Why carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS) is the future

Andy Mok
24 July, 23

With governments across the globe, from Beijing to Berlin, setting ambitious targets for climate neutrality, preventing CO2 from entering the atmosphere is a vitally important way to cut emissions and slow down climate change. On a course to play a central role in meeting global climate change targets, we’re seeing governments take a growing interest in carbon capture and storage (CCUS) technology, as although it’s still in the early stages, it’s proving key for removing carbon dioxide that has already been emitted into the atmosphere. 

The International Energy Agency says the CCUS market could be worth over £100bn by 2030 and in the past 12 months, the pipeline for CCUS projects worldwide has grown by 44%, according to the Global CCS Institute. Further proof that the industry is set to stay; leading organisations including the International Energy Agency (IEA), International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF), have all produced long-term energy outlooks that rely on a rapid expansion of CCUS in order to limit global temperature rise to 1.5°C.

So, how exactly does CCUS work, how is the UK market faring, and what exciting new developments are we seeing across the globe when it comes to this early stage technology? 

How exactly does it work?

CCUS refers to a range of technologies that enable the mitigation of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from large point sources such as power plants, refineries and other industrial facilities, or the removal of existing CO2 from the atmosphere. A CCUS application consists of three stages – capture, transport and storage (or usage) of CO2. The principal methods for capturing CO2 are post combustion, pre-combustion and oxy-fuel combustion.

Currently, operational facilities fitted with CCUS can capture around 90% of the CO2 present in flue gas. It is technologically possible to achieve higher capture rates, and research is ongoing to reduce the costs of doing so. 

Once the CO2 has been captured, it is compressed into a liquid state and transported by pipeline, ship, rail or road tanker. CO2 can then be injected into deep geological formations and permanently stored in depleted oil and gas reservoirs, coalbeds or deep saline aquifers that have suitable geology. Evidence suggests there is more underground storage available globally than is actually needed to meet climate targets and almost every high-emitting nation has already demonstrated having its own substantial storage resource.

How important is CCUS to the UK?

April’s Budget revealed the importance of CCUS to the UK market, earmarking £20 billion for projects, starting with initiatives from the East Coast to Merseyside to North Wales, and paving the way for CCUS everywhere across the UK as we approach 2050. Funding will support job creations, with up to 50,000 private-sector jobs, and drive capture of carbon dioxide emissions of 20 million to 30 million tonnes per annum by 2030.

Under the CCUS Cluster Sequencing Process, the UK has a target to deploy two CCUS clusters by 2025, and two more by 2030. Despite the commitment and dedication, however, it has been revealed that UK filed just 1 per cent of carbon capture patents last year, compared to 73 per cent in China (Of the 411 CCS patent applications filed last year, 298 were filed in China, while American researchers filed the second most patents, at 42).

Exciting new CCUS projects across the globe

Carbon X programme – China

With a deep understanding that CCUS urgently needs a systematic support of funding, resources, technology, and innovation to accelerate the large-scale implementation to respond to the demand for carbon neutrality, in March this year China saw the launch of the Carbon X programme from Tencent. It aims to  connect innovative technology developers and industry forces to promote the large-scale application of cutting-edge CCUS technology.

With a funding scale of millions of yuan, the plan will focus on next-generation cutting-edge CCUS technology, solicit project proposals for innovative technology through flexible catalytic capital, build demonstration projects with exemplary effects, incubate start-ups with positive economic potential, and promote CCUS basic capacity building. It aims to land 5-10 technology pilot projects, accelerate 5-10 start-ups, incubate several sustainable tools or platforms, and ultimately achieve tens of millions of tons of emissions reduction.

One of the initiatives sees Tencent collaborate with Iceland’s carbon capture company Carbfix to create Asia’s first demonstration project for CO2 mineralisation and storage in China. It “transforms” carbon dioxide into rock by injecting CO2 water solution into rock formations and reacting with active rock formations such as basalt to form solid carbonate minerals that can be permanently stored. In less than two years, more than 95% of the captured CO2 was mineralised into rocks.

World’s largest offshore carbon capture project is a go in Malaysia

Company Petronas has made a final investment decision on the CO2 capture, storage and utilisation (CCUS) project in the Kasawari gas field, 200 km off the coast of the Bintulu region, northern Malaysia. The project capacity is up to 3.3 million tons of CO2 equivalent per year, which makes it the largest CCUS initiative undertaken in offshore oil and gas production. The project is expected to contribute to reducing carbon dioxide emissions emitted via flaring by 3.3 million tonnes per annum (mtpa), thereby making it one of the largest offshore CCS projects in the world.

Overall, around 71 to 76 million tonnes of carbon dioxide will be reinjected into the M1 field through the pipeline. The carbon dioxide removal will be conducted leveraging a membrane separation technology with the help of two trains of low pressure booster compressors. An additional two trains will be used for reinjecting the separated carbon dioxide into a dedicated storage site.

Saudi Arabia sets sights on one of world’s largest CCUS hubs 

Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Muhammed bin Salman announced that his country will deploy “one of the largest CCUS hubs in the world”. The facilities, he said, will be designed to capture 44 million tons of CO2 by 2035. That is 18 per cent of the 2022 global total – and equivalent to 15 per cent of the kingdom’s agreed climate targets by 2035.

A recent study conducted by the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative (OGCI) identified Jubail in Saudi Arabia as a potential site for new CCS facilities, and Saudi oil giant Aramco lists several live CCS projects, including sequestration – burying harmful gasses underground – and power for cars and trucks. But perhaps the best-known form of carbon capture is nature – trees, especially. As part of the Saudi Green Initiative, Saudi Arabia will plant 50 billion trees over the coming decades – a commitment reaffirmed by the Crown Prince at Cop27.

Final thoughts

CCUS projects are undoubtedly key infrastructure additions in the global race towards achieving net-zero emission targets. The IPCC’s latest report warns there’s a waning window of time to act on rapid emission reductions, so implementing CCUS initiatives will be vital for decision-makers not only in the UK, but worldwide, who are working towards adopting greener solutions that have the power to have a real and lasting impact.

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