ANALYSIS – Scarce carbon storage threatens net zero push as emissions continue to rise
* Net zero commitments are based on more carbon storage than what is built
* Switching to hydrogen as a fuel will increase the demand for carbon capture
* Emissions ‘take-back’ rule for fossil fuel companies could help
LONDON, July 2 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – A wave of net zero commitments from governments and businesses, along with plans to cut industrial emissions and get new electricity from hydrogen mean that efforts to block more climate emissions underground must increase rapidly, energy analysts say.
But accelerating the build-up of sufficient carbon capture and storage (CCS) capacity to meet expected demand – and meet global climate targets – faces huge hurdles, including the fact that Most climate polluters still aren’t billed for the damage they cause.
In a few places, from Norway to the Canadian province of Alberta, companies that emit greenhouse gases are taxed, making the payment to pump them into long-term underground storage more attractive and feasible – even if the prices of the service are still high.
But for a larger system to take hold, “you need a market (for CCS) and governments have failed to develop it anywhere in the world,” said Stuart Haszeldine, professor of capture. and carbon storage at the University of Edinburgh.
So far, only around 20 commercial CCS projects are operating globally, with plans for 30 more, according to a comment released by the International Energy Agency (IEA) in February.
Those first 20 factories – many of which were built to reduce emissions from fossil fuel production – jointly capture around 40 million tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) per year, according to experts at CCS.
But to keep global heating at 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial times – the most ambitious goal of the Paris Agreement – 800 million tonnes of CO2 must be stored each year using the CCS by 2030 and 2.8 billion tonnes per year by 2050, according to a 2020 report from the Global CCS Institute.
This week, a Coalition for Negative Emissions report upped that estimate, noting that one billion tonnes of CO2 already in the atmosphere would need to be sucked out by 2025 to meet the 1.5 ° C target and a another billion tonnes each year thereafter. .
But the current pipeline of developing CCS projects could only remove around 150 million tonnes of CO2 by 2025, he said.
“All over the world we are facing a very deep problem,” Haszeldine told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in a telephone interview.
STILL INCREASING EMISSIONS
The need to lock carbon dioxide underground stems from a central issue: Five years after the adoption of the Paris Agreement, emissions continue to rise, except for a brief drop related to COVID -19 in 2020.
This is happening even as scientists say emissions must fall 45% by 2030 from 2010 levels to keep global warming at 1.5 ° C.
To reduce emissions – and the growing threats they cause, such as more extreme and costly heat waves, storms and fires – people must quickly stop using fossil fuels, scientists say.
But breaking global dependence on these fuels is proving extremely difficult, even as the prices of renewable alternatives from solar to wind fall and countries and companies accounting for two-thirds of the world’s economic output s ‘commit to net zero.
The too slow transition to clean energy means that capturing some carbon emissions and locking them in old oil and gas wells, salty underground aquifers or porous rocks is now inevitable to help bridge the gap, scientists say. .
Storage technology will also be vital for nascent “negative emissions” efforts to suck up some of the CO2 already in the air, especially if climate targets are missed as it increasingly seems likely.
The IEA says CCS will be used to capture emissions from three main sources: fossil fuel power plants as they are phased out, high carbon industries like steel and cement, and the production of an emerging energy source: hydrogen.
Hydrogen could replace transportation fuels like oil, power plants and home heating, as natural gas boilers are phased out as part of net zero commitments in countries like Britain.
But making “green” hydrogen takes a lot of energy. It could eventually come from large-scale solar and wind power, but there probably won’t be enough clean electricity for the next 20 years, even if the capacity is added fairly quickly, Haszeldine said.
By then, much of the hydrogen will likely be produced using fossil fuels, with the resulting emissions captured and stored underground to reduce its carbon footprint, he said.
Already, the expected demand for CCS from fossil-fueled power plants is declining as the new deployment of solar, wind and other renewables ever cheaper around the world, analysts say.
“History has changed and is less about CCS for power,” said Stephen Smith, executive director of the Oxford Net Zero initiative.
As governments and businesses recognize the vast gap between their plans to use CCS and available storage – and what it means to meet their net zero goals – some are stepping up efforts to increase capacity.
Britain, for example, as part of its Green Industrial Revolution plan, has allocated £ 1bn ($ 1.4bn) to a new CCS infrastructure fund and aims to spur the creation of new industrial poles with attached CCS.
The United States in turn has agreed to provide key tax credits for CCS technology to attract more investment.
But financial support for the CSC is still too low, said Richard Black, a net zero expert at the Grantham Institute at Imperial College London, at a Climate Action Week event in London. .
Although it features prominently in many national and corporate net zero plans, CCS does not yet exist on a significant scale, he said.
“This will only become a reality when governments invest a lot of money to make it happen,” he said.
Haszeldine, of the University of Edinburgh, thinks a smart way to pump money into CCS would be to require fossil fuel companies to pay to “take back” the emissions created by their products.
They are already experts at pumping CO2 underground, having done so for more than half a century on a small scale to extract the last remaining oil and gas from drying wells.
As part of a “take-back” proposal supported by Haszeldine and colleagues, companies would be required to neutralize, through underground storage, an increasing percentage of their emissions from 2025 and reaching 100% by 2040 or 2050 .
Such a plan would boost investment in renewables as they become relatively cheaper – and could even help fossil fuel companies shift to a new business model as carbon sequestration companies, he said. added.
Christian Mumenthaler, CEO of insurance company Swiss Re Group, said “massive investments” are needed in CCS as the nascent industry is expected to grow almost to the size of the current oil and gas industry.
“It’s a huge challenge,” he said at an online event. “It’s like saying we have to go to Mars in 10 years.”
While not cheap, not running the CCS would be much more expensive, Haszeldine pointed out, as the risks of wildfires, heatwaves and other climate threats increase.
“We will end up spending more and more of our time repairing after giant storms and flooding caused by rising sea levels. We are going to see an increase in crop failures and migration – things that cannot be done. manage for us, ”he said.
The price to pay for rapid scale-up of CCS “is minimal compared to the alternative,” he added. (Reporting by Laurie Goering @lauriegoering; edited by Megan Rowling. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters. Visit news.trust.org/climate)