CCS and CCUS present significant opportunities to reduce carbon emissions and mitigate the effects of climate change. While the focus has been on carbon storage in recent years, the question of utilization is becoming increasingly important. In its recent report, French think tank EdEN (Equilibre des Energies) presented its findings on the prospects of carbon capture, storage, and utilization (CCS and CCUS) for achieving carbon neutrality, highlighting their importance in the ecological and economic transition. The think tank advocates for better integration of these technologies into the energy and climate plans of European countries.
How to combat climate change and achieve carbon neutrality? Reducing emissions at the source remains crucial. Therefore, the pursuit of energy efficiency, renewable energies, and the transition to more sustainable transportation methods are at the forefront of solutions. However, it will be challenging to completely eliminate carbon.
Therefore, it is essential to implement other solutions in parallel, to capture and store industrial CO2 in geological formations (CCS) and also to utilize the captured CO2 (CCUS).
CCS and CCUS
CCS (Carbon Capture and Storage) involves directly capturing CO2 emissions at their source, such as coal-fired power plants or industrial facilities, and storing them long-term in suitable geological formations.
CCUS (Carbon Capture, Usage, and Storage) goes beyond simple carbon storage by aiming to utilize it productively. Captured CO2 can be used for the production of synthetic fuels, enhanced oil recovery, or the creation of chemicals.
Jean-Pierre Hauet, the President of the Scientific Committee of EdEN which recently published a study on the challenges of CCS and CCUS, explained during a press briefing last April that CCS was a popular topic in the early 2000s but lost interest over time.
“There was great enthusiasm for carbon capture technologies, particularly in the United States (FutureGen), where a significant clean coal power plant project was envisioned. However, this program never came to fruition, and interest in CCS gradually declined. It is worth noting that the price of carbon also plummeted during this period: from 2010 to 2017, the price of carbon in Europe was around six euros per tonne.”
Today, CCS and its variant CCUS are experiencing a resurgence as solutions to mitigate CO2 emissions.
According to Mr. Hauet, this is motivated by several factors, including the increasing price of CO2 in international markets. The price per tonne of CO2 has significantly risen in recent years, from 6 euros in 2017 to 90 euros in March 2023.
There is also the reality principle. One of the challenges in the fight against climate change is that human activity can hardly do without carbon. Regardless of the scenario, even after all other measures to reduce CO2 emissions have been taken, it will still be necessary to address residual emissions. Carbon remains essential for the production of many processes and products.
“Even with considerable efforts to reduce CO2 emissions, we will not be able to eliminate them completely. Natural carbon sinks will be insufficient. We will need carbon sinks to store carbon deep underground.”
Hence the need to develop more CCS projects. There are currently 35 CCS projects underway worldwide, particularly in the North Sea and the United States, capturing around 44 million tonnes of CO2 per year.
The Northern Light project is one of these projects. It is led by Total Énergies, Equinor, and Shell with the support of the Norwegian government. Its aim is to collect liquefied CO2 by ship from hubs in the North Sea (Dunkirk, Zeebrugge) and pump it to a deep geological layer off the coast of Norway, 2,500 meters below the seabed.
“We are seeing a business model emerging that starts with trapping and collecting CO2 in industrial areas, followed by transportation to coastal hubs where it is temporarily stored. Then, companies propose to transport the CO2 to deep geological storage sites, mainly in marine areas, thus providing a CO2 elimination service.”
Capture techniques (such as oxy-combustion or cold-based CO2 recovery), transportation, and storage have advanced significantly in recent years. According to Mr. Hauet, one can envision hubs along the Black Sea and even the Mediterranean.
The International Energy Agency (IEA) gives Mr. Hauet reasons to believe that CCS and CCUS are future solutions and will play a key role in achieving global carbon neutrality.
“The IEA mentions in its sustainable development scenario the capture of 5.7 billion tonnes of CO2 by 2050 and 10 billion tonnes by 2070. This shows that CCS and CCUS will be indispensable for decarbonizing certain sectors.”
The European Union also considers CCS and CCUS technologies as zero-carbon technologies in its NZIA regulation project. CCS is even recognized as a “strategic” technology.
The European Commission expects to capture 300 to 500 million tonnes of CO2 by 2050, with a minimum of 50 million tonnes stored annually to achieve carbon neutrality.
Developing CO2 Valorization Solutions
However, Mr. Hauet believes that further steps should be taken, particularly in better utilizing CO2 as a carbon source. While industrial CO2 storage is a short-term solution toward carbon neutrality, CO2 recovery could be used to manufacture new products.
Currently, CCUS remains marginal. According to the IEA, only 250 Mt/year of CO2 was utilized in 2020 mainly for urea production and enhanced oil recovery. The agri-food industry consumes a limited amount of CO2 for soft drink production.
But according to EdEN, new applications can be developed, such as the production of synthetic fuels, hydrogen, and construction materials from minerals. In this case, the IEA estimates CO2 recovery between 1 and 7 Gt by 2030.
“Synthetic fuels are probably the major outlet that will emerge in the coming years and decades. Aviation will need significant quantities of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) that will need to be produced from carbon. Carbon can come from biomass, but we are increasingly realizing that biomass is a limited resource that will not be easy to collect. So, the time will come when we will need to seek carbon from elsewhere.”
The cement industry could also decarbonize through CCUS technologies. The industry aims to reduce its emissions by 80% by 2050, and according to EdEN, CCUS could lead to a 5 MtCO2 reduction for the French sector by 2050.
However, all these technologies come at a cost, which can be assessed in terms of the cost per tonne of avoided CO2.
“In our study, we made approximate estimates focusing on hydrogen production. The three currently available technologies are electrolysis, methane reforming, and methane reforming with carbon capture and storage. For this technology to become completely self-sufficient without public support, the carbon price should reach around 150 euros per tonne, while it currently stands at 90 euros.”
The environmental legitimacy of CO2 reuse is also debated. Only the reuse of CO2 captured by direct air capture (DAC) would be climate-neutral.
Moreover, as Mr. Hauet states,
“All these techniques will require a significant amount of decarbonized electricity, particularly those related to CO2 recovery from the air.”
Nevertheless, he predicts that CCS and CCUS will generate increased interest in the coming years. Many countries, such as the United States, the United Kingdom, Norway, the Netherlands, Germany, Italy, Sweden, and Poland, are already interested in these technologies.
“CO2 is both a waste and a resource, and CCS and CCUS represent two complementary approaches. Public policies should, therefore, encourage CCS due to the climate emergency while preparing for carbon-neutral CO2 recovery techniques such as direct air capture and the development of eco-responsible fuels in line with European regulations.”
According to him, European countries, including France, have an interest in developing a CCUS industry to address emissions from sectors such as cement production, steelmaking, and the chemical industry.