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Coal, Climate Change, and Carbon Capture and Storage

June's Shell London lecture, delivered by Mike Stephenson (British Geological Survey) at the Geological Society on 15 June 2011.

Much of the coal we’re burning today in power stations was made in the ‘coal forests’ of Europe and North America in the Carboniferous Period, and the CO2 released is altering our atmosphere dangerously quickly. The idea of carbon capture and storage (CCS) is to re-bury the CO2 that’s been released. In countries which rely heavily on coal to generate electricity CCS could be a vital technology which allows them to continue to grow but also to cut their CO2 emissions. The British Government predicts that CCS could be an industry the size of present day North Sea oil, and be worth £2-4 billion per year by 2030, sustaining 50,000 jobs.

In this talk Mike will follow the CCS process from ‘source to sink’ looking at the best places and best rocks to store CO2. He will also show that the process is part of a cycle: ironically Carboniferous coal forests themselves were very good at sequestering carbon (coal), though modern forests are not such efficient carbon ‘sinks’. Finally, ending by comparing and quantifying some carbon burial rates (natural and artificial) and look at the rates we need to achieve to keep the planet habitable.


Mike Stephenson


Mike Stephenson is Head of Science (Energy) at the British Geological Survey (BGS). His education has included a BSc, MSc and PhD from the University of Sheffield and Imperial College, London as well as various postgraduate teaching qualifications. He began his career as a schoolteacher in rural Africa and stayed there for almost ten years, but returned to pursue research. 

Mike’s scientific work is mainly concerned with the petroleum geology of Arabia, and he has published over 50 papers on this and other regions as well as working extensively as a consultant for oil companies. Mike now runs the Energy Programme at BGS including carbon capture and storage, hydrocarbons, renewables and unconventional energy. He sits on the boards of several journals and is Editor-in-Chief of an Elsevier palaeontological journal. 

He has a special professorship at the University of Nottingham and an honorary professorship at the University of Leicester, and is the first Director of the National Centre for Carbon Capture and Storage, a joint venture between the BGS and the University of Nottingham.