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Most carbon capture & utilization technologies may be counterproductive

  • Category
    Environment
  • Published
    9th Mar, 2022

Context

Most carbon capture and utilization (CCU) technologies, which suck carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere and convert it into fuel or other valuable products, might fail to help the world reach Net Zero emissions by 2050, according to a new study.

Background

  • CCU is considered an important tool to help countries halve their emissions by 2030 and reach net-zero by 2050.
  • These goals are crucial to meet the Paris Agreement targets for restricting global warming to 2 degrees Celsius (°C), and preferable to 1.5°C, over pre-industrial levels.

Analysis

  • A majority of these systems are energy intensive and the resultant product can also release CO2 into the atmosphere.
  • Countries should narrow down on the handful of technologies that show more promise and channel investment in them.

What is CCUS?

  • Carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCUS), is a process that captures carbon dioxide emissions from sources like coal-fired power plants and either reuses or stores it so it will not enter the atmosphere.
  • Carbon dioxide storage in geologic formations includes oil and gas reservoirs, coal seams and deep saline reservoirs -- structures that have stored crude oil, natural gas, brine and carbon dioxide over millions of years.

 Status of the Technology:

  • As of 2021, 27 carbon capture, utilization and storage facilities are operating worldwide, and five others are under construction. Many are in the research and development phase, with 67 in the advanced stage and seven in the early stage.
  • Typically, a technology takes 20-30 years to progress from the research and development stage to being available in the market.
  • The authors of the report rated CCU on their technology readiness level (TRL) – ranging from the basic concept (TRL 1) to successful, real-life operation (TRL 9).
  • For a CCU technology to be ready and make a difference on the ground in 2030, it must have reached at least TRL 6 by 2020, according to the study.

Boon or bane?

  • Replacing a conventional fuel with a synthetic fuel like methanol produced via CCU is likely to be a successful mitigation strategy only if clean energy is used to capture CO2 and convert it into synthetic fuel.
  • This raises the question: Can this clean energy not be used more easily and efficiently to directly replace the use of conventional fuel?
  • The researchers warned that most CCU techs might divert attention from more effective emission reduction options like carbon capture and permanent storage and reducing consumption.

Promising technologies:

  • CO2 captured using CCU technologies are converted into fuel (methane and methanol), refrigerants and building materials.
  • The captured gas is used directly in fire extinguishers, pharma, food and beverage industries as well as the agricultural sector.
  • Using CO2 to improve crop yields in agricultural greenhouses and enhanced oil recovery are two examples of mature CCU technologies.
  • Combining CO2 with steel slag (an industrial byproduct of the steel manufacturing process) to make construction materials are compatible with the Paris Agreement goals.
  • Taking stock of the current CCU technologies in meeting the Paris goals can help nations redirect funding to technologies that are more likely to reduce emissions drastically.

Progress in India:

  • Keeping pace with the global developments to building CCU capacity, the Indian government announced that it would establish two CCU centres:
  • The National Centre of Excellence in Carbon Capture and Utilization at IIT, Bombay and
  • The National Centre in Carbon Capture and Utilization at Bengaluru’s Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advanced Scientific Research.
  • The technology is attractive to industries that lack effective clean energy alternatives, especially carbon-intensive sectors that manufacture cement, iron and steel or chemicals.
  • Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) signed a MoU with Indian Oil Corporation Limited (IOCL) for enhanced oil recovery (EOR) by injecting CO2 captured from IOCL’s Koyali refinery, Gujarat.
  • Countries like India would need more construction material in the future, and climate-compatible construction blocks could be a game-changer.

Way Forward:

The country is in a very early stage of adopting these nascent technologies. Over the next couple of years, India should invest in building and strengthening research and development work on CCU technologies. Demonstrating their capabilities will increase stakeholders' confidence in the technology while also helping them understand its uncertainties.

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