Carbon Capture and Sequestration (CCS) in net-zero transition: Where do we stand?

Capturing the big bad entity running amok around the planet, locking up its excessive energy for reuse another day is a concept that has the world excited. We are talking about Carbon Capture and Sequestration (CCS), the technology that is speedily moving to center stage. Capturing CO2 from intensive industries like coal-fired power plants, chemical plants, and biomass power plants and transporting it to long-term storage/sequestration facilities underground till we can reuse it is an idea whose time has come.

After all, if we cannot afford to live in a 100 percent carbon-free emissions world right now, we can at least lock up the excessive CO2 produced every day from entering the atmosphere, right? There is plenty to be hopeful about CCS because we can no longer ignore the role of carbon emissions in bringing climate change into our backyard. According to NASA, our post-Industrial Revolution lifestyles have pushed atmospheric carbon dioxide levels up by nearly 50 percent since 1750.

With this level of atmospheric mayhem, we need to come up with solutions fast.  

The world has a collective dream of transitioning to a hydrogen-based economy, but that will take another 28 to 30 years, the key to the transition being carbon-free emissions. Many countries’ mobility, transportation, and industry sectors are working with governments and other stakeholders to scale up the production, transportation, storage, and use of green hydrogen as the only combustible resource. But that massive exercise requires restructuring, renovating, upgrading, and replacing the existing infrastructure. Until such a reality dawns, we must look at other options, such as carbon capture. A range of mitigating technologies is being embraced by countries, including Carbon Capture and Sequestration (CCS).

Carbon Dioxide Capture Facilities

The three stages of Carbon Capture and Sequestration technology (CCS) are:

1) Isolation and capture of CO2 from other gases produced in industrial processes.

2) Compression of CO2 and transporting it through pipelines, road transport, or ships for storage.

3) Injection of the captured CO2 into deep geological formations, or in the form of mineral carbonates, for permanent storage.

The Global CCS Institute, headquartered in Melbourne, Australia, with its offices in Brussels, Beijing, London, Tokyo, and Washington DC, is a global leader and think tank with a mission to accelerate the deployment of CCS technology. According to its 2022 report, from December 2020 to September 2021, the capacity of CCS projects rose from 73 to 111 million tonnes per annum (Mtpa). A 48 percent incremental capturing of carbon dioxide over nine months is a remarkable achievement that speaks of the rate of acceleration in the CCS industry.

In 2014, globally, there were a total of 22 CCS facilities; today, there are 135 commercial CCS facilities around the world, of which 27 are operational, four are under construction, 58 are in the advanced development stage, 44 are in the early development, and two suspended. The total net capacity of these facilities is estimated at 149.3 million tonnes per annum (Mtpa). With the development of more and more new projects, the range in the scale of facilities is becoming broader.

The progress is promising, but it cannot be denied that the current facilities would fall short of reducing 1.7 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide to meet the target of 2030 and the net zero target of 2050 of the Paris Agreement.

Carbon Capture and Sequestration (CCS) technology: Perspectives

SAFETY

The idea of capturing excess carbon from being released into the atmosphere and storing it for future use is exciting, but there are concerns. First is the safety issue. How safe is it to store the massive amounts of carbon dioxide in the long run?

The possibility of CO2 leakage from geological storage facilities is a running thread of concern.

According to the Global CCS Institute, “Often, concerns about the safety of CO2 transport and storage are held. Most assume that CO2 is stored in the gaseous phase and therefore must leak, possibly catastrophically. It is also common for CO2 storage to be confused with hydraulic fracturing or for individuals to be concerned about induced seismicity, or that natural seismicity will cause leaks.”

CO2 is not flammable or explosive like natural gas, it says. “It is not toxic like refrigerants used in refrigerators and air conditioners. A catastrophic leak to the atmosphere from a depth of more than one kilometer is virtually impossible. CO2 storage reservoirs are operated below the fracture pressure of the rock formation with a margin of safety – there is no “fracing”.

Any seismicity resulting from CO2 injection, says the Global CCS Institute, is minor, requiring instrumentation to detect it. “Earthquakes, such as those regularly experienced in Japan, have not caused any leakage of stored CO2.”

However, political actors are divided on the issue. Many critics of CCS say it is cost-prohibitive, perpetuates fossil fuel usage, and is a complex and technically challenging process.

However, CCS was a preconditional inclusion in the Kyoto Protocol signed by the US, Norway, Russia, and Canada on December 11, 1997. The Protocol implemented the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) ‘s objective to reduce the emission of seven greenhouse gases, Carbon dioxide, Methane, Nitrous Oxide, Hydrofluorocarbons, Perfluorocarbons, Sulphur Hexachloride, and Nitrogen Trifluoride, that led to global warming and climate change.

COST

The cost of carbon capture, storage, and utilization is a hot debate across both sides of the fence. Many argue that it takes more for coal and power plants to retrofit CCS technology, pushing up the costs for carbon capture. While improvements in technology, which are inevitable as with all advancements, will lower the costs, they say it will still be more expensive to maintain and promote CCS than alternative energy forms such as solar and wind.

Others argue that there cannot be a blanket CCS cost assessment as it is hugely variable depending on many factors: the CO2 source, whether industry-specific or from-air capture, the type of technology in use, process type, CO2 transport technique, and storage site. However, the broad consensus is that in the long run, CCS is cost-effective compared with other mitigation options.

Mixed reactions aside, it is expected that the global CCS industry must grow by more than 100 percent by 2050 to achieve the target of net zero. It requires building at least 80-100 CCS facilities per annum till the middle of this century.

A significant aspect of CCS is its specific applications in certain industries, such as cement manufacturing. As CO2 is a byproduct of cement manufacturing, CCS may be the only option to eliminate CO2 emissions from this industry.

STORAGE

Carbon dioxide, once captured, is transported to be stored underground in geological formations or rocks by injecting it into them. This is done to keep it for extended periods.

According to a report published by the US National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL), North America has extensive long-time storage facilities that can store CO2 for more than 900 years.

Oil and gas fields have stored CO2 (and other elements) for millions of years, so they have an enormous capacity to meet global CO2 storage requirements, but their geographic distribution is limited.

On the other hand, saline rock formations are much more widely spread. Iceland is showing the way in this aspect. In its academic-industrial partnership, its company Carbfix has developed a novel approach to CCS capture by storing CO2 in water and injecting it into subsurface basalts. The injected CO2 reacts with the host rock forming stable carbonate minerals, thus creating safe, long-term storage. Iceland has large deposits of basalt rock, a common rock type on Earth’s surface that boosts the promise of CCS storage on a larger scale.

Commercializing CO2 storage is another way forward, with Norway and Australia taking the lead in identifying and appraising geological storage resources for payers. Currently, the limitations on the availability of geological storage facilities are not considered a barrier.

According to the Global CCS Institute 2020 report, a commercially relevant classification system for geological storage resources has been developed by the Society of Petroleum Engineers (SPE). The SPE Storage Resources Management System (SRMS) is based on the SPE Petroleum Resource Management System (PRMS), used widely to classify oil and gas reserves and resources.

The Oil and Gas Climate Initiative (OGCI) is funding the world’s first application of the SRMS; the Global CO2 Storage Resource Catalogue being developed by Pale Blue Dot Energy, the venture capital firm in climate tech, and the publicly available data and studies.

PIPELINING: A GLOBAL VIEW

Captured carbon dioxide must be transported to befitting storage facilities. Pipelines are the low-cost transport of captured CO2 in a liquid or gaseous state. Where pipelines are not feasible, CO2 can be transported by sea and road.

The carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) project pipeline is growing faster than expected. In 2008, approximately 5,800 kilometers of pipelines operated in the US, and by the end of 2020, it grew to 8,000 kilometers, with an estimated increase to 43,000 by the end of 2050.

In other areas, pipeline facilities are also showing an upward tick. Australia’s CO2 transport pipeline network, approximately 39,000 kilometers, plays a significant role in carbon dioxide transport to the sequestration sites, helping achieve the 2030 target as much as possible.

  • In 2021, Rotterdam’s Porthos network entered its advanced development phase by building a shared pipeline that will transport CO2 from four projects, Air Products, Air Liquide, ExxonMobil, and Shell, to a storage facility 20 kilometers offshore below the North Sea in the Port of Rotterdam.

  • In partnership with Shell, Total Energies has developed a landmark project named Aramis CCS Network. This project has proposed more than 20 million tonnes per annum (Mtpa).

  • Nonrcem Brevik pipeline and the Fortum Oslo Varme WtE can transport 8,00,000 tonnes of captured CO2.

  • Norway’s Langskip carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) pipeline network is also a good transportation facility.

  • The world’s largest network, Summit Carbon Solutions Network, which is under development now, will be able to transport 7.9 million tonnes per annum (Mtpa).

  • The United Kingdom has also made considerable pipeline network development in recent years. It includes Humber Zero Network, Zero Carbon Humber, and Net Zero Teesside Network. The Zero Carbon Humber and Net Zero Teesside Networks are combined now and are known as South Wales Industrial Cluster.

There are many other pipeline networks worldwide, some operational, others under construction, providing an optimistic picture of CCS as a critical technology to achieve net zero by 2050.

The way forward

The stakeholders of the CCS industry must put their heads together. Producers of CO2 (private and public enterprises such as cement manufacturing, coal, and gas-fired power plants, waste-to-energy plants, ethanol facilities, and chemical production), commercial CO2 storage and pipeline providers, CCS tech exporters, and governments must all work closely. They need to form a network of capture, storage, and usage that addresses safety, sustainability, cost-effectiveness, and implementation. Japan, for instance, has been actively supporting tech transfer and know-how for other countries to ramp up their CCS projects.

Aggressive climate change policy initiatives by national governments are the need of the hour, as is direct funding for CCS projects.

Low-carbon emission targets must be in tandem with CCS projects to realistically reach carbon neutrality. India’s steel and cement plants, for example, are vigorously pursuing CCS as part of their emissions reduction targets.

Long-term decarbonization is a global imperative, not just one region’s priority. So, the deployment of CCS technology is a worldwide push wherein everyone who has a role in making a difference needs to throw their hat into the ring.

We are running out of time.

Dr. Dipankar Kundu

Dr. Dipankar Kundu

Dr. Dipankar Kundu is a Ph.D. in Literature, MBA in Marketing and Finance, and Post Graduate in Enterprise Risk Management. He has worked in Financial Institutions and Banks in the first half of his career. Since, the last 10 years he has been running three agencies of his own providing strategic content development, translation, and other multilingual marketing and branding services for SMBs and Big Enterprises in the USA and the UAE. His 7500+ corporate clients portfolio includes Siemens, Deloitte, Procter and Gamble, Talis, Addinol, Komatsu, Altrad, UNESCO, and many others. He is a thought leader and a passionate writer.

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