What’s wrong with Carbon Capture?
Carbon Capture has been and is persistently under heavy fire from mass media, climate consultancies and individual green “influencers” who, amongst many of their arguments, see it as little more than a greenwashed band-aid which grants a pass to heavy polluters to continue with their business as usual.
It almost seems like any proposed emission reduction solution – one which is not either renewable energy, green hydrogen or mass electrification – immediately gets vilified.
Whilst I wholeheartedly agree that the aforementioned solutions are the answer to most of our emission problems, I cannot help but notice that the practicalities of actually getting to net zero emissions are being either somewhat conveniently left out of the discussions or are vastly overshadowed by utopian narratives.
I hazard a guess that if the loudest voices were to actually acknowledge the involved practicalities then the headlines wouldn’t be as catchy.
Yes, there have been failed Carbon Capture projects – but the technology has been demonstrated to work albeit still needs to be perfected to make it more reliable and viable. And significant R&D efforts are ongoing to do just that. Imagine if Thomas Edison gave up early on his quest to develop the lightbulb – the world would look vastly different today if not for his relentless tenacity.
And the reality is that we will continue to consume a lot of energy not only just to keep up with existing demand, but also to meet the increasing demand as a result of actually producing the infrastructure necessary to get us to net zero emissions.
In the interim lies the perfect opportunity for Carbon Capture technologies to step in and make a significant contribution to reducing emissions whilst the world goes through the necessary energy systems transition.
And for some sectors which are the lifeblood of global economies and underpin our modern existence Carbon Capture is not just an option – it is a necessity.
Target applications for Carbon Capture
Carbon Capture, Utilisation and Storage [CCUS] as an emission reduction technology makes the most sense for:
- Retrofitting to existing power generation assets, such as coal-fired power plants
- Implementation in hard to abate sectors, such as steel, cement and chemicals
- Rapidly scaling up affordable hydrogen production, aka “blue” hydrogen
- Direct Air Capture for negative emissions
There is also potential for widespread CCUS systems deployment and adoption in deep sea shipping, and trials of carbon capture technologies are ongoing to validate the proposed concepts.
The International Energy Agency in their Net Zero by 2050 Roadmap has outlined what needs to be done in order to achieve global emission reductions to net zero levels. And CCUS has been earmarked as part of the solution.
Today, most operational CCUS systems are employed in Natural Gas processing (see figure below) and going forwards this picture is expected to undergo a dramatic change.
The IEA’s Roadmap projects the need for fossil fuels to decline as a share of total energy supply from 80% in 2020 to just over 20% in 2050.
Inversely to the drastic reduction in fossil fuel use and alongside significant growth of Renewables and other net zero technologies, demand for CCUS is projected to rapidly increase from 40MtCO2 captured in 2020 to 1,670MtCO2 by 2030 and 7,600MtCO2 by 2050 (see figure below).
This is deemed as necessary to get us to Net Zero.
These figures are staggering.
And the investment required to get there is even more so.
In 2020, according to Pitchbook.com VC deals into carbon capture totaled $336.5m.
The IEA estimates that to get us to the 7.6Gt of captured CO2, the annual global investment into CCUS needs to exceed… $160bn by 2050.
And a failure to develop CCUS technology for emission abatement from fossil fuels could delay or even prevent the development of CCUS technologies for sectors where it is needed the most.