What is Carbon Capture and Storage?

Published on:
by Aaroshi Rathor
Dusk image of smoke billowing from oil refinery in  Gdańsk, Poland
A refinery in Gdańsk, Poland.

The implications of climate change are catastrophic for the environment. Everyone, regardless of gender or ethnicity, is being impacted, from the loss of livelihood to the closure of businesses. Dire situations often lead us to search for a technological fix, something to help us stop climate change. Is this possible?

Some might respond by planting trees or reducing industrial activity. These approaches, however, are impractical in terms of reversing the impacts of climate change alone. How about, then, massively reducing the primary problem at its source, that being the emission of greenhouse gases? 

The idea of carbon capture and storage (CCS) comes into play here. Let’s find out more.   

What is Carbon Capture and Storage?

According to Britannica, carbon capture and storage is the process of recovering carbon dioxide from the fossil fuel emissions produced by industrial facilities and power plants and moving it to locations where it can be kept from entering the atmosphere in order to mitigate global warming. 

It is a three-stage process where carbon dioxide is separated or captured from the source and treated and transported to a safe long-term storage place. The separation of carbon dioxide from emissions before they are released into the atmosphere, which aids in lowering the quantity of carbon dioxide emissions released into the atmosphere, is the primary objective of carbon capture and storage.  

Where can CCS be used?

The main targets of carbon capture and storage technologies are major industrial and stationary emission sources like power plants, cement factories, and refineries, big point sources of carbon dioxide emissions like biomass plants, chemical plants, or industrial sources like cement kilns. 

CCS can also be employed in big carbon-based energy facilities and sectors, such as steel and cement production, natural gas processing, and fossil fuel-based hydrogen production, that produce the greatest amounts of carbon dioxide emissions.    

How is carbon dioxide captured and transported?

Large industrial and stationary sources, such as power plants and natural gas, can trap carbon dioxide. The removal of carbon dioxide from fossil fuels can be accomplished in three steps: post-combustion, pre-combustion, and oxyfuel combustion. Adsorption, membrane gas separation, chemical looping, and gas hydration are further techniques for removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. 

It is then transported simply through pipelines, a relatively cheap, safe and dependable method. Additionally, ships, trains and road tankers may be used.

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Where is captured carbon stored? 

Both solid carbonates and deep geological formations are viable options for storing captured carbon dioxide. When compared to mineral carbonate storage, geological formations are thought to offer more storage volume, and deep saline deposits, coal beds, and historic oil and gas reservoirs are most frequently used.  

How can CCS technology help in reducing carbon emissions? 

The primary goal of CCS is to cut greenhouse gas emissions and slow global warming. Governments and businesses are looking to reduce emissions by exploring potential carbon capture technologies in an effort to meet the net-zero emissions goals. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, CCS-equipped power plants can reduce CO2 emissions in the atmosphere by approximately 80-90% as compared to power plants without CCS technology. 

A report by the International Energy Agency (IEA) on the importance of carbon capture technologies states that in order to achieve energy-related Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), Carbon capture technologies are crucial for producing dispatchable, low-carbon electricity. By 2040, 5% of the world's electricity will come from plants using these technologies. In the IEA Sustainable Development Scenario, the significance of CCS-equipped coal and gas plants for safe, cheap, and sustainable power systems increases. 

The overall cost of changing the electricity system can be decreased with CCS technology. IEA analysis shows the marginal abatement costs in the power sector will rise from approximately USD 250/tCO2 in 2060 under a low carbon pathway to USD 450/tCO2 if CO2 storage availability is limited across the global energy system.    

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Challenges with CCS technology 

Despite the many advantages, CCS nevertheless faces significant implementation obstacles. The product's high price, especially when it comes to the energy and equipment required for the collection and compression phases, is one of the main hurdles. According to an IPCC report, a power plant with a CCS system (and access to geological or oceanic storage) would require around 10–40% more energy than a plant with a similar output without a CCS system, with the majority of this additional energy going towards capture and compression. CCS would result in a 15% increase in the fuel needed for a CCS-equipped gas plant.  According to estimates, the cost of electricity from a power plant with CCS will increase by 30–60% due to the cost of this additional fuel, storage, and other system expenditures.   

Another issue is that it can be challenging to store carbon dioxide due to the limited geological space available. In some situations, leakage from a storage reservoir may also occur, providing a health risk to nearby residents. Deep ocean storage will exacerbate ocean acidification in other storage areas, such as the oceans, a problem that is also caused by the excess CO2 that is currently present in the atmosphere and oceans.  

The long-term effects of carbon dioxide underground storage sites that might be affected by natural calamities like earthquakes and tsunamis and which might lead to carbon dioxide leakage leading to more damage are unknown because CCS is still a relatively new technology that needs further research. Similarly, ocean storage and its ecological impacts are still under research, which leads to both practical and investor uncertainty as to the reliability of CCS implementation.   

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Investments in CCS Projects

Notwithstanding the uncertainty, there has been a sharp increase in global investment in CCS projects. According to an Emergen research report, the market size for carbon capture and storage was USD 3.30 billion in 2022, and it is anticipated to grow at a CAGR of 7.0% in the next few years. 

According to a Bloomberg report, Since 2022, investment in carbon capture and storage (CCS) has more than doubled to a record high of USD 6.4 billion. With 45% of all worldwide investments, the US led the pack, although the regional distribution is much more equal than in prior years. Investing in APAC increased to USD 1.2 billion thanks to projects in Australia and Malaysia. 

Although it still lags behind its neighbours in the development of CCS, China has commissioned a pilot project to absorb 0.2 million tonnes of CO2 annually at a petrochemical complex. According to the IEA, beyond North America and Europe, CCS projects are becoming more widespread worldwide. The two main regions for expansion are Asia Pacific, where ten capture projects have been announced since January 2022, which could result in a total capacity of 45 Mt CO2 per year by 2030, and the Middle East, where ten projects are currently being developed in the region in addition to the three that are already in operation.         

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Takeaway 

Although CCS technology may have flaws, it is nevertheless important. While critics may claim that oil and gas companies are using carbon capture and storage (CCS) as a marketing strategy to further pollute the environment and gain subsidies in the name of installing CCS on their sites to increase their carbon emissions, supporters of CCS contend that because of CCS technology. contributes to the production of more electricity by enabling power generation turbines to operate more effectively by employing steam cycles to pressurise carbon dioxide into a fluid state. This means that carbon dioxide is utilised to recover geothermal resources and produce renewable geothermal energy in addition to being injected into and stored at geothermal areas. 

If governments monitor carbon pricing together with the carbon penalty price in order to further develop CCS technology, CCS may be economically feasible. It is vital to realise that regulatory frameworks for CCS technology and storage are being built globally to monitor any carbon dioxide leakages or other concerns, despite critics' claims that investments may be exploited for purposes other than addressing climate change. 

The question of whether CCS is necessary or not is debatable, but the most crucial thing to remember is that climate change is accelerating at a rate that cannot be halted. CCS should be seen as a critical climate technology tool that must be utilised to the utmost extent in order to achieve climate goals, not as a substitute.       

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