Carbon capture and storage: Reaching the potential
By Ben Cannell, Innovation Director, Aquaterra Energy
Ten megatons (MtCO2) of carbon dioxide per year. That’s the government’s stated aim for UK carbon capture and storage activity by 2030. Ten megatons. That’s not much less than the total 2020 emissions of a country like Zimbabwe (or a company like YouTube).
In terms of time, that target is close, but in terms of captured carbon it looks even tougher to meet. We must though. Negative emissions are widely believed to be necessary for meeting the goals of the Paris Agreement, but the recent wildfires and extreme weather events that have ravaged countries across the globe highlight the need to move quickly towards that target.
However, there are significant barriers to overcome before that 10 MtCO2 per year target starts to look achievable. Here are the first three things we need to change.
Carbon capture and storage needs a reputational make-over.
Many view carbon capture and storage as a “get out of jail free card” for oil and gas companies, but its value goes further than that.
Even if the oil and gas industry were to shut-up shop tomorrow and the country switch wholesale to renewables, emissions would remain. Sectors including industry and agriculture would continue to create greenhouse gases regardless. We strive towards “net zero” as some emissions can’t be avoided and so carbon capture and storage is needed to offset them.
Once we change the minds of key industry players to view carbon capture and storage as a positive, more progress can be made.
Carbon Capture and Storage is expensive. Over time, as the sector grows, costs will fall, but never to zero. We’re asking businesses to take on extra costs today and that won’t happen without some kind of financial redress.
There’s a strong chance this will be via a carbon tax. If the cost of emitting a tonne of carbon becomes more expensive than capturing it, carbon capture and storage makes money sense.
However, we shouldn’t forget there is a positive side of the coin, too. More consumers – and therefore more businesses that supply them – are demanding greener options in their products and supply chains. Take cement for example, the process of making it releases CO2, regardless of the energy inputted. However, if that carbon was captured and stored, then there may be eco-minded property developers willing to pay a small premium as a result.
At the moment though, these are all hypotheticals. It will take firm action from policymakers to change the financial landscape to make carbon capture and storage an attractive, business decision.
The basic technologies of carbon capture and storage are already in place. After all, despite its reputation as an unproven process, carbon capture and reinjection has already been practiced for years for enhanced oil recovery. With the basics covered, new challenges can be addressed.
For example, if we are to store captured CO2 in depleted subsea oil reservoirs, this may require safe well re-entry. Plug and abandonment (P&A) techniques have improved considerably over the years, but some, particularly older wells, will struggle with re-pressurisation. Specialists in well re-entry and P&A will be needed to assess and solve these challenges. We know more carbon capture and storage is coming, so by expanding existing P&A techniques we can future proof wells for carbon storage.
It’s in this last category of technical challenges that companies like Aquaterra Energy are equipped to contribute, and we look forward to doing so. However, there are challenges to overcome for the carbon capture and storage industry. There is a great opportunity – both in terms of environmental impact and the potential for a new energy subsector for the UK to lead – get in touch if you’d like to work with us on making that happen.