With the White House announcement that it will invest $2.3 billion in carbon capture over the coming years, it’s understandable why companies are racing to come up with the best new technology. As governments and energy firms make ambitious aims for carbon reduction, this is only the beginning for carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies.
Last week, the U.S. Department of Energy stated that it was beginning to distribute the $2.3 billion earmarked for CCS technology in President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm explained why the U.S. is investing in CCS, as well as clean energy developments, “Certainly our first preference is to make sure that we are powered by clean, zero carbon-emitting energy. And we’re doing all of that. But you can walk and chew gum.” Adding, “There’s criticism that something like this — carbon capture and sequestration — merely prolongs assets that the fossil [fuel] industry would be using… I will say this: Anything we can do to decarbonize is a good thing.”
Decarbonizing by incorporating CCS technologies in ongoing fossil fuel operations will help the U.S. achieve its target of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. Granholm hopes by investing heavily in various CCS companies and technologies that the price of carbon capture will be driven down through new innovations.
Oil majors are also betting on the future of CCS as ExxonMobil announces that it estimates the carbon capture market could be worth $4 trillion by 2050. Meanwhile, the U.S. energy firm Occidental Petroleum is establishing the biggest CO2 extraction project in the world, believing CCS will eventually become a $3-5 trillion industry.
And now major names, such as Bill Gates, are backing CCS. Gates’ climate tech investment firm, Breakthrough Energy Ventures, recently announced five investments for CCS developments. At present, oil and gas firms can choose whether to use CCS technology in their operations or not, depending on their eagerness to decarbonize while continuing to produce fossil fuels. But if governments around the world introduce carbon taxes, carbon sequestration could become more commonplace.
While many environmentalists question investments in CCS technology, suggesting this could be better placed in renewable energy projects, several international organizations realize the need for CCS. In a 2021 report, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change stated “Carbon Dioxide Removal (CDR) is necessary to achieve net-zero CO2 and GHG emissions both globally and nationally, counterbalancing ‘hard-to-abate’ residual emissions.”
And as interest and funding in CCS increases, various innovations are popping up around the globe. In Israel, the firm High Hopes Lab has designed a carbon-capturing balloon that can be sent up 9 miles into the air to capture and freeze carbon. The balloon falls back down to earth with carbon dioxide stored inside it for it to be sold for industrial use or pumped into the ground to be disposed of safely. The company believes the technology is scalable and could massively reduce CCS costs, aiming for it to cost $100 to $250 per tonne of carbon captured, and eventually $40 to $50.
Swiss company Climeworks AG is also advancing its CCS plans, raising $650 million to expand its Iceland operations. At present, the facility, the world’s largest direct-air capture plant, captures around 4,000 tonnes of CO2 annually. Climeworks hopes to build a factory that can capture 40,000 tonnes within the next three years, aiming to sequester 1 million tonnes of carbon annually by 2030.
The firm is dedicated to using renewable energy in its operations. Its current CCS technology moves large amounts of air over a chemical that is used to filter out CO2. The compound is heated to a high temperature to release CO2, which is then injected underground. However, as the process is energy-intensive, Climeworks relies on green energy to fuel the plant to ensure the process is carbon-free.
In April, a small company at the University of British Columbia in Canada, Carbin Minerals Inc., created a technology that speeds up the process of rocks capturing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. It received financing of $1 million last year, which allowed it to make the technology breakthrough. Demonstrating its process, the firm won XPRIZE funds, which it expects will help it develop the technology further and partner with companies to support their CCS operations.
While CCS technologies are progressing rapidly, there is still no certainty of long-term environmental safety associated with injecting CO2 underground, as many projects currently do. At present, energy firms can relinquish liability for CCS activities, shifting responsibility to the government, in the case of the U.S. Political powers now have the responsibility of regulating the CCS industry and new technologies emerge and operations become more widespread.
Companies are enhancing CCS technologies at a rapid speed, coming up with innovative ways to capture CO2on a bigger scale and at a lower cost. As the U.S. government and several major energy firms invest heavily in the technology, it will soon become commonplace in energy operations around the world.
By Felicity Bradstock for Oilprice.com
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