Is Carbon Capture the future?

The world is still looking for cost-effective methods of reducing greenhouse-gas (GHG) emissions. With the signing of the Paris Agreement, countries have realized the importance of curbing the rise of global temperatures by two degrees. Although the world has focused on shifting towards renewable sources of energy, one must contemplate the emissions produced by non-OECD countries.

With the OECD countries, one can expect them to have the financial strength to finance scalable renewable projects, to substitute certain sources of energy. But, every son tends to follow the father, don’t they? Non-OECD countries are still focusing on primary sources of fuel to push for growth. Staying under the two-degree limit will require the development and rapid adoption of advanced technologies.

What is Carbon Capture & Storage?

The very concept of Carbon Capture & Storage (CCS) has long been one technology and potential to reduce GHG emissions significantly. The basic idea is to collect the carbon-dioxide gas and confine it underground. Although financial advisors have found the implementation of this technology relatively expensive, one can also look at the other side of the coin. If carbon-dioxide could be put to industrial use, the resulting revenues could make carbon capture financially viable.

Certain industrial applications are already in play. The gas can be used to make chemicals and plastics such as polyurethane foams for seat cushions. Covestro, formerly Bayer Material Science, recently started focusing on making foams from carbon-dioxide. Research also suggests that making carbon fiber out of carbon-dioxide gas would be cheaper, as compared to the typical production process involving polymers.

Skeptics would argue that the quantity of carbon-dioxide that might eventually go into chemicals, plastics and carbon fiber would be too small – between 40-90 MT per year, to make a dent on the global GHG emissions.

What do we do then?

Creating large-scale Carbon Capture and Use (CCU) technologies will not be easy. A challenge is that carbon-dioxide is highly inert. Transforming the captured gas into industrial products would require lots of energy. Another challenge is that oil will remain a highly cost-effective industrial feedstock.

CCU technology is a smart solution to reducing the GHG emissions, and maintaining the energy-balance. Not to forget, CCU is a big business with major environmental benefits. Looking at the benefits, one can speculate it to be an intriguing medium-term prospect for investors, companies and Governments.

Some of the piloted applications of captured carbon-dioxide are as follows:

  • Fuel production
  • Concrete enrichment
  • Power generation

Analysts estimate a total reduction of 1 billion MT of GHG emissions by 2030, if the above three applications are driven by carbon usage.



Article By:

Ritwik Mukherjee

Energy & Infrastructure Management (PGP’16)

School of Petroleum Management, PDPU


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