A look into the importance of CCUS, including how it works, where it is currently being implemented in the United States and around the world, and barriers to deployment.
- CCUS projects have been in operation for nearly 50 years, and, to date, around 300 million tonnes of CO2 have already been captured and injected underground.
- Currently, there are more than 30 CCUS facilities in operation around the world, with the capacity to capture and store 40 million tonnes of CO2 per year, the equivalent of removing 8 million passenger cars from the road.
- The cost of capturing CO2 emissions varies depending on many factors, but in general, the higher the concentration of the CO2 in the waste gas stream from the emissions source, the less it costs to capture.
- Governments and the private sector are investing in research and development and working on creating the next generation of technologies that will reduce the price of CCUS even more.
- According to the IEA, annual investment in CCUS has consistently accounted for less than 0.5% of global investment in clean energy and efficiency technologies.
- CCUS is not a competitor but complementary to renewables. Solar and wind are set to become the largest and cheapest sources of electricity globally, but other technologies will still be needed for low-cost power systems. The growing proportion of power generated from variable renewables drives a greater need for available “on-demand” capacity to ensure the stable operation of power systems. CCUS-equipped power plants supply flexible, low-carbon electricity that complements the intermittent nature of solar and wind generation. This capability enables power grids to decarbonize while maintaining their reliability and resilience.
- CCUS is essential for reducing emissions from the global fossil fuel power fleet we already have and is essential to decarbonizing sectors fundamental to modern society – cement, steel, chemicals, and fertilizers. There are currently no commercial alternatives that can be deployed at scale to decarbonize emissions from these industries.
- Without CCUS retrofit or early retirement, coal and gas-fired power stations – current and under construction – will continue emitting CO2 at rates that will consume 95% of the IEA’s Sustainable Development Scenario carbon budget by 2050.
- Currently, more than 30 operating CCUS facilities can capture and store nearly 40 million tonnes of CO2 per year, more than the annual energy-related emissions of many countries, including Denmark, Ireland, and New Zealand.
- Despite significant government spending announcements for CCUS projects and technology advancement, public investment in CCUS has been low. According to the IEA, the total level of public funding directed to CCUS project deployment between 2007 and 2017 is just 3% of the funding spent on subsidies for renewable power generation in 2016 alone.
- According to the 2021 CO2 Storage Resource Catalogue, there are more than 14,000 gigatonnes of storage resources globally. To put this into context, according to the IEA, global energy-related CO2 emissions stood at 36 gigatonnes in 2021.
- Importantly, storage resources are found in almost every nation, enabling the global deployment of CCUS. Like any natural resource, some countries have abundant storage resources while others have limited potential. For example, there is high confidence that storage formations in North America host at least 2,000 gigatonnes of storage resources alone.
- It is important that clean hydrogen, blue or green, should be assessed on a life-cycle basis.
- Existing facilities using CCUS to reduce emissions from hydrogen production, such as Quest, were not designed to capture 90-95% of emissions. Quest was designed to capture just the reformer emissions, which are around 50% of the total, and deliver significant emission reductions. To achieve very low life cycle CO2 intensity and qualify as low-carbon hydrogen, the current generation of new facilities in development and all future facilities should be capturing around 95% and up to 99% of CO2 emissions, often not using Steam Methane Reforming (SMR), but using partial oxidation processes which are better suited to CO2
- Carbon capture technologies commonly use amine-based solvents, a well-known type of solvent already used in natural gas processing plants around the world. The risk of amine aerosols being released with the cleaned flue gas is minimized through good process design.
- Several other processes (e.g., those using potassium carbonate solvents or membrane-based capture plants) are deployable today and do not result in significant air pollution.
Unlike oil and gas, CO2 does not form flammable or explosive mixtures with air. CO2 is not directly toxic to humans when released into the ambient air unless the release is catastrophic – very rapid and extremely high quantities.
- CO2 has been safely and reliably transported in the United States via large-scale commercial pipelines since 1972 when the Canyon Reef Carriers Pipeline was constructed in West Texas. During the last 50 years, there have been no fatalities associated with the transportation of CO2 via pipeline.
- Geological storage of CO2 is safe by design and by regulation. It uses the same forces and processes that have trapped oil and gas (including naturally occurring CO2) in the Earth’s subsurface for millions of years.
- The main monitoring tools for CO2 injection operations are standard in the oil and gas industry: geophysical logging tools, pressure and temperature sensors, and seismic surveys. Tools continue to be refined to monitor CO2 storage, including tracers, satellite measurements, and soil and groundwater sensors.