The technology to capture carbon from industrial emissions and store it may still be in its infancy, but proponents believe it can become a major tool in the fight against climate change.
However, for its methods to be deployed on a scale large enough to make a difference, experts and critics alike say carbon capture and storage (CCS) still has to overcome a host of logistical and financial hurdles.
CCS techniques are designed to capture and store carbon dioxide generated by power plants using fossil fuels as well as industrial plants from steelmakers to refineries and petrochemical plants.
Proponents see that the technology has great potential for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from power generation, industry in general, and the refining of fossil fuels.
The captured CO2 is transported and re-injected into hermetically sealed geological reservoirs – for example, in old oil fields – for permanent storage.
Some may be reused during this time, a process known as Carbon Capture, Use and Storage (CCUS).
The procedure is not new, with the first site set up in Texas in the early 1970s.
Despite growing interest in the technology, however, to date there are only about 20 sites in the world, according to the Global CSS Institute, as it combats popular suspicion that CCS is distracting from the goal. to move away from fossil fuels.
The International Energy Agency says the technology has enormous potential and can play a “critical” role in helping to ease the path to achieving net zero emissions.
“After years of slow progress, new investment incentives and strengthened climate goals are creating new momentum behind CCUS,” the IEA said in a September report, highlighting 30 projects that have seen the light of day in these three last years.
The IEA maintains that the CCUS has a positive role to play in sectors whose carbon footprint is difficult to reduce significantly, such as cement production.
– Benefits –
Hydrocarbon producers see technology as a way to justify their use of natural gas to produce electricity or hydrogen.
The Oil and Gas Climate Initiative (OGCI), which brings together the main players in the sector, has made CCS a priority.
Oil giants such as BP, Equinor, Shell and Total are at the forefront of its development.
Equinor, Shell and Total are partners in a large Norwegian CO2 storage project under the North Sea.
“Oil companies have advantages over other industries when it comes to operating in these CCUS activities,” says Moez Ajmi of Ernst & Young France.
“The CO2 capture activity is similar, by the size of the projects and their complexity, to refining and petrochemicals activities; CO2 transport is close to gas transport and finally storage requires geological knowledge that the oil exploration and production industries already have, ”says Ajmi.
– ‘False solution’ –
However, a potential factor that could hold back the technology is “the limited number of sites to sequester carbon”, explains Nicolas Berghmans of the Independent Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations (IDDRI).
Cost is another limiting factor.
“We really need a regulatory framework with a much more solid and stable carbon price in due course, allowing industrial investment in the necessary infrastructure,” says Berghmans.
In France, the ecological transition agency Ademe identified only a limited capture potential in three industrial zones that it assessed.
The agency sees capture as “a risky solution that ultimately comes in a cost-benefit analysis”.
Environmental NGOs also remain skeptical of a process they have long viewed as a “false solution”.
Their criticisms include the risk of leakage of stored CO2, the likelihood of increased energy requirements in the actual deployment of capture and storage technology, and the rationale for maintaining the emissions that go with it.
“Public financial assistance must be geared as a priority towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions at the source,” said Cécile Marchand of Friends of the Earth.
© 2020 AFP