CCUS “vital” to global transition to net zero


The world must build on the growing momentum behind carbon capture to meet its energy and climate goals, the International Energy Agency (IEA) has said.

On 24 September, it published a report, CCUS in Clean Energy Technologies, setting out how carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS) will form a key pillar of efforts to place the world on a net zero trajectory. CCUS are the only group of technologies that contribute to reducing emissions in key sectors directly and removing CO2 to balance unavoidable emissions elsewhere and, after years of slow progress and insufficient investment, momentum is now building.

In 2020, government and industry have made CCUS commitments totalling $4bn. Over 30 commercial facilities have been announced in the last three years, with projects nearing a final investment decision carrying a potential investment of around $27bn. Furthermore, the project portfolio has grown increasingly diverse and would be capable of doubling the level of CO2 captured globally from around 40mn tonnes today. However, the economic downturn following Covid-19 is set to undermine future investment plans, with the IEA calling for CCUS support in economic recovery packages to ensure progress can continue.

Explaining why maintaining and accelerating progress in CCUS is so vital, the IEA set out that reaching net zero without it will be “virtually impossible”.

In its Sustainable Development Scenario, where global CO2 emissions from the energy sector reach net zero by 2070, the IEA found CCUS evolving and extending to almost all parts of the global energy system. CCUS is able to tackle emissions from existing energy infrastructure, act as a solution for some of the most challenging emissions, remove carbon from the atmosphere, and enable a cost-effective pathway for low carbon hydrogen production.

CCUS is one of two main ways to produce low carbon hydrogen. In the IEA Sustainable Development Scenario, global hydrogen use increases sevenfold, reaching 520Mt by 2070 with 40% coming from fossil-based production equipped with CCUS. This would particularly be in regions with access to low cost fossil fuels and CO2 storage. As it stands, there are already CCUS-equipped hydrogen facilities operating in seven locations today, producing 0.4Mt of hydrogen.

Looking ahead, government action in this decade was labelled as being “crucial” for ensuring CCUS can contribute to net zero goals, with the IEA stressing the need for urgent steps needed now. Governments will have a critical role to play, introducing policies that can establish a sustainable and viable market for CCUS, though the onus is also on industry to embrace the opportunity as well.

The IEA set out four high-level priorities to accelerate CCUS progress over the next decade: creating the conditions for investment by placing a value on reducing emissions and direct support for early CCUS projects; coordinating and underwriting the development of industrial hubs with shared CO2 infrastructure; identifying and encouraging the development of CO2 storage in key regions; and boosting innovation to reduce costs and ensure that critical emerging technologies become commercial, including in sectors where emissions are hard to abate and for carbon removal.