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Carbon capture and climate neutrality

What is the uptake of carbon capture and storage (CCS) across the globe? What bottlenecks are hindering CCS technologies? And how strong-felt is the need for robust legislation to promote climate-positive solutions? Hannah Jo Uy has the story…

| | Oct 23, 2019 | 5:37 pm
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Nils Røkke

Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) is emerging as an essential tool in the global fight against climate change. To underline the point, Nils Røkke, Chairman of the Board of the European Energy Research Alliance (EERA) and Executive Vice President of Sustainability for SINTEF Energy says that entities, such as the International Energy Agency (IEA) and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), have seen that CCS is needed to ensure climate neutrality by 2050 and that it is vital in the move to decarbonise industries. Many countries, he adds, are also looking to CCS as part of efforts to meet objectives stated in the Paris Agreement of restricting global warming to 1.5 degrees C above pre-industrial levels. “When countries do their math on how to achieve this, it is clear that CCS is an indispensable part of the solution,” he says.

Global interest in CCS

Germany is one among many countries showcasing greater interest in integrating CCS within their respective environmental framework, Røkke says, pointing to recent news reports, where Chancellor Angela Merkel was quoted as saying that Germany would need CCS to achieve national targets under the Paris Agreement. “Germany figured out that they need to store 60 milllion tonnes of CO2 per year from industrial emissions, or the industries have to be moved somewhere else,” Røkke says. “And that is not a situation, which is acceptable to the large industrialised country of Germany.” He adds that Theresa May, during her last days as acting prime minster, following an announcement of the United Kingdom’s commitment to be climate neutral by 2050, also referred to CCS as a path forward. “There is definitely a change in attitude,” he says, “because it is clear you cannot do it without CCS.”

Røkke says Norway has played a leadership role in promoting CCS over the past few years and is operating two CCS plants. One was established in 1996 and stores one million tonnes of CO2 per year in an offshore field. “Now, we see Sweden, Denmark, United Kingdom, the Netherlands and more countries following the CCS narrative,” he says. “We also see France and Italy stepping up the effort.”

Outlining trends accross North America, Røkke says that in the United States, policy makers are encouraging CCS through the 45 tax rule (45 Q), which offers tax deductions to those that store CO2. “This has been quite effective, actually,” he says, “and the US, by far, is doing the most in the CCS area. But it is used for producing more oil and in enhanced oil recovery.” Canada, he adds, is operating two CCS plants — one in heavy oil refinery and the other in power generation.

Across Asia, Røkke reports that Japan is working actively with CCS, and the country is seeing an opportunity to become a technology provider for large industrial complexes. In China, Røkke says, there is not much clarity on the level of interest and investment in support of CCS but that there has been a move to build a demonstration plant in cooperation with European programmes for a pilot project. As for Australia, Røkke says, interest in CCS has been fluctuating, owing to changing government administration.

Opportunities in the Middle East

Admittedly, Røkke says, a number of sectors are difficult to decarbonise, such as the heating and cooling sector, and the cement and steel sector. The agricultural sector and certain areas of the transport industry, in particular, he added, would be unable to reach zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. However, Røkke says that this places even greater importance on using greenhouse gas removal technologies to “suck the CO2 off the air and store it”. “These are often referred to as carbon-negative technologies, and also include storing biogenic CO2,” he says. “But I prefer to use the term climate-positive.”

Røkke says that there is also a huge market for producing clean hydrogen from Natural Gas or oil and storing the CO2, thus creating carbon-free fuels from fossil fuels, which could help in decarbonising the heating and cooling sector. Røkke points out that in the UAE, much of the heating and cooling is done using Natural Gas, leading to distributed emissions in small quantities, which is difficult to abate. Shifting from Natural Gas to hydrogen, he stresses, will solve this issue, as it will only emit water vapour, when burned.

Røkke says that CCS also holds great opportunity in the Middle East and that growing interest in storing carbon is owing to the business case such technologies offer, as many countries in the GCC region look to diversity their portfolio and future-proof the economy. To be climate-neutral by 2050, he states, we cannot continue to use Natural Gas, as we do today, and CCS provides countries with the opportunity to sell low-carbon fuel. “In many ways, the oil and gas industry are selling the wrong products, creating havoc on climate change,” he says. “They need to be part of the solution, and this can only happen through CCS and hydrogen.” Røkke admits that the solution need not be confined to hydrogen, considering the difficulties associated with its transportation. “It is a tiny molecule and will try to escape, and it has a low density,” he says. “You need to keep it at low temperatures – minus 250 degrees C – or at high pressures – 700 bars compressed, to increase the storage density, and to keep something at those pressures and temperatures involves a lot of steel.” However, Røkke stresses that it would be possible to transport hydrogen as ammonia, which is also among the most traded chemical substance in the world, and that there are a number of interesting R&D initiatives in this field that could offer vital commercially feasible solutions.

Bottlenecks in adoption

While, undoubtedly, CCS is being viewed as the way forward, Røkke says there are still bottlenecks that the industry must overcome for widespread international implementation. The notion of risk related to CO2 has been, and continues to be, a barrier for CO2 to take off, Røkke says. “Countries that store CCS offshore have high acceptance of CCS,” he explains, “whereas in countries where CCS has to be stored on shore, it is seen as an unwanted risk, and people are skeptical in accepting this.”

Røkke says that another barrier, and perhaps the most challenging one, is that CCS is a technology that purely benefits the climate, and, at times, there is an efficiency penalty and higher cost associated with it. “It provides climate protection, and at present, no one is willing to pay for that,” he says, stressing that currently, CCS is weakly regulated and more legislation is needed. “Regulations have to be made, so that the market can work within a safe framework,” he says. “I think the market is doing its best when it comes to creating efficient solutions, but there is no driver for the market to stop climate change. There is a range of technologies waiting to be discovered for this purpose that are not being looked at closely. It is the role of regulators and politicians to come up with the regulations.”

Among some industrial stakeholders in the private sector, Røkke says, there has been a move towards adoption by a number of entities that are actively seeking more sustainable solutions to future-proof their operations. “Those who adopt fast and are best developing these solutions will be the new Googles and Amazons in the technology world,” he says. However, Røkke stresses, understandably, many stakeholders are evaluating the best manner which to proceed, as to not disturb the present business model.

Considering this, Røkke recommends that public bodies be more proactive in incentivising the market to opt for low-carbon products, especially for tenders related to public infrastructure. “They should demand the products are zero-emission and are produced using hydrogen or using CCS,” he says. “And then, you would create a business model.” Røkke says that the public purchasing power could be optimised in a far more efficient manner when it comes to promoting climate-positive technologies and solutions.



Hannah Jo Uy is Assistant Editor at Climate Control Middle East magazine. She may be contacted at hannah@cpi-industry.com

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