The Promising Role of Carbon Capture and Storage to Combat Climate Change

April 22, 2020, marks the 50th anniversary of World Earth Day, which has climate action as the theme. The anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions emitted into the atmosphere from various sources (industries, transportation, oil fields, and others) are the principal cause of climate change. The harmful emissions reaching the atmosphere continue to rise due to a series of complex interactions, including expanding economies, population growth, and improved standards of living. The CO2 concentration in the atmosphere hit a record high of 416.08 parts per million (ppm) on Feb. 10, 2020[1]—the highest daily average ever recorded.

Combating climate change has been the main goal of governments across the world. The United Nations’ Sustainability Development Goals also emphasize the urgency to act; Goal 13 is “take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts.” Climate change has caused widespread concern for stakeholders in several industrial sectors, and responding to climate change has become a major element in their evolving business strategies. Frost & Sullivan identifies the need to reduce the carbon footprint, especially the reduction of emissions from industrial processes, as one of the greatest scientific and technological challenges of the 21st century.

The role of Carbon Capture, Utilization, and Storage

China, the US, India, Russia, and Japan contribute to more than half of the total global greenhouse gas emissions. The large share is due to a high dependency on fossil fuels. Coal resources still dominate the energy mix and remain crucial to the majority of the developed and developing nations. However, there have been significant developments in the formulation of stringent regulations to eliminate the harmful emissions arising as a result of burning coal. It is important to note that while fossil fuels will still be a major part of the energy mix, renewable energy is gradually creeping into this share and the future points toward a world dominated by renewable energy. Global companies are increasingly devising novel strategies to reduce emissions from their industrial operations through technology adoption due to regulatory limits and investor pressure.

Electricity generation and industrial processes using fossil fuels can be integrated with carbon capture, utilization, and storage (CCUS) technologies to reduce their environmental impact. CCUS involves a suite of technologies to capture CO2 emissions from point sources such as industrial emissions or sucked out directly from the atmosphere, and they can be stored underground (carbon capture and storage (CCS)) or used (carbon capture and utilization (CCU)).

While CCS gained significant attention in the past decade, economic and social roadblocks have impacted their adoption potential. CCS projects across the world are currently being deployed at a sluggish pace and global nations cannot rely solely on CCS technologies to meet climate change and sustainable development goals related to CO2 emissions. Frost & Sullivan’s research study “Emerging Technologies Advancing Carbon Capture, Utilization and Storage”[2] reveals that, with every nation facing an urgent climate challenge, serious consideration must be given to alternative technologies such as CCU. The regulatory scenario and the development of cost-effective technologies have proven favorable to CCU in comparison to CCS. The additional revenue stream provided by CCU makes it an attractive opportunity for various industries emitting CO2, particularly small and medium-sized industries, compared to the CCS techniques that require substantial capital investment.

Growth Opportunities

  • Capturing CO2 broadly involves the direct removal of CO2 from flue gas streams through post-combustion techniques or the adoption of low carbon-intensive pre-combustion techniques. The selection of capture technology varies, depending on the source of CO2 and the industrial processes that generate CO2. Absorption (ammine, alkaline, and ammonia) and membrane-based (polymeric) capture techniques have already been implemented at commercial levels in a range of industries. Ionic liquids for absorption have been implemented at the laboratory scale, while the adsorption and chemical looping methods are still in laboratory investigation stages.
  • The CO2 emissions captured offer both environmental and economic benefits for stakeholders. The captured CO2 can be:
    • Permanently stored underground (geological storage, ocean storage, storage in terrestrial ecosystem) to offset emissions from industries, effectively paving the way for net-zero carbon emissions.
    • Used for enhanced oil recovery to extract additional hard-to-reach crude from existing wells.
    • Transformed into new products, such as:
      • Chemicals or chemical intermediates – formic acid, oxalic acid.
      • Fuels – syngas, methane, ethanol.
      • Polymers – polyols, carbon nanotubes, polyacrylonitrile.
      • Building materials – carbonation activation/CO2 mineralization for cement and aggregates production.
    • Used directly in industrial processes (food & beverages, chemicals, and others) and can make an industry carbon-neutral or carbon-negative by offsetting the need for man-made CO2.
  • Managing carbon emissions enables businesses to ensure long-term success on the sustainability front in today’s competitive business environment. Carbon-intensive industries such as oil & gas, cement, iron & steel, and others have already begun technological investment and diversification of energy mix, creating internal climate targets and environmental risk assessment programs to mitigate the climate change impact due to their operations.
  • Curbing carbon emissions also leads to improved energy efficiency in many processes in both small- and large-scale applications. It offers several opportunities across sectors through better insulation, more efficient boilers and appliances, using heating controls, efficient lighting systems using smart sensors, and more. Such opportunities reduce carbon emissions and improve energy efficiency.