Carbon capture, utilization, and storage (CCUS), or carbon capture and storage (CCS), refers to the technologies used to capture emissions from industrial facilities before they enter the atmosphere or directly from the air. Once captured, emissions could be taken deep underground or used in the making of useful products. The challenges in front of the carbon capture industry are problematic mainly because they require overcoming economic and technology hurdles.
According to some experts in the field, the world still needs to pull out 800 gigatons of CO2 from the atmosphere even if emitting emissions ends tomorrow. Thus, CCUS technologies may be essential for mitigating global GHGs levels. That’s needed to keep the world within the 2°C of warming as outlined in the Paris Agreement.
Global carbon capture capacity reached 40 million tons in 2020. Plans for more than 30 new CCUS facilities have been announced since 2017. If all these projects are completed, the carbon capture capacity would triple to around 140 million tons. Even though the rates of expansion are quite satisfactory, CCUS capacity is not nearly enough to capture the ~36 billion tons of CO2 the world emits every year.
Carbon Capture Industry Challenges
One of the key challenges that hinder carbon capture technologies to have a meaningful impact on climate change is economics. It costs approximately $40 – $80 to capture a ton of CO2. The cost of direct air capture is even higher – $200 to $600.
Apart from that, extracting emissions is a very energy-intensive process. A coal plant equipped with CCS equipment can require about 25% more fuel to generate the same amount of power as one without it. The Petra Nova carbon capture facility in Texas, for example, required so much energy just to power the scrubber that NRG made an entirely separate natural gas power plant.
One of the carbon capture challenges preventing wide adoption is what to do with the extracted CO2. Usually, it can either be stored underground or sold to buyers to support revenue streams. Underground storage for enhanced oil recovery has been the most popular utilization so far. CO2 is injected into oil wells to raise productivity. This is controversial, as it is essentially using carbon dioxide to access more oil which will then be burned and release CO2.
New technologies are under development to cut the costs associated with capturing and high energy consumption. Scientists from EPFL managed to create a new graphene filter to separate CO2 from other gases. The invention can cut the cost of carbon capture down to $30 per ton of CO2. It could also increase the speed and efficiency of the process.
Companies like Noya Labs are coming up with innovative solutions to overcome the scalability problem. The startup is trying to cut costs by turning existing infrastructure – cooling towers into CO2 sucking devices. Noya Labs claims that their approach brings down their price for a ton of CO2 to $100, compared to $125t to $5000t market price. According to the founders, buyers are in a race for the CO2 at the price Noya Labs has to offer.
Despite these challenges, scaling up CCUS may be something the world cannot afford to ignore. Innovative companies across the world are working to overcome the issues associated with CCUS. They are closer than ever to improved capture technology and bringing down the cost of CO2 storage and utilization.