Carbon capture, utilisation and storage and the decarbonised future

Carbon capture, utilisation and storage © iStock/FrankRamspott
© iStock/FrankRamspott

Government Europa spoke to the chair of the Zero Emissions Platform, Graeme Sweeney, about the current practices for carbon capture, utilisation and storage, and how Europe can achieve further decarbonisation.

Carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS) is the only technology which can substantially reduce emissions in many of Europe’s vital industries (such as steel, iron and cement), produce clean hydrogen which can be used to decarbonise power, heating and transport, and enable the continued use of fossil fuels in a world where carbon supplies are strained.

When combined with sustainable biofuels, CCUS strategies can effectively remove CO2 from the atmosphere. Recognising the importance of CCUS in a decarbonised future, the European Zero Emission Technology and Innovation Platform (ZEP) was founded in 2005 as a coalition of stakeholders with a shared recognition of the role of CCUS as a tool to combat climate change. Government Europa spoke to the Chairman of ZEP, Graeme Sweeney, about the current practices for carbon capture, utilisation and storage, and how Europe can achieve further decarbonisation.

In 2009, the Directive on Geological Storage and Carbon Dioxide was published. What impact has this had on CCUS strategies?

I would argue that a core issue has arisen from the directive in the form of liability. The way in which the directive is currently structured places a substantial level of liability on the storer, which is hard to value going forward. This is clearly one of the major issues which we describe loosely as 4K projects, therefore I’d say that’s a core issue.

There was an interim position where the directive could’ve been amended. Linked to the directive is the structure of the London Protocol and its adoption of the amendment which enables CO2 to cross borders, however this amendment is still not in force. It is possible to have short-term derogations during the demonstration phase. For instance, the countries involved can ensure the amendment implemented, but we should seek to ensure that the amendment is widely in force, enabling CO2 to move internationally.

What do you think can be done at an EU level, in addition to the EU Emission Trading System and Innovation Fund (EU ETS), to ensure success as we transition to widescale adoption of carbon capture, utilisation and storage?

Firstly, we need to take action on the innovation fund in a way which is different from the way in which we have done these things in the past. We fully support the ETS and indeed we’re amongst the first to argue that the ETS could be used as a source of funding to enable technologies to be delivered. We argue that this is actually one of the core purposes of the ETS – it has two purposes:

  • To limit current emissions in order to remain at a level under the cap; and
  • To enable the deployment of future technologies and subsequently facilitate participants in the system to reduce their emissions further.

Given that carbon prices remain relatively low, it has been much less effective at the second objective. As a result, the creation of the NER300 was an important breakthrough because it created a pool of money which could be used to accelerate these technologies.

We also acknowledge that the NER300 might need improvement and our latest paper reflects on how to design a fully-functional Innovation Fund. Fundamentally, the NER300 structure was far too restrictive for first-of-a-kind projects – across a range of technologies – which it attempted to support. This was also true of the innovative renewables projects that were eligible.

So, what do we learn? The first lesson is that attempts to use funds for the delivery of CCUS projects – with their inherent complexity, differing participants and skills, and significant counterparty risks – isn’t the best strategy. But rather a better strategy could look into public funding, focusing on the interests of the public, particularly in infrastructure and not a specific capture project.

Capture projects are significant, however that is not the public good. The public good is in establishing infrastructure and pipelines, ships and stores. As a result, the confidence of emitters can be gained in that they have access to an infrastructure which works. Our core advocacy of the Innovation Fund has been to make it as big as possible, as flexible as possible, and place a dominant focus on the infrastructure component of carbon capture, utilisation and storage, such as transport and storage.

The way in which this can be implemented is through a “market maker” – a state-owned or regulated private entity which can develop the necessary infrastructure and collect carbon dioxide from various emitters for transport and storage. Ultimately, we hope to see a functioning marketplace where innovation happens without intervention, such as that currently being overseen by Horizon 2020.

Framework Programme 9, the successor to Horizon 2020, looks at early-phase technological matters and seeks to provide impetus when required, such as when commercial marketplace funding is not available. Subsequently, the things which participants then do should be logically connected to the things which are to be done in the future – they shouldn’t be seen as a disconnected set of things.

Ultimately, we should have a smart pathway where we are encouraged by the ongoing work at low technological readiness levels, with the view to see them feed into other, larger funding mechanisms. From our point of view, this includes Projects of Common Interest and there are significant opportunities to create networks of infrastructure in the energy and industrial space; the Connecting Europe Facility is just one example of this.

CCUS is a vital technology for decarbonising waves of industry, particularly in a deeply carbonised world. It’s about connecting initiatives and agreements together and connecting our story with the ability to enable sustainable welfare, industry and the maintenance of jobs.

Are there any CCUS projects in particular that are showing elements of best practice? How can interest in these areas be fostered?

We have to give credit to the Norwegian CO2 storage facility, Sleipner, which has excelled using a particular set of circumstances that have been difficult to replicate elsewhere. Our analysis is that there are a lot of projects that work very hard, in particular the Rotterdam Capture and Storage Demonstration Project (ROAD) in the Netherlands. A lot has been learnt and a great deal of that is now expressed in the proposed changes to the way we deal with separation of the supply chain into executable components and allocating responsibilities directly to those who are best able to manage them.

We are learning from a set of things that have worked for us in Europe, yet trying to simplify these and create a more focused set of executable tasks. By looking at the Port of Rotterdam’s site and their vision, we identify them as a place where a good deal of best practice is expressed.

What role is the European Zero Emission Technology and Innovation Platform (ZEP) playing in this area? What are the priorities of ZEP in 2018?

Our core objective is to give advice to the Commission, Council, and to Parliament. Therefore, a good deal of what we do is driven by what it is that policymakers would like to understand. One of the things which is going to be very significant this year is life cycle analysis of CCUS technologies. From our expert network, we will provide advice in that conversation. Of core importance to us this year will also be ensuring that available and suitable funds can facilitate the progression of CCUS technologies.

It is of great importance to fully recognise that carbon capture, utilisation and storage operates in a competitive place and that other technologies will also compete for the money and there will be no preassigned share of that money for CCUS strategies. The Commission will undertake a review on a number of matters up to 2050 and beyond, in particular looking at the consequences of the Paris Agreement. We have done a considerable amount of long-term modelling and we believe we have created a considerable amount of expertise. We will share that insight with the Commission as they set about their objective of looking at long-term strategies.

One of our core learnings is that it’s the last laps that matter most. There are many routes to 2030, all of which will take you to the emissions target. However, very few of those routes enable countries to reach 2°C by 2050, let alone 1.5°C. When we include the long-term perspective, we can see the relative roles of various shifts in technology. We would argue that carbon capture, utilisation and storage is essential for the delivery of a 1.5°C world, not least because it enables the decarbonisation of energy intensive industries.

If we’re going to have CCUS infrastructure for that purpose, then it’s highly likely that it will also feature in the power sector. We believe that carbon capture, utilisation and storage will also play an important role in producing low-carbon hydrogen to decarbonise the heat and transportation sectors. We will likely need to reduce the stock of CO2 in the atmosphere and this will require negative emissions technologies, such as bioenergy with CCS (BECCS), taking on an increasingly important role in the future.

Firstly, the industry needs to do modelling well, and we will participate in helping to give our expertise, and secondly the governance process for the Energy Union has been making its way through the various institutions. In our advice as to what sort of structures are required to provide the best possible national climate and energy plans, we argue that member states need to be required, under Energy Union governance, to include a 2050 perspective on these plans.

Graeme Sweeney
European Zero Emission Technology and Innovation Platform (ZEP)


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