CCUS – or should that be Carbontech?

In contrast to the wintry and snowy weather that battered the UK, it was sunny and hot in Tampa, Florida, at the 10th Carbon Dioxide Utilization Summit (27 Feb to 1 Mar). More than fifty delegates from America, Asia and Europe with backgrounds in industry, university, government and other organisations attended the Summit.

Carbon capture and utilisation (CCU) is a technology that traps emissions from power plants and industrial processes and then uses the captured CO2 as feed stock to produce value-added, marketable products and therefore, stops CO2 from entering the atmosphere. Currently, there is a wide variety of CO2 utilisation technologies that are under development, all at various stages.

At the Summit, progress in a wide range of COutilisation technologies were presented by developers covering CO2 to fuels/chemicals, CO2-enhanced oil recovery (EOR), CO2 enhanced algae cultivation and algae-based fuels, chemicals and fertiliser as well as CO2 curing of concrete.

Lowering the carbon footprint, increasing resource efficiency and conservation of primary carbon resources are vital for sustainable economic growth while meeting the challenge of climate change. Therefore, carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS), an alternative to carbon capture and storage (CCS), is attracting growing interest and R&D (research and development) is being carried out worldwide in all fields of CO2 utilisation. These technologies can potentially provide opportunities of emission savings for power and other industrial sectors by substituting fossil raw materials, increasing efficiency and using renewable energy, and generating revenues through producing marketable products.

President Trump has recently signed the budget bill which contained new legislation that could create the next generation technologies to mitigate climate change and increased spending on R&D of clean energy technologies including CCU. The amended Section 45Q significantly increased and extended the tax credit for CO2 sequestration. Here is how it works:

  • any new fossil-fuel power plant or CO2 producing industry that commences construction before 2024 is eligible for tax credits for up to 12 years
  • the tax credits offered are based on per tonne of CO2 captured: $30 if the CO2 is utilised or $50 if it is simply buried in underground storage.

The 45Q tax credits will change the equation and spur the development of the CCUS technology. However, CCUS will have to overcome the technological and financial barriers as well as the barrier of poor public perception. The results of a recent survey presented by Dr Matt Lucas from the Center for Carbon Removal, an organisation based in California, USA, raised a few eyebrows.

Only half of the US Congressional staff know what CCS is; half of them associate CCS with ‘clean coal’; and few agreed that ‘it works’ and ‘is safe’. The majority of Congressional staff do not know what CCUS is!

Dr. Lucas proposed to use the term ‘Carbontech’ instead of CCUS and defined Carbontech as ‘an emerging innovation theme where value is created from the conversion of industrial and atmospheric carbon to fuels, soils, chemicals, plastics, materials, and other industrial products’.

Whichever term is used, it is important to increase the public awareness of this technology and its role in CO2 emissions mitigation. CCUS needs to attract wider support from corporations, governments, environmentalists and the public to deploy low-carbon baseload power, even if it comes from fossil fuels. The International Energy Agency (IEA) has recently called for urgent action in support of CCUS. It notes that, despite important strides having been made in the development of CCUS, progress is lagging far behind other low carbon technologies. The IEA stresses that without CCUS, the climate challenge will be much bigger and indeed, coal use will be seriously constrained in the future. The task is huge, but there are reasons for optimism, having seen the developments in progress at the Summit in Florida.

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