Natural carbon sinks, such as oceans, vegetation and soils are, and will remain, critical when it comes to the best way to remove carbon from the atmosphere.
But those natural solutions, as presently operating, will not be sufficient to meet climate goals.
It’s not that the systems are not working, they just need to be working better.
In fact, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and International Energy Agency, among many other credible organizations – and they have both outlined a critical role for carbon capture and storage in achieving net-zero emissions by mid-century — enhancements to those sinks will be needed.
Emitting less carbon would help, too.
“One of the misconceptions is that CCS is still too expensive,” said Max Brouwers, Getech’s chief business development officer.
There are many challenges with the successful operation of CCS and carbon capture, utilization and storage, he said, but the incremental societal cost is not one of them.
“A recent paper demonstrated that for just 1 percent increase in cost, CCS implementation could have reduced the CO2 emissions associated with the construction of a bridge by 51 percent,” he said.
This is particularly important of certain industries, Brouwers said – and here he pointed to the bridge’s cement and steel component, which together account for approximately 15 percent of the world’s CO2 emissions.
For those who have only a peripheral knowledge of the issue, Brouwers said there is another misconception that all the CO2 produced in an operation is likely to leak back into the atmosphere.
“A study commissioned by the UK government that modeled 25 years of injection and 100 years of monitoring concluded that more than 99.9 percent of the injected CO2 will be retained within the storage complex,” he explained.
The reason for that is that seepage rates are extremely slow and only significant on geological timescales.
“Only if a major fault would cross-cut the reservoir and extend all the way to the surface, CO2 would be able to migrate much quicker. It’s highly improbable that such major faults will not be picked up during a screening process,” he explained.
Getech, which is a “geoenergy” and green hydrogen company, applies geoscience data and unique geospatial software products to accelerate the energy transition by locating, developing and operating geoenergy and green hydrogen projects.
How Carbon Capture Works
CCS and CCUS describes those technologies designed by capturing CO2 – at power stations, industrial sites or even directly from, as mentioned earlier, natural carbon sinks such as oceans, vegetation and soils which are and will remain critical to removing carbon.
The first step is to capture the CO2 – there are many technologies being developed, such as gas phase separation, absorption into a liquid/solid and hybrid processes like adsorption/membrane systems. This capturing can be carried out in three ways:
- Post-combustion: The CO2 is separated from the flue gas of a power station by “bubbling” it through an absorber, after combustion of the fossil fuel.
- Oxyfuel: The fuel is burned in pure oxygen, which results in a nearly pure CO2 flue gas.
- Pre-Combustion: Removing CO2 where the fuel is partly oxidized. The resulting CO in the syngas is shifted into CO2 when it reacts with H2O. The CO2 can then be captured from a relatively pure exhaust stream.
Geological Skills Needed
Brouwers, who spoke at the recent Energy Opportunities conference in a presentation entitled “Best Practices and Applications for Carbon Capture Use and Storage,” said the focus of the program was less on the technologies that capture the carbon but the geology that produces it, specifically how to locate potential storage sites, how to screen and rank alternative sites, how to monitor storage sites during and post injection, how to verify the injected CO2 remains where it is supposed to be.
What’s promising, he said, is that many of the geoscience skills and capabilities from the oil and gas industry are directly transferable to the geoscience required for CCUS, including predicting reservoir and seal quality, determining the probability of success, calculating storage volume potential and evaluating the direction and amount of fluid flow, including connectivity and formation pressure changes.
The differences, which are notable, is that unlike oil and gas exploration, there is a need to predict geology far into the future. Because the subsurface might change during operations, there will be need for monitoring post operation and, at the moment, there are few analogues to date.
This effort to capture more carbon will not, he believes, be successful if not done in partnership.
“Governments will need to set clear, transparent and stable regulatory frameworks, to encourage investment in CCS,” said Brouwers.
To that end, he sees progress in the form of carbon pricing now being in place for 70 percent of world’s GDP, though not yet at “sufficient levels.” He also believes more impactful examples of government support include the United States’ Inflation Reduction Act and the European Union’s carbon border tax. Further, in the 2022 infrastructure bill, the U.S. Congress has budgeted billions of dollars of funding to CCS technology. Further, even though the Supreme Court’s recent ruling in the West Virginia v. EPA curtailed the agency’s ability to curb emissions, it still allows the Environmental Protection Agency to require carbon capture as a way to reduce CO2 emissions from fossil-fuel-fired power plants.
As CCS is still in an early stage of application, Brouwers believes financial stimulus will be required to make it more attractive for the early adopters.
“This is the same as we saw in the early days of solar and wind,” he said.
The advantage of CCS, he explained, is that it will help to decarbonize sectors that otherwise struggle to reach net-zero, especially for those processes that inherently generate CO2, such as cement production.
To meet the international climate goals, the use of CCS needs to ramp-up dramatically, he said. Progress is being made, with a 44-percent increase in capacity of facilities under development and 61 one new facilities added to the project pipeline over the past 12 months.
“CCS is not the panacea, but a vital instrument for the world to reduce climate change,” said Brouwers.