Carbon capture can help us win the race against climate change

  • The pandemic offers us the opportunity to embrace and accelerate the energy transition.
  • Carbon capture and storage plays a critical and growing role in decarbonising the world.
  • Demand and capacity are growing encouragingly, but we still have a lot of work to do.

This year will long be remembered as extremely challenging, in large part because of the rise and spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. The human toll has been terrible; the economic impact will last for decades.

This was a classic black swan event and its arrival has done exceptional health, social and economic damage. The world is still working to manage the pandemic – and with a vaccine not yet available, the need to learn to live in a world where COVID-19 is a reality is quickly presenting itself as the main challenge facing governments, businesses and communities.

As many have noted, governments that need to devise and implement economic stimulus packages to bring their nations out of recession and get people back to work have a unique opportunity to change course and grow the global economy again. in a climate-friendly and environmentally-friendly way. Right now, we have the opportunity to embrace and accelerate the energy transition to create new, clean energy and clean industry jobs that will sustain economies for decades to come.

There are indications that both the private and the public sector are increasingly opting for climate-friendly policies and investments. A growing number of countries are committed to achieving zero net emissions by the middle of this century. In addition to the commitments made by the national government, it was remarkable to see in 2020 that despite difficult trading conditions, large multinational energy companies made commitments to achieve carbon neutral results by the middle of this century. For some, this includes scope 3 emissions; those that result from the consumption (often combustion) of their products by customers.

To achieve our climate goals, an enormous scale-up of CCS capacity is required

To achieve our climate goals, an enormous scale-up of CCS capacity is required

Image: Global CCS Institute

It is also noteworthy that some governments have included higher mitigation ambitions in their COVID-19 fiscal response packages, and that carbon capture and storage (CCS) has played a role in several cases. This is welcome and necessary. It has been clear for some time that achieving net zero emissions by mid-century and limiting temperature rises well below 2˚C requires the rapid deployment of all available emission abatement technologies, as well as the early retirement of some emission-intensive facilities and retrofitting others with technology such as CCS. It is also clear that the large-scale removal of carbon dioxide (CDR) will be needed, as overruns of carbon budgets are unfortunately almost certain.

As we have reported over the past two years, the pipeline of operating and developing CCS facilities around the world is once again growing. This year the upward trajectory continues. The diversity of the industries and processes to which CCS is applied is a lasting testament to the flexibility of CCS to remove emissions from industries that are difficult to decarbonize, but that manufacture products that will remain essential to everyday life around the world .

Global CCS capacity is increasing again

Global CCS capacity is increasing again

Image: Global CCS Institute

The continued rise in CCS activity and increased investment in new facilities is exciting and encouraging. But there is still so much work to be done.

Given the implicit role for CCS in the IPCC 1.5 SAR alone, somewhere between 350 and 1,200 gigatons of CO2 will have to be captured and stored this century. Currently, around 40 megatons of CO2 are captured and stored annually. This must be at least a hundredfold by 2050 to meet the scenarios drawn up by the IPCC. Clearly, a significant increase in policy activity and private sector commitment is needed to enable the massive capital investment needed to build sufficient facilities to deliver these volumes.

Significant progress is being made in every part of the CCS value chain. New, more efficient and less expensive capture technologies for a range of applications are changing the outlook for one of the key cost components of the CCS value chain. Proponents of the CCS hub model continue their impressive march towards reality; Notable in this area is the commissioning of the Alberta Carbon Trunk Line. CDR technologies are also playing a role in increasing investment and project activity, while new and favorable policy environments in many countries, including the US, UK, EU and Australia, are increasing the number of projects being actively researched and developed.

It was especially important to see the increasing engagement and interest of the financial and ESG sectors. Significant investment opportunities are being realized, while the need for many companies to move into the future world of zero emissions means that ESG consultants are looking for technologies that can make the necessary change.

The road ahead is challenging, but CCS is increasingly well placed to make an important and necessary contribution to achieving net zero emissions by the middle of this century.

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