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CCS pipeline jumps 44% but still captures little CO2

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The global pipeline of carbon capture and storage (CCS) plants continues to grow worldwide, according to a new report released by climate think tank the Global CCS Institute (CCSI). But the impact on global CO2 emissions remains small at around 1%.

  • CCS is a fundamental part of most net zero scenarios and the report from the CCSI says it needs to grow by a factor of 100.
  • There are challenges around carbon capture and storage in terms of finance, liability, infrastructure, public opinion but its critical to decarbonisation of heavy industry.
  • Could an evolution of the sector be on the horizon as we look more closely at the opportunities in carbon transformation and the circular economy?

The Global Status of CCS 2022 report reveals a record high of 196 commercial CCS facilities in the project pipeline, including 30 projects in operation, 11 under construction, and 153 in development.

CCS is a key technology, not just for managing fossil fuel energy generation but also for addressing decarbonisation in hard to abate sectors like steel and cement.

The CCS sector is showing strong growth in 2022

The report highlights considerable growth in a sector which is considered to be, at the same time, fundamental to the achievement of net zero goals and an expensive uncommercial technology.

There are few scenarios for achieving 2050 net zero goals that do not include a significant role for CCS.  This includes analysis done by both the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the International Energy Agency (IEA).

With 61 new facilities added to the project pipeline in 2022, the COcapture capacity of all CCS facilities under development has grown to 244 million tonnes per annum (Mtpa) – an impressive growth of 44% over the past 12 months.

According to the most recent research from Bloomberg NEF however, the amount of CO2 being captured today is only 43 million tons, or 0.1% of global emissions. If all the likely projects that have been announced come online, there would be 279 million tons of CO2 captured every year by 2030, accounting for 0.6% of today’s emissions.

The Global CCS Institute’s CEO, Jarad Daniels, said the rate of growth for CCS can be expected to increase further as countries and companies work to achieve their climate commitments on a shrinking carbon budget.

He said: “CCS is the Swiss Army knife of climate mitigation – it will continue to play multiple, unique roles in decarbonising the global economy. Many essential industries like cement and chemical production have no other viable path for deep decarbonisation other than CCS.”

Policy support drives CCS deployment

As concern about climate risk grows more mainstream, there has been an increasing focus on policy support for the sector by countries aware of the potential impact of net zero targets on its industrial base.

The United States has introduced significant policies and laws, most notably the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) which provides enhancements to the 45Q tax credit for CCS. Early analysis suggested the IRA could increase the deployment of CCS by 13-fold, or well over 110 Mtpa, by 2030 compared to existing policy.

Canada continues to pursue CCS as part of its broader decarbonisation strategy, with the 2022 Federal Budget including a CCUS Tax Credit and a CCUS strategy currently under development.

In Europe, the Danish Government has committed €5 billion for CCS over 10 years, the Dutch Government has more than doubled the SDE++ program since its launch, to €13 billion. Several new countries in Europe, including Poland, Bulgaria, and Finland, are entering the CCS market for the first time due to the EU Innovation Fund’s granting programme.

In the Asia Pacific region, Thailand announced its first CCS project, China’s first million tonne project commenced operations, and Australia saw new project announcements in Victoria and Western Australia, and notable progress in the Northern Territory.

Meanwhile, across the MENA region, CCS continues to be driven by NDCs and net-zero commitments, the potential to take a significant share of the low-carbon hydrogen market, and various low carbon industrialisation plans.

While the pipeline grows, commercialisation remains a concern

The challenge is that looking at the numbers from the CCSI, only 15% of the pipeline is actually in operation. For decades the argument has been made that the world needs CCS but for decades the only commercially viable plants have usually been where its use is associated with enhanced oil recovery (EOR).

Basically EOR is where excess CO2 is pumped into oil fields. It is stored in these empty fields but it’s commercially viable because of the benefits of pumping out more oil that might otherwise be hard to access.

Part of it is the fact that the development of traditional CCS is highly capital intensive. As the CCSI itself points out, “CCS requires investment in capital-intensive long-lived assets. In addition to the capture plant, those assets include CO 2 transport pipelines and geological storage resources which cost hundreds of millions of dollars to appraise, build, and develop.” If investors are not sure about the long term future for such plans and networks, they can prove difficult to finance.

The capture plants themselves has remained a challenge, with it being hard to capture CO2 – especially from gas fired plants, where there is the most demand. This is because the relatively low density of CO2 in the gas streams not only makes it hard to capture, but results in a significant energy burden for the plant itself.

Concerns about liability have also delayed developments, as there are concerns about geological storage across a wide range of issues from permanence, security, stability, impacts of sudden gas release and more.

Arguments for carbon capture storage and use

There are a number of arguments for the use of CCSU, even aside from the fact that few experts believe the global economy can achieve net zero without its use.

There are particular benefits around its implementation, especially with regard to the ‘just transition’. This means that technologies such as CCS can help with the transformation of carbon intensive facilities where communities are reliant on those facilities for jobs and economic support.

Davies says that as CCS continues to scale-up we are also seeing savings in cost and efficiency of deployment.

Could innovation change the course of CCS development?

Innovation could of course change the ways the market develops. Dr Martin Owen Jones, energy materials coordinator at the ISIS Neutron and Muon Source warns, “unless the energy and technologies used to fuel this process remains completely sustainable, carbon capture is just a great idea.”

When it comes to long term carbon capture, it needs to be done at high volumes in order to be effective. Owen Jones says: “The process as it currently stands cannot meet our needs for the future. Carbon capture uses power stations to provide energy for carbon dioxide extraction, which in turn produces carbon dioxide itself.  We can theoretically extract carbon dioxide from high concentration gas flows, such as from power stations, but it requires energy to cool the gas before it can be captured. There’s also a huge cost in terms of reducing carbon dioxide into usable fuel – synthetic for example.”

Ideally, we would extract carbon dioxide directly from the air butJones says this is currently beyond our capabilities, and a chemistry and engineering challenge. He says though, that greater investment into research capacity to explore materials – for example through scientific instruments developed for research in the UK under the ISIS Neutron and Muon Source Endeavour programme – will enable scientists to discover new ways of making carbon capture a reality in the future.

At the same time, there is a great deal of innovation and exploration around new models for CCS and new scientific breakthroughs around the translation of CO2 into new chemicals at a commercial scale.

There are an increasing number of startups exploring new approaches. Companies including Climeworks and Carbon Engineering are developing Direct Air Capture approaches, with a key challenge being how to make them more energy efficient. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA) there are around 18 DAC plants currently in operation around the world, removing around 0.1m tonnes of CO2 from the global atmosphere.

Then there are companies working on the transformation of CO2 into useful fuels and products.  This includes companies like Newlight Technologies, which are turning CO2 into bioplastics, and Air Company which started by turning CO2 into vodka and is now moving on to jet fuel. Companies such as LanzaTech are exploring multiple ways to  transform CO2 emissions into useful fuels, chemicals and products from jet fuel, to ethylene to basic elements for perfumes.

CCSI warns that while the outlook positive the sector needs action

According to Davies, although the outlook for climate action has never been more positive, global efforts to reduce emissions, including investment in CCS, are still grossly inadequate.

He said: “Government policy must be met with private capital to unlock the full potential of CCS and limit global warming to 1.5 degrees to avoid the most catastrophic impacts of climate change.

“Though CCS deployment is scaling rapidly, we need to see an increase by at least a factor of 100 if we are to achieve the Paris climate goals, which makes this decade an absolutely critical time to move from ambition to action.”

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