A supercharged transition: Carbon capture and storage will (finally) earn its stripes

As the technology continues to evolve, we predict that carbon capture utilisation and storage (CCUS) will finally establish its legitimacy as a critical enabler of the energy transition.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) notes carbon capture utilisation and storage (CCUS) will need to ‘form a key pillar’ of efforts to reach net zero. Simple maths tells us that we just won’t be able to displace fossil fuels with renewables at the rate required to drastically reduce emissions, within a 2050 window. This is an area in which CCUS can provide a fast response. In the medium term, and with power generation becoming increasingly decarbonised, there will also be an ongoing role for CCUS in industries like steel and cement production, which are traditionally major sources of emissions.

An internationally proven mature technology, CCUS offers a strong, feasible means of diverting enormous amounts of carbon dioxide emissions that would otherwise enter the atmosphere, into safe and permanent storage. Its role as a transition solution means it can increasingly underpin multiple industries’ climate action responses in the next 10 years and beyond.

A proven technology – so what’s the problem?

The technology works but is expensive and energy intensive. Projects need to be developed and implemented well. Significant government enablement through regulation and carbon pricing challenges needs to be tackled. In the absence of a market price signal, investors will continue to be reluctant to make the commitment required to accelerate CCUS projects worldwide. The market is moving in the right direction, but the rate of progress is not where it needs to be.

Another handbrake on widespread CCUS adoption are the perception issues it’s been subject to for years. Here, education is needed to help the public understand that CCUS is indeed a safe, secure – and importantly, permanent – solution in emissions management.

The process of storing or permanently trapping carbon in geological formations, such as deep saline aquifers or depleted oil and gas reservoirs, is well-tested. Indeed, the industry has been injecting carbon dioxide (CO2) into porous rock formations since the 1970s. Nevertheless, work remains to shift misconceptions that hinder CCUS’s mainstream acceptance as a technology.

The dawn of a new era for CCUS

The good news is, after a decade of experience further developing applications across a range of gas and coalfired power generation and hydrogen production sectors, CCUS is in a much stronger position to contribute to the sustainable transformation of some of our hardest-to-abate industries. The technology will display its efficiency and costimprovement benefits as the next tranche of projects are developed.

According to the IEA, reaching net zero will be ‘virtually impossible’ without CCUS. It’s an essential partner to the production of clean hydrogen from fossil fuels (blue hydrogen) and widely held to be the most cost-effective enabler of our ambitions for a low-carbon future. CCUS gives us an immediate and effective line-of-sight to decarbonisation through the 2020s and beyond. It’s safe and available. It has the potential to make a big difference, provided there is more incentive to invest.

The consequences of rising carbon in the air are dire – we are seeing the results manifest in a warming climate and extreme weather conditions. We need to ask ourselves what the climate cost is if we don’t bring this carbon capture and storage pathway forward. We understand the problem; we know how to build the solution. In today’s climate crisis context, the importance of CCUS is self-evident. On the back of aggressive climate targets and policy to achieve them, CCUS will finally earn its stripes this decade.

Authors:
Heath Nevels, Director of Carbon Capture, Utilization and Storage, GHD
Tony Mills, Principal Mechanical Engineer, GHD
Martin Axelby, Business Group Leader – Plant & Process, GHD
Phil Baker, Executive Advisor – Transactions, Strategy and Commercial

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