Carbon capture and storage is a pathway to net zero, but it can’t get us there on its own
The pros and cons of carbon capture and storage: While carbon capture and storage (CCS) is being hailed as a pathway that could help the world limit global warming to 1.5°C, the new technology can’t do the job by itself, Financial Times correspondents explain in this short film (watch, runtime: 21:31).
CSS? CSS refers to the process of capturing carbon dioxide (CO2) formed during power generation and industrial processes, and storing it underground or under the seabed where it isn’t emitted into the atmosphere.
The use of CSS needs to be expanded dramatically for it to make a difference: As of 2021, there are 27 fully operational CSS projects being operated worldwide with around 100 more in the works, according to a report (pdf) by the Global CSS Institute. These facilities captured around 40 mn tonnes of CO2 during the past year. However, if we depended on CSS alone to keep us under the 1.5°C benchmark, this figure would have to increase to 1.7 bn tonnes by 2030 — or a 40x increase over the next eight years.
This comes with a huge price tag: The needed infrastructure and technology for CCS is both complex and expensive. For example, a CCS project launched in Norway was expected to cost the country USD 2.6 bn. Add to this the operating costs as well as the cost for capturing each ton of carbon, which can range anywhere from USD 15-120 per ton depending on the CO2 source, and the costs start mounting fast.
Here’s where CCUS comes in: In order to make the economics more attractive, there’s also CCUS — or carbon capture, usage, and storage. CCUS gives the captured carbon a commercial use by reusing it in industries such as soda, fertilizers, plastics, and oil and gas.
Oil and gas are the largest implementers of CCUS, which makes the entire concept a bit counterproductive. The biggest use of captured CO2 is enhanced oil recovery which is when captured carbon is injected into a reservoir to create more fuel and releases more carbon in the process.
Which brings us to the biggest issue with both CCS and CCUS: the potential of prolonging the use of fossil fuels. It’s no surprise that the oil and gas sector is one of the biggest proponents and investors in these kinds of projects as the technology poses an expensive but effective way to reduce emissions. Fossil fuel producers could use CCS and CCUS as a quick fix and ensure they can fly under the radar during the green revolution without overhauling their operations. This could delay the transition to renewables as massive investments are poured instead into these technologies. Moreover, even if the oil and gas industry reduces enough CO2 to cover the manufacturing process of producing fuel, 90% of the sector’s emissions are derived from the consumption of hydrocarbons.
And there are question-marks over safety: With more carbon capture pipelines being proposed in the US, a report this year highlighted the potential dangers that come with transporting CO2 and cast doubt on whether current regulations are able to prevent them from endangering human health and the environment.
Nonetheless, it can be an effective solution depending on how it’s rolled out: Since the world isn’t ready to completely dispose of dirty energy, carbon capture can be an effective way to reduce emissions from polluting industries. However, it’s important to deploy carbon capture in parallel with other sustainable solutions such as blue hydrogen, green hydrogen, wind energy, and solar energy.
Egypt is on track to debut its own carbon capture projects: Egypt’s Oil Ministry and Italian energy firm Eni will announce joint CCUS initiatives at the upcoming COP27 summit in November.
And we have the perfect place for them: An efficient way to set up CCS and CCUS infrastructure is to create hubs or clusters where several highly-industrialized companies share the technology — and share the costs. In recent years, Egypt has been moving forward with the introduction of industrial zones, which could be ideal places to roll out carbon capture projects, offering a group of companies access to the technology without them having to bear the high costs of setting it up.