Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) is a methodology that reduces carbon emissions by preventing them from being emitted into the atmosphere and capturing them on their point source. It is considered a critically important technology for combating global warming and achieving the European Union’s 2030 climate goals and zero emissions by 2050, as envisioned by the European Green Deal and the Paris Treaty.

 A Look at Carbon Capture and Utilization Technologies

Capturing carbon dioxide emissions from industrial processes, such as steel and cement production, or from burning fossil fuels and biomass for power generation; transporting the captured CO2 by ship or pipeline; and storing it deep underground and in geological formations. It is essential to identify a process called Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS) that captures and stores the CO2 from processes where biomass is converted into bioenergy.

This is considered as a CO2 removal. Possible carbon storage sites include saline aquifers and depleted oil and gas fields, which generally must be more than 1 km underground. The main methods of CO2 capture are post-combustion, pre-combustion, and oxy-combustion.

Post-combustion technology separates CO2 from flue gases after fuel combustion, such as by using a chemical solvent. Pre-combustion methods involve converting the fuel, before combustion, into a gas mixture consisting of hydrogen and CO2. Once the CO2 is separated, the remaining hydrogen-rich mixture can be used as fuel. Finally, oxy-combustion technology involves the combustion of an almost pure oxygen-rich fuel to produce CO2 and steam and, thus, the subsequent capture of the released CO2.

CO2 can also be captured directly from the lower atmosphere by drawing in air with fans and passing it through filters composed of solid or liquid sorbents. Therefore, this practice requires more intensive energy consumption and is more expensive since CO2 has a much lower concentration in the atmosphere than combustion gases.

In addition to CCS technology, there is a related methodology, CCUS, which stands for Carbon Capture Utilisation Storage. The primary and only difference is that the carbon, instead of being stored, is reused in industrial processes by converting it into various products. Today, CCUS-derived CO2 is mainly used in the fertilizer and concrete and building industries; however, there are new uses, such as the production of synthetic fuels, chemicals, and CO2-based construction aggregates, which are gaining considerable popularity.

Currently, operational plants equipped with CCUS can capture about 90 percent of the CO2 present in flue gases. It is technologically feasible to achieve higher capture rates, and research is underway to reduce costs.

CCUS Poised for a Transformative Decade

CCUS can also play a strategic role in decarbonization efforts by producing low-carbon electricity and hydrogen, making the energy supply more diverse and flexible, thus contributing to energy security.

Progress in CCS and CCUS technologies has been slow, but development is increasing. In 2022, 61 new CCUS plants were added, so to date, there are 30 CCUS projects in operation, 11 under construction, and 153 in development. The U.S. has the most significant number of CCUS projects in the world, and the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 is expected to further encourage the development of this technology in the coming years.

Work is also underway in Europe to increase the deployment of CCS methodology. Countries such as the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and Norway seek to develop regional industry clusters where multiple companies can benefit from shared transport and storage infrastructure. Moreover, Italy is already home to a CCS technology designed by Limenet (one of Aither CCS projects).

Limenet leverages seawater, calcium carbonate, and renewable energy to convert captured CO2 into stable calcium bicarbonate solutions. These solutions are then safely stored within the ocean, permanently removing CO2 from the atmosphere. Limenet mimics a natural process already occurring in the ocean but at an accelerated pace. This company goes beyond mere capture. By increasing seawater alkalinity, their technology counteracts ocean acidification, a detrimental consequence of excess CO2 absorption. This dual benefit showcases the potential of nature-based solutions in tackling climate challenges.

Net-Zero Industry Act: Europe Targets 50 Million Ton CO2 Storage by 2030

The European Commission also actively supports carbon capture, storage, and utilization projects through programs such as the Innovation Fund and Horizon Europe, which create targeted investments in this technology.

The main legislation that lays legislative foundations for determining a regulatory framework to promote CCS and CCUS technologies is Directive 2009/31/EC on the geological storage of CO2. Also important is Directive 2018/2001 on the Promotion of the Use of Energy from Renewable Sources, which promotes renewable fuels of non-biological origin and, among others, fuels produced from CO2 capture.

On Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2024, the European Commission adopted the “Industrial Carbon Management Communication,” which details how CCS and CCUS technologies could effectively help reduce emissions by 90 percent by 2040 and achieve climate neutrality by 2050.

This Communication is part of the broader Net-Zero Industry Act strategy, in which the Commission proposed achieving a CO2 storage capacity of at least 50 million tons per year by 2030. According to an impact assessment, this figure will grow to about 280 million tons by 2040. The Commission will begin creating a regulatory package to launch a specific market for CO2 transport and storage.

This will involve defining the market structure, costs, standards, infrastructure incentives, and reliable methodologies for accounting for captured CO2. The Commission will also determine the volumes of CO2 that must be removed directly from the atmosphere to meet the reduction targets for 2040 and 2050. Consideration will also be given to accounting for CO2 removed and stored and including it in the ETS. Guidance for project permitting processes will also be defined and an atlas of potential storage sites will be created.

Challenges and Opportunities for CCS/CCUS

While significant progress has been made in CCS and CCUS technologies, with operational plants and others under development, challenges remain. High upfront investment costs and considerable energy demands for operation are hurdles. Still, ongoing technological advancements are projected to drive market growth and reduce operating expenses, ultimately increasing their contribution to climate change mitigation. Recognizing this potential, governments and organizations increasingly invest in and support these technologies, offering a promising, though not the sole, path toward achieving net-zero emissions.


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