – but he made no actual commitments in the speech to the Australian British Chamber of Commerce.

“We support the development of renewables like solar, but on the most optimistic projections they can economically provide only a small fraction of what’s required in the next several decades. Whereas we know coal is going to continue to contribute many times what renewables do to the energy mix. A system that acknowledges both these facts will support the commercialisation of CCS, at least as much as it does renewables,” he said.

The question is when the coal and energy industries will match the rhetoric with real investment in CCS research and development and a commitment to an economy-wide price on carbon.

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