Industrial sectors are responsible for one-quarter of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions. These include natural gas production, fertilizer manufacturing, hydrogen production, iron and steel, cement production and petrochemicals refining, and they produce about 8.5 billion metric tons of CO2 emissions every year.
Two new reports say these industrial emissions are being overlooked in the global climate debate, which focuses largely on energy policy. The reports, released by the Global CCS Institute, say carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology can — and should — play a role in helping industry cut its carbon footprint.
In addition to helping industrial facilities reduce emissions, CCS technologies can also produce fuels and chemicals from non-petroleum sources. “Converting carbon dioxide to chemicals accomplishes the dual goal of mitigating carbon dioxide emissions and accessing cheap feedstock for chemical production,” Lux Research industry analyst Jennie Lynch told Environmental Leader.
Industrial process emissions are unavoidable regardless of the energy source used to run the facilities where they take place.
“Strong policy support is required globally, now, to help decarbonize these industries,” said Brad Page, CEO of the Global CCS Institute. “If we are serious about tackling climate change then we’ve got to reduce emissions from every possible sector of the global economy. These sectors cannot simply be switched out of the global economy, and transitioning to low-carbon energy sources still fails to address the billions of tonnes of emissions released through industrial processes. CCS is the only technology that can deliver deep cuts to these emissions.”
Introduction to Industrial Carbon Capture and Storage highlights 17 CCS projects across sectors including natural gas processing, fertilizer manufacturing and hydrogen production.
CCS was first applied to natural gas processing in 1972 at natural gas processing facilities in the Val Verde area of southern Texas. The sector that now has nine operational large-scale CCS projects with annual capture potential of more than 20 million metric tons of CO2, the report says.
The second report, Understanding Industrial CCS Hubs and Clusters, says by building shared infrastructure, multiple small industrial emitters can reduce emissions using CCS.
The reports unintentionally coincide with an announcement by the US Department of Energy that it will provide $68.4 million for cost-shared research and development projects that focus on commercial-scale (50+ million metric tons) CCS storage complexes.
But despite this and other government support programs in place for CCS and CO2 conversion to fuels and chemicals, such as the DOE’s Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis and University of North Carolina’s Energy Frontier Research Center, CCS still has several technological challenges to overcome to help decarbonize industrial sectors.
“A big hurdle is the challenge associated with the mass transfer of CO2 into the media within the reactor, and ultimately into the microbes (in the case of fermentation), which can drastically reduce yields,” Lynch said. “Conversion yield is another hurdle to the implementation of CCS, as conversion yields are very low, often in the single-digit percent range at lab scale— something that will need to be improved before adoption will occur.”
There are also economic hurdles to making this technology widely available. A major one is the cost associated with the massive amounts of energy required to capture and store CO2 — the cost of electricity can increase by up to 80 percent when applying commercial capture technologies to coal-fired power plant, according to the IEA Clean Coal Center.
Additionally, hydrogen — used in the conversion process of some CCS technologies processes — can be very expensive because of high catalyst costs and energy requirements, Lynch said.
“There is considerable support for companies within the CCS space such as Industrial Microbes, Photanol, Empower Materials, and Liquid Light,” Lynch said. “ Yet while there are dozens of firms developing CO2 conversion technologies, most far from commercialization and are unlikely to make a substantial impact on the reduction of industrial emissions in the near future.”