Carbon capture technology is heading in the wrong direction


Carbon capture technology, often sold as a solution to reduce GHG emissions from heavy industry – the most difficult sector to decarbonise – is still a long way from the target, according to a recent analysis by financial services firm ING .

The pipeline of new carbon capture and storage (CCS) projects aimed at removing CO2 from emissions from power plants and industrial installations is growing. But most of the projects expected to come online this decade don’t tackle industrial pollution. Instead, the greatest growth is expected to come from carbon capture combined with fossil fuel power plants, similar to how most of the 40 million tons of CCS capacity the world currently has is used to process carbon. natural gas.

Those prospects don’t seem to match what some CCS proponents say is the best use case for the technologies. Much of the recent enthusiasm for the technology has focused on its ability to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from critical industries such as cement, steel and fertilizer production. Certainly, some proponents would rather see polluting facilities moved out of their neighborhoods than equipped with new climate technology. But industrial pollution accounts for about a third of global carbon dioxide emissions, and it is difficult to eliminate because this type of production often requires extremely high temperatures that are difficult to achieve with renewable energy.

CCS is rapidly gaining momentum in the US, with support from both Republicans and the Biden administration. Earlier this week, as part of a wider effort to reduce pollution from the industrial sector, the Biden administration announced new federal guidelines for evaluating CCS projects that could encourage “widespread deployment” of the technologies. And in an effort to speed up permitting in Louisiana, Republican Senator Bill Cassidy threatened to block the nomination of Biden’s nominees to the Environmental Protection Agency leadership because of the agency’s “delays” in approving his state’s application to wells for captured carbon dioxide.

Despite those efforts, carbon capture as a strategy to tackle climate change is still divisive among environmentalists, in part because it has been used to extend the rule of dirty power plants. For example, an aging coal-fired power plant could lay claim to some green credentials if it captures some of its carbon emissions, although other effects of coal mining and combustion, such as habitat destruction and air pollution, remain.

In addition, the CCS projects that the US has funded in the past have an eventful track record. Since 2009, the Department of Energy has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in carbon capture initiatives for several coal-fired power plants that have never come to fruition, largely because of high costs and investors’ cold feet, according to a December report from the Government Accountability Office. .

It is likely that CCS combined with gas production and power generation will still outpace industrial use despite the high costs, as policymakers have paid more attention to cleaning up the energy sector over the years, said Coco Zhang, Head of ESG Research at ING Americas . But as more governments take steps to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions, they’re putting a greater emphasis on curbing those stubborn industrial emissions.

The bipartisan infrastructure bill passed by the US last year includes $12 billion to build carbon capture and storage infrastructure, with a strong emphasis on industrial emissions. The Democrats’ stalled appeasement package, a huge bill for environmental and social spending, could boost technologies further by increasing tax cuts for carbon capture.

But as CCS capacity is set to quadruple globally by 2030 and a smaller portion of that growth is expected to occur in heavy industries per ING, there should probably be greater pressure from governments to put carbon capture where it could do it most. are usable.

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