Carbon Capture Utilisation and Storage (CCUS) is not a silver bullet solution for climate change but a vital tool for reducing industrial emissions and enabling clean hydrogen production, argues Graeme Sweeney.

Graeme Sweeney is the chairman of the European Zero Emission Technology and Innovation Platform (ZEP).

By now, the words ‘net-zero emissions’ have been firmly planted in people’s minds as synonymous with delivering the Paris Agreement goal of limiting the global temperature increase to 1.5°C.

As we approach the next climate change conference (COP24) in Poland in December, the debate around how to achieve net-zero emissions will only intensify. Earlier this year, the Zero Emission Technology and Innovation Platform (ZEP) published a report on the role of Carbon Capture Utilisation and Storage (CCUS) in a below 2 degrees scenario.

The report concludes that CCUS constitutes an essential part of the lowest-cost route to achieving net-zero emissions and is particularly necessary for reducing emissions in hard-to-mitigate sectors such as process industries and distributed heating.

Only last week, the IPCC published their flagship 15th special report on ‘Global Warming of 1.5°C’ which begins by stating that “Global warming is likely to reach 1.5°C between 2030 and 2052 if it continues to increase at the current rate”.

The report sets out an alarming list of the increased risks and implications that a 0.5°C difference in temperature rise would entail – including increased sea level rise, an increase in extreme weather events and increased climate-related risks to health, economic growth and sustainable development.

The report emphasises that all solutions will be required to meet the 1.5°C goal and models a number of pathways on how this can be achieved. Carbon Dioxide Removal (CDR) technologies (which include bioenergy with CCS (BECCS) and direct air carbon capture and storage (DACCS)) is included in the majority of these pathways.

This is based on the assumption of the likelihood that the world will overshoot the 1.5°C goal by some degree and therefore CDR technologies are required to ensure global warming is returned to 1.5°C by the end of the century.

CDR is a divisive topic, to say the least, and invokes strong support and dismissal in an almost equal measure. At ZEP’s recent event ‘Low Emission, High Ambition: A Just Transition to a Net-Zero Europe’, this subject was discussed in a panel session on ‘negative emissions: moral hazard or moral imperative?’

Many speakers agreed that CDR technologies can be both – a hazard and an imperative. But the take-home message from all speakers was that the need to develop CDR as an optionality for later should under no circumstance become an excuse for inaction today. This only further emphasises the urgent need to develop CCS now across industry, heat, power and transport – to ensure these sectors can fulfil their role in delivering a 1.5°C goal.

In Europe, the Commission’s strategy for long-term greenhouse gas emissions reduction, due to be published imminently, will set out how Europe plans to achieve net zero emissions across the economy by 2050.

At the ZEP event, Christian Holzleitner from DG Climate Action stated that the Commission’s vision for the long-term strategy is one that achieves climate goals, whilst ensuring no one is left behind, at the same time creating new business models, jobs, growth and investment. In our view, CCS will be critical to achieving this ‘Just Transition’.

This is particularly due to the fact that whilst CCS creates new jobs and economic benefits, it also crucially helps to retain Europe’s vital energy intensive and process industries in a net-zero world, helping to avoid carbon leakage.

A Just Transition is also one which achieves cost-effective outcomes whilst making use of existing assets. Again, CCS is central to this criteria; both in terms of its ability to reuse onshore and offshore infrastructure (in certain circumstances) as well as making use of existing gas networks when converting to hydrogen for heating (through steam methane reforming of natural gas with CCS).

The thread that ties all this together, and enables CCS and net-zero emissions to be delivered at the lowest possible cost, is infrastructure. Specifically the development of shared cross-border CO2 transport and storage infrastructure that creates industrial CCS clusters.

Such clusters allow EU regions to reconcile continued growth with achieving net-zero emissions, securing cost-effective decarbonisation in key sectors such as industry, heating and transport.

It is of the utmost importance that this infrastructure is developed as a matter of urgent priority, to enable regions to begin delivering pathways to 1.5°C and create optionality for the future. The EU should identify initial enabling infrastructure that can quickly be expanded and extended, and ensure that EU funding schemes are fit-for-purpose in terms of being able to support infrastructure investments.

At the ZEP event, guests heard from the two leading CCS cluster proposals in Europe; the Norway full-chain CCS project and the Port of Rotterdam PORTHOS project. Both of these projects represent valuable learning with large deployment potential, with the former aiming to reduce emissions in the cement and waste-to-energy industries and the latter developing a ‘hub’ for broader industrial decarbonisation in the Port of Rotterdam.

A key conclusion was drawn from both presentations: these projects will not ‘go it alone’, other projects need to follow, charting a roadmap towards large-scale roll-out of CCS across Europe.

Investment in follow-on projects will only be forthcoming with the right policy and funding framework in place. With regard to funding, ZEP has repeatedly recommended that funds such as the Innovation Fund be flexibly designed to enable ‘part-chain’ CCS projects to apply – this would provide an important incentive for the development of CO2 transport and storage infrastructure.

It is expected that the first Innovation Fund call will take place by 2020, and Christian Holzleitner confirmed that this is being designed to be much more flexible than its predecessor, NER300 – which is welcome news indeed.

But the Innovation Fund alone may not be enough. Under the Connecting Europe Facility (CEF), cross-border CO2 transport networks are eligible for funding and projects are starting to apply. With the revised CEF legislation currently making its way through the EU institutions, there is a strong socio-economic case for bringing shared, European CO2 storage infrastructure into this framework as well.

The other piece of the puzzle is policy, and the soon-to-be-published strategy for long-term greenhouse gas emissions reduction. This strategy will set the tone of EU policy discussions for the foreseeable future and it is therefore vital that it provides the strategic direction to enable investment in a broad range of zero emissions industries.

Considering the crucial part that CCS will play in delivering the goals of this strategy, it is imperative that CCS is given a prominent role in the final version of the strategy.

ZEP attended the recent Green Growth Platform Summit in Luxembourg on the 8th October and it is clear that this view is shared by a wide range of member states, who have called on the Commission to ensure CCS is framed correctly – not as a silver bullet solution for climate change but as a vital tool for reducing industrial emissions and enabling clean hydrogen production.

In particular, ZEP has recommended that the Commission should create a strategic plan for CO2 infrastructure development in Europe as part of the long-term strategy.

There are those who believe CCS is purely a CO2 mitigation solution. While this is technically true, it is only half the story. CCS also represents a massive growth industry for Europe and, where it is included in scenarios that achieve a 2050 net-zero emissions energy system, it delivers a saving of over €1,150bn. This is one opportunity that Europe cannot afford to waste.

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