Carbon Capture and Storage and its Role in Reducing Emissions from Heavy Industry

On the third day of COP25, I got to attend a very interesting side event at the Britain and Northern Ireland Pavilion about how we can use carbon capture and storage (CCS) clusters to transform carbon heavy industries. I am not very well versed on CCS technology or policy, so I found it really interesting to attend this event and see how CCS can be supplementary to emissions reductions policy in order to help meet our Paris Goals.

What I found very interesting about this CCS talk the background that they gave about carbon heavy industries like cement production and industrial works. I didn’t ever really think about how we can reduce emissions in these industries which are key for development and infrastructure. These industries are hard to abate sectors and are not easy to implement solutions for. This is mostly due to the fact that heavy industries requires large amounts of heat to operate, and alternative fuel sources such as nuclear do not burn hot enough for industry. Therefore it is very hard to figure out how to create enough heat for the industry to keep producing. CCS provides an innovative solution. CCS captures carbon from emission and prevents it from entering the atmosphere. Carbon is captured from the emissions and then is stored either underground or in deep aquifers. When coupled with the use of biomass fuel, CCS can even turn processes carbon negative. (For some more in depth background about CCS, click here.)

Will Gardener, the CEO of Drax Powerplant in the UK spoke how his plant has used carbon capture to decrease their overall emissions. There has historically not been a good use of CCS in the UK, so his plant is revolutionary. The plant uses biomass burners to generate electricity rather than traditional coal burners, and captures the carbon emitted. This carbon is then sold for other industries such as the soda industry. This implementation of CCS is predicted to have a possible 16 million tons of negative emissions per year for Drax powerplant. That is huge.

Read more about Drax’s CCS and biomass project here.

Gardener then spoke about what was needed to further help proliferate CCS projects throughout the UK. Firstly, he spoke about how coupling CCS with a carbon tax can aid in its widespread implementation and incentivize companies to invest in CCS. Secondly, he spoke about the need for carbon clusters, in which many companies share a reservoir to store carbon. This way, it helps reduce costs in research about where to store captured carbon and thus makes the technology costs decrease. Gardener really drove home that in order for CCS to become popular, it must be cost effective. He even went as far to say that it must even be less expensive than things like aviation. This was a really interesting thought, and something that kept coming up during COP25. For most technologies to work, policies to be implemented or changes to be made, costs need to be low. It makes me hopeful that as people continue to work on technology, costs will be driven down like they were for wind and solar, and that technology such as CCS become more widespread.

After Gardener spoke Julio Freidmann, the self-called “carbon wrangler.” With his cowboy boots and vibrant personality, Freedman spoke about the necessity of CCS in our future if we hope to limit warming to 2C. He said that we need to store at least 2 billion tons of carbon per year by 2020 if we hope to meet our Paris Goals. He seemed hopeful that the IPCCC 1.5 report is going to influence the popularity of CCS technology, as the report emphasized the need for significant amount of CCS to be able to reach net zero by 2050. Moreover, Freedman seemed hopeful that CCS is the future. Currently there are 90 industrial facilities world wide that utilize CCS, and that with the diverse applications of CCS across industries, CCS has been entering the sustainable finance world. This is all good news.

Julio Freedman speaking at the UK Pavilion.

 The next wave of CCS, says Freidmann, is the widespread use of hubs and clusters which Gardener also touched on. Instead of having a single source storing their harnessed carbon in one place, hubs allow for multiple industrial sources to be into the pipeline and transportation structure. This would allow companies to focus on their own capabilities for CCS instead of infrastructure and transportations, given companies a comparative advantage. Moreover, it decreases the unit cost. Despite this however, Freedman emphasized that large amounts of asset protection should be implemented because the use of hubs and clusters introduces chain risks that could potentially be messy.

This idea of hubs and clusters is interesting to me, because not only would it reduce transportation and infrastructure costs, but it would further decrease the amount of emissions needed since some carbon heavy processes are eliminated. Overall, I was very impressed with the carbon capture talk and it has influenced me to do some further research on carbon capture and its capabilities in helping us reach our Paris Goals.

Follow Julio Friedmann on Twitter:

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