German Geologist on Carbon Sequestration 'CCS Is One of the Few Options to Minimize CO2 Emissions'

Grass-roots movements are protesting against carbon capture and storage pilot projects in various parts of Germany. Geologist Andreas Dahmke talks to SPIEGEL about the shortsightedness of the protests and why nuclear power is much more dangerous than CCS technology.

A protest against CCS technology in the town of Flensburg in the state of Schleswig-Holstein.

A protest against CCS technology in the town of Flensburg in the state of Schleswig-Holstein.

SPIEGEL: Last week the government of the northern state of Schleswig-Holstein managed to successfully block a draft law, drawn up by Chancellor Angela Merkel's administration, that would have cleared the way for research into carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology in Germany. In your opinion, is it wrong that Schleswig-Holstein Governor Peter Harry Carstensen opposes the underground storage of CO2?

Andreas Dahmke: It makes part of the research conducted by me and my colleagues superfluous. Politically, it is certainly not a mistake because local politicians and the population are categorically against CCS technology. It would, however, be important to find out whether the terrain in northern Germany is even suitable. We could have created a scientific basis (for the use of the technology) and developed technical standards that could also be used in other countries. We've now rejected this option without even having conducted scientific feasibility studies. If we don't do it, why should other countries?

SPIEGEL: What exactly did you want to investigate?

Dahmke: For example, we wanted to inject liquid CO2 into the ground at a depth of 2,000 meters (6,560 feet). The best bedrock for this storage technique is assumed to be porous sandstone with concentrated salt water. We want to see how much salt water the CO2 displaces, how it distributes itself and whether it would stay down there. It would only have been a demonstration facility.

SPIEGEL: Water companies are afraid that the CO2 could push salt water and possibly contaminants to the surface and that the groundwater could become contaminated.

Dahmke: The safety of groundwater is the central issue for me. At the moment, however, there are no scientifically established, realistic scenarios which foresee the possibility of large scale contamination of groundwater. The general assertion that every technology has its risks can, of course, not be refuted.

SPIEGEL: How do you explain the vocal protests of local residents against CCS facilities?

Dahmke: The benefits of the storage technology are as diffuse and abstract as the climate change it is supposed to be alleviating. But the truth is that the risks associated with nuclear power are infinitely larger than anything that has to do with CCS. By 2040, we want to have phased out coal-fired electricity generation, but it isn't as if we can shut down every coal power plant tomorrow. CCS is one of the few options to minimize CO2 emissions in the short term. I'm surprised that German society has reached the consensus that it would rather release the CO2 into the atmosphere than investigate what else could be done with it.

SPIEGEL: Your colleagues at the Geomar Institute in Kiel want to inject CO2 deep under the ocean floor while extracting methane at the same time. Wouldn't that be the best option?

Dahmke: That's a wonderful idea. The technology still needs to be developed, however. Underground storage, by contrast, can be implemented quickly.

SPIEGEL: Have you experienced hostility because of your work?

Dahmke: Together with hundreds of other geoscientists I called for the issue of CSS to be kept out of the last state election campaign in Schleswig-Holstein. That was naive of me. After that I was called the "poison-gas professor" on the Internet.

Interview conducted by Cordula Meyer.


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