CCUS to play vital role in driving net-zero alongside electrification

The Energy Transitions Commission (ETC) has released its latest report, ‘Carbon capture, utilisation and storage in the energy transition: Vital but limited’, which highlights the complimentary role carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS) has to play alongside zero-carbon electricity, clean hydrogen and sustainable bioresources in delivering a net-zero economy by mid-century.

According to the report, massive clean electrification is the backbone of global decarbonisation. However, electrification, hydrogen and sustainable bioenergy combined cannot reduce gross emissions completely to zero. In addition, it is almost certain that cumulative CO2 emissions between now and 2050 will exceed the ‘carbon budget’ consistent with a 1.5°C climate objective. So, to limit temperature rises to 1.5°C, carbon removals will be required alongside deep and rapid cuts in emissions.

CCUS must therefore play three vital but limited roles in the energy transition. Firstly, it must help decarbonise those sectors where alternatives are technically limited, such as the cement industry, which produces large amounts of CO2 by their nature. Secondly, it needs to deliver some of the carbon removals that are required in addition to rapid decarbonisation if global climate objectives are to be achieved. And finally, it must provide a low-cost decarbonisation solution in some sectors and
geographies where CCUS is economically advantaged relative to other decarbonisation options locally or captured carbon could be a useful input to a product.

“As a low-carbon, but not zero-carbon technology, CCUS has a complimentary role to play in decarbonisation alongside massive clean electrification, hydrogen and sustainable bio-resources. Collective action by government, corporates and investors is needed now to ensure that CCUS can scale-up and play this vital but limited role in industrial decarbonisation and deliver some of the carbon removals essential to keeping 1.5°C alive,” said Adair Turner, Chair, ETC.

The ETC’s report assesses the roles which CCUS must play on the path to net-zero and what must happen to ensure it can do so. It concludes that, by 2050, the world will likely need to capture and either use or store between seven and ten gigatonnes per year (Gt/year) of CO2, equivalent to between 18 and 25 per cent of today’s CO2 emissions. Of this, between three and five GtCO2/year will be needed to achieve net zero emissions in industrial and energy applications, such as cement, steel and hydrogen production, where the use of electricity, hydrogen, or sustainable bioenergy does not provide a complete solution to decarbonisation. This use of CCUS would offset the continued consumption of nine million barrels per day of oil – 90 per cent lower than today – and 2,700 BCM of gas per year – over 30 per cent lower than today – while still achieving a zero-emission economy.

The report goes on to say that, provided strong regulations are in place, CCUS can be technically reliable, achieving CO2 capture rates of 90 per cent and above, and securely locking up carbon for long durations. This can be achieved at costs which enable it to play an economically valuable role on the path to net zero. However, the current pace of development of CCUS is far short of what is required. This reflects past confusions about where CCUS is most needed, inadequate investment, and controversies which have generated public opposition. A combination of private investment and supporting public policy is required to ensure that CCUS can play its vital but limited role going forward.

“Recognising that CCUS is one vital tool in the decarbonisation portfolio, alongside others such as accelerating clean electrification, immediate action is required by government, corporates and investors to turn plans into reality and increase the deployment of high capture CCUS in the next decade. Reduced development time, strong regulation, greater investment and shared infrastructure models are all essential to make this possible”, said Ita Kettleborough, Director, ETC.

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