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Bridging the climate gap at COP28 and beyond: How carbon capture can help

November 30, 2023 Work Area: Carbon Capture

This article is part of our COP28 series. Learn more about CATF at COP28.

The Global Stocktake at COP28 marks a pivotal point in global climate efforts where the world will assess its progress towards the goals of the 2015 Paris Agreement. The assessment will not be favorable, and in its wake, governments around the globe will need to elevate their ambitions to narrow the gap toward climate goals quickly. They should look to carbon capture and storage (CCS), among other technologies, to help them do it. 

There is an overwhelming consensus among leading climate scientists, economists, and energy systems experts that carbon capture technologies are essential tools needed to cut carbon pollution and address climate change. In fact, carbon capture and storage is included in almost all the UN IPCC’s pathways for decarbonization for reaching net-zero by midcentury, and the International Energy Agency has called it “impossible” to meet climate goals without it.  

How can carbon capture fit in the climate tool kit? 

  1. It can help decarbonize difficult-to-electrify sectors, including heavy industry: When paired with upstream methane controls, carbon capture and storage can play a valuable role in capturing emissions from key industries that have no, or few other mitigation options. Global industrial sectors like cement and steel inherently emit carbon dioxide through current production processes, which account for approximately one-fifth of all carbon dioxide emissions.  
  1. It can help boost decarbonization of the power sector: While low-carbon energy sources like wind, solar, geothermal, and nuclear energy will likely account for the majority of increased global power generation, carbon capture and storage can help to provide much needed clean dispatchable electricity generation and will be key for the many countries with new and existing coal and natural gas power plants.  
  1. It can help decarbonize the production of zero carbon fuels: Zero-carbon fuels, like hydrogen, have an important role to play in global decarbonization if they can be generated in a way that limits greenhouse gas emissions. Hydrogen generated from fossil gas equipped with carbon capture and storage and stringent upstream methane mitigation measures can play an important role in advancing the clean hydrogen economy at the scale required.   

It’s worth underscoring that there are already more than 30 commercial-scale carbon capture facilities operating globally, permanently capturing and storing around 40 Mt of carbon dioxide annually — the equivalent to the annual emissions from over 8 million passenger cars. More still, the use of carbon capture and storage has already been explicitly included in the climate strategies of several countries like Canada, Australia, Japan, the United Kingdom, China, and the U.S.  And globally, the number of projects announced and in development keeps growing. While not every announced project will end up getting built, the accelerating momentum – including a forty-eight percent increase in 2023 according to the Global CCS Institute – is undeniable.   

How are countries leading on carbon capture? 

In March 2023, the United Kingdom announced that its Spring Budget includes a funding package of up to 20 billion GBP for carbon management technologies. This budget includes significant funding for CO2 transport projects, including a first-of-a-kind “Rail to Zero” carbon capture rail corridor enabling dispersed industrial sites to permanently sequester their carbon dioxide emissions. Additionally, RWE, the largest power producer in the UK, announced three carbon capture and storage projects on natural gas plants throughout the UK, that will total approximately 11 Mt of emissions reductions. The deliberate clustering of these projects is a welcome element, ensuring that the plants are near proposed carbon dioxide transport networks or shipping facilities. 

In Europe, the Net Zero Industry Act (NZIA) proposal from March 2023 has played a pivotal role in carbon capture and storage development by setting storage capacity targets and Member State coordination mandates. So far, 27 projects have been announced in 2023, with Denmark leading as an early adopter of the technology and supportive policies. For example, while carbon dioxide storage in Europe is primarily being sited offshore, Denmark has recently announced several onshore storage projects including the Norne Carbon Storage Hub and the Ruby Storage Project. Not only is onshore storage more economical than offshore, but these projects can also serve as demonstrations for both onshore storage safety and effective community engagement. On the policy front, Denmark has adopted a 20-year subsidy via a carbon capture and storage pool fund for tonnes of negative emissions delivered. Two initial recipients of this pool funding were two Orsted BECCS projects, aiming to sequester 430,000 Mt biogenic CO2 annually.  

Finally, in the U.S, carbon capture and storage development has been catalyzed by the  45Q credit in the Inflation Reduction Act. Over 50 new integrated carbon capture and storage projects were announced between the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act in August 2022 and July 2023, with the range of industrial applications for projects is diversifying from primarily ethanol to steel, cement, and ammonia. Much of the project activity is clustered in close proximity to ideal geologic storage, with Texas and Louisiana leading the way with over 60 of the nearly 200 projects currently planned or in operation in the U.S. In 2023, multiple storage hubs were announced in Texas, including the Bluebonnet Hub, the Coastal Bend Carbon Management Project, and the Milestone Carbon Hub. The Department of Energy also recently awarded funds for a FEED study for capture on the CEMEX Balcones cement plant in New Braunfels, TX.  

Key takeaways 

While detractors may dismiss carbon capture and storage as a distraction from other clean energy investments, the evidence speaks otherwise – it is a proven, ready-to-deploy technology that can significantly contribute to carbon mitigation. The exemplary initiatives undertaken by the carbon capture and storage trailblazers like the UK and Denmark serve as a compelling model for the international community.  

By incorporating carbon capture and storage into their climate portfolios, nations can not only meet ambitious emissions reduction targets but also pave the way for a sustainable and resilient future. The urgency of the climate crisis demands comprehensive and innovative solutions, and carbon capture and storage stands poised to play a crucial role in steering us towards a more sustainable and climate-resilient world. 

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