In the relentless pursuit of sustainable solutions to combat climate change, Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) technology emerges as a potential game-changer. CCS tackles the critical issue of CO2 emissions, a major contributor to the planet’s rising temperatures, as global energy-related CO2 emissions reached a new high of over 36.8 Gt in 2022.
This groundbreaking technology operates by capturing CO2 emissions at their source, preventing their release into the atmosphere, and subsequently storing them underground. It is particularly useful when dealing with the emission of Hard-To-Abate industries such as steel production, cement, and chemical manufacturing, shipping, and aviation. With the term Hard-To-Abate industries we refer to sectors that face significant challenges in reducing their greenhouse gas emissions. That is due to the nature of their processes or their over reliance on carbon-intensive production processes that often involve the combustion of fossil fuels, chemical reactions that release carbon dioxide, or processes where emission reduction technologies are not easily applicable.
The essence of CCS lies in its ability to intercept CO2 before it exacerbates the greenhouse effect, a feat with profound implications for climate change mitigation.
This article navigates through the intricacies of CCS, unraveling the mechanisms that make it a frontrunner in the fight against global warming, with the possibilities it opens as well as the challenges to make it a scalable technology.
How does this technology work?
But how does the process work? The process can be broken down into three main stages: capture, transportation, and storage.
The Capture phase is the first one. The capture can take place both before and after combustion, depending on the process. It is important that only CO2 is captured, hence, in the case emissions comprehending other gasses, some solvents may be applied to extract only carbon dioxide.
Once captured, the CO2 is compressed into a dense form for efficient transportation. Most of the times, it is transformed into its liquid state in order to move it through pipelines (similar to those used for natural gas). The CO2 is moved to specific storage sites.
Finally, the storage phase consists of storing the CO2 in geological wells such as depleted oil and gas fields or deep saline aquifers. The storage sites must possess specific characteristics that ensure the secure containment of CO2 over the long term. Once injected underground, the CO2 is trapped by impermeable rock layers, preventing its escape into the oceans and seas.
By intercepting CO2 emissions at their source and securely storing them underground, CCS effectively reduces the carbon footprint of industries and power plants. As of 2023, 42.5 Mt of CO2 are captured yearly, but there is still wide room for improvement as IEA’s projection for 2020 was to store up to 300 Mt of CO2 per year.
A further advantage is that, when implemented in companies operating sectors difficult to decarbonize, it allows to maintain the production process as they are, while making them greener. Hence, existing infrastructures and current production levels are not impacted. At the same time, the development and deployment of CCS technologies can create jobs in research, engineering, construction, and maintenance, fostering economic growth in related industries.
On the other hand, this technology comes with a price. First of all, it is very costly to implement; costs include the installation of capturing tools and the transportation, but also the analysis, maintenance, and continuous monitoring of geological wells for storage. At the same time, there is the matter of public acceptance to be considered: although proved to be safe, citizens may not be comfortable with the idea of having their seas cover tons of carbon dioxide.
CCS in Europe
CCS is a well-developed technology and is being used in many countries of the world, such as the US, Canada, Australia, while in Europe there are, currently, only three commercial functioning projects (Sleipner and Snøhvit in Norway and Orca in Iceland). More projects are being planned and built in other European countries like the UK, Greece, the Netherlands, and Italy (Ravenna HUB). Over the years EU institutions have been leaning towards support on a financial and legislative standpoint, of this technology, culminating with the Net Zero Industry Act published in 2023. The Act, which is part of the Green Deal Industrial Plan, aims at promoting investments in the production capacity of products that are key in meeting EU’s climate neutrality goals. Projects exploiting one of the 8 listed technologies (among which there is Carbon Capture and Storage) will indeed receive financial support from the European Union.
What’s the future? What do you think about it?
Even if CCS is a growing and spreading technology, there is still a lot to be done. More regulation is necessary to clearly define the responsibilities of each agent present in the value chain (emitters, transporters, companies storing it…) and additional investments are required to make the technology as scalable as possible and accessible to a growing number of companies, including smaller ones. Furthermore, regulation should also focus on the international transport and storage of CO2 to help smaller countries or countries who do not have any geological availability in reducing their emissions as well.
What about you? What do you think? Did know what CCS was and how it worked?