How we commute to work, use transportation, go on vacation, and even how we shop at the grocery store, influence the size of our carbon footprint, the total amount of greenhouse gasses produced by our actions. And perhaps more than ever before, is the pressing urgency to reduce such footprint, from individuals, businesses, and governments alike. Today, market leading companies across all industries are making public commitments to reduce their carbon emissions, with some major players like CEMEX, Siemens AG, American Airlines or Ford taking it a step forward with future net-zero CO2 targets.
International treaties such as the Paris Agreement push specific goals to limit the increase of global warming by at least 1.5°C. And because CO2 production from human activities is the largest driver of global warming, the only way to slow down or mitigate this phenomenon is to reduce emissions and aim at net zero targets at a global scale. To accomplish this titanic task, however, global cooperation from individuals, entrepreneurs, multinational companies, and governments is required.
Recently, technologies related to the reduction, reuse, and storage of carbon emissions have been developed and applied in industrial processes to push forward these aforementioned objectives. Carbon Capture, Utilization and Storage (CCUS) is just one such process that seeks to separate and trap CO2 before it’s released into the atmosphere. And don’t think of Carbon Capture as the latest buzz in the industry, since it is certainly more than a trend that is here to stay. Get ahead of the curve, keep reading and learn (more) about CCUS.
Carbon Capture, Utilization and Storage, the solution to the climate crisis
What is Carbon Capture, Utilization and Storage?
Carbon Capture, Utilization and Storage is a set of processes that reduce carbon emissions in industrial operations before they are emitted into the atmosphere. Carbon capture and storage (CCS) mainly consists of three key stages, whereas carbon capture and utilization (CCU) would be compressed in just two.
The first stage is common to both approaches and consists of capturing carbon dioxide from the gasses produced in industrial processes. This could include the emissions from fossil fuel combustion or the production of industrial materials, such as steel, oil & gas or cement.
Secondly, once the CO2 has been successfully separated and isolated from industrial emissions, CCS-like solutions must transport it safely to a pre-established storage site. This is usually done through pipelines, but ships, trains and other industrial vehicles can also be used in the transportation. Finally, once the extracted CO2 reaches its final destination, it is injected into a suitable storage site. These locations are often rock formations deep within the earth, or former oil and gas reservoirs.
Alternatively, in CCU schemes carbon can be converted into new products or services. Carbon utilization refers to the different technologies that use recycled CO2 as a raw material in the synthesis of green solutions that can replace fossil-based alternatives. In this sense, CCU helps businesses and governments comply with objectives related to the circular economy and the lowering of CO2 emissions.
According to the Global CCS Institute, plants currently in operation or under construction have the potential to capture around 40 million metric tons of CO2 per year. Although this represents a substantial amount of captured carbon, in 2019 nearly 43.1 billion tons of CO2 from human-related activities were released into the atmosphere. Therefore, in order to make carbon-neutral targets a reality, the application of CCUS initiatives and other alternatives must increase across the board. But first, let’s take a closer look at how carbon is captured.
How can we capture carbon?
There are several different ways to capture carbon. The main methods are:
- Oxy-fuel combustion carbon capture.
Generally, post-combustion is used in existing industrial facilities, while oxy-fuel carbon capture is more often employed in greenfield projects.
In the post-combustion method, carbon dioxide is separated from the emitted flue gas, which is produced from the combustion of fuel or other materials. Alternatively, pre-combustion capture involves turning the fuel into a gas prior to combustion, and separating the CO2 from such transformed gas. With oxy-fuel combustion, carbon is collected from an almost pure oxygen environment. Because fuel isn’t burned in regular air, the result is more concentrated and makes carbon dioxide capture easier.
Considering the above, the most widely used method for capturing carbon today is post-combustion. This is because it is extremely costly to retrofit an existing factory with pre-combustion technology, and because the oxy-fuel combustion process requires more energy and has higher costs than a traditional-air plant. However, with the future development of electrical and industrial infrastructure, we expect to see an increased use of new carbon capture methods.
And how do we store it?
Although reducing associated costs is an ongoing aim in CCS, the greatest challenge lies in the storage of CO2 once it is successfully captured. Captured CO2 must be stored in a secure location where it will remain for many years. Typically, there are two locations where carbon dioxide can be stored:
- Deep geological formations
- Mineral storage sites
When carbon dioxide is stored in formations deep within the earth, it first needs to be compressed and chilled into a fluid. This liquid can then be injected into different types of geological rock formations. The North Sea and Gulf Coast regions are thought to have the most available space for carbon storage. According to the IPCC, if storage sites are properly chosen, maintained and designed, the captured carbon dioxide can be trapped for millions of years, making it an almost-permanent solution.
And how do we use it?
Carbon dioxide is an essential compound in many industrial processes, and thus, can be utilized through direct use or by first transforming it. Such CO2 can be put to direct use in the production of carbonated consumables or mineralized solutions. Alternatively, it can be transformed to later be used in the manufacture of chemicals, materials, and synthetic fuels.
Businesses around the world have adopted many different carbon utilization routes from previously captured carbon. To name a few examples, CCU has applications across a variety of applications in the fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG), plastics, coatings, adhesives, battery and pharmaceutical industries.
It is true that many of the aforementioned applications have not yet been commercialized on a large scale, however many governments and stakeholders in the private sector are already beginning to invest heavily and expand these practices. Alfredo Carrato, Venture Capital Advisor at CEMEX Ventures adds, “We are undeniably facing the challenge of our time, so innovation combined with collaboration across public and private stakeholders is critical to ensure that it is still feasible to close the loop on carbon and meet net zero targets.”
Advantages and disadvantages of this technology
As with every new technology, there are benefits and drawbacks of CCUS. However, with greater investment in the technology and wider application, the pros are believed to significantly outweigh the cons.
The advantages of CCUS are both economic and environmental in nature. First and foremost, Carbon Capture and Storage is the most effective method to date to remove carbon emissions from the environment.
Carbon Capture technology undoubtedly helps to mitigate the effect of CO2 on climate change, because it results in a reduction of the amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere, which is one of the leading causes of the destruction of the ozone layer. Hence, CCS is a highly valuable tool in the fight against climate change.
Additionally, the availability of geological formations worldwide plays a large role in the success and greater adoption of CCS. In the short- to medium-term, there is no shortage of space to be used in the safe storage of CO2.
Industries that adopt Carbon Capture and Storage technologies can also see economic benefits. As is the case with new technologies, local economies can benefit from CCS because of the skilled workers that are required to operate and manage CO2 and such related technologies.
Carbon utilization also opens a world of possibilities downstream for carbon capture. Carbon dioxide captured from these processes can be used in the manufacturing of other products and services in a variety of different sectors, such as the battery, pharmaceuticals, and plastics industries.
Capturing the biggest contributor to global warming and climate change sounds ideal, but you might be wondering what the catch is. Despite its many advantages, there are still a few disadvantages of CCUS. First, CCS is expensive. The costs associated with buying the equipment and generating the energy to conduct carbon capture at industrial scale are massive.
Also the transportation of the sequestered carbon incurs a heavy cost, and since there are currently not enough regulatory incentives to subsidize at scale the overall cost of capturing, transporting, and permanently storing CO2, the high cost of this technology plays a significant role.
Furthermore, when CO2 is moved to its predetermined storage site, a significant amount of energy is required to ensure that it remains chilled and liquified. Public concerns about the pipelines needed to transport CO2 affecting local communities and landscapes is also a substantial barrier to the widespread adoption of CCS. Moreover, some have argued that CCS isn’t a solution to the problem, since it does not nothing to stop the burning of fossil fuels. Some critics have asserted that CCS slows the necessary shift to renewable energy sources.
Finally, although studies indicate that there is sufficient space for CO2 storage, specifically in the United States, there are concerns regarding the long-term storage of captured carbon. Additionally, the risk of leaking presents a concern for many, whether during the transportation or the storage of CO2.
The enormous impact of carbon capture for the world
Now that you understand in detail how carbon is captured and stored, it’s easy to see the positive impact these processes can have on the environment at large. One of the most important effects of Carbon Capture, Utilization and Storage is the ability to slow down or prevent the further worsening of global warming.
CCUS is considered a ‘greener way’ to operate the power stations and heavy industries that play an integral role in our daily lives, as society progresses toward lower-carbon activities.
Some examples of CCUS worldwide
Carbon Clean is a global leader in low-cost CO2 capture technology. The company’s patented technology significantly reduces the costs and environmental impacts of CO2 separation when compared to existing techniques.
Carbon Clean’s technology has been proven at scale in over 10 independent locations, including the UK, USA, Germany, India, Norway and the Netherlands, and is currently in use at the world’s largest industrial-scale carbon capture and utilization plant in Tuticorin, India.
As proof of their success, the UK Government has supported Carbon Clean’s development of its technology through competitive grants. Carbon Clean has also received much global recognition. They were awarded a ‘Technology Pioneer’ award by the World Economic Forum in 2015 and featured in the ‘BGF 10 Green Tech to Watch’ list in The Sunday Times in 2020. Carbon Clean is headquartered in London, UK and operates offices in India, Spain, Germany, and the United States (and soon in the Netherlands too).
Carbon Upcycling Technologies
An example of carbon utilization technology, Carbon Upcycling Technologies (“CUT”) was formed to use the pollution of today to build the materials of tomorrow by converting CO2 gas into solid products. The startup manufactures advanced solid products derived from greenhouse emissions and cheaply available solids.
Since 2014, it has scaled its ability to capture CO2 emissions from point sources, such as power plants, by over a million times. Through its portfolio of CO2-derived solid nanoparticles, CUT has technically validated its solutions for use in the plastics, coatings, epoxy, adhesives, concrete, lithium-ion battery, pharmaceutical industries, and consumer products. In 2017, CUT became the youngest CO2 utilization company to generate commercial revenue (<2.5 years since inception) and has since been confirmed as one of the top CO2 utilization companies in the world as Carbon XPRIZE X-Factor awardee.
In short, CUT’s enhanced Supplementary Cementitious Materials can improve the compressive strength of concrete by up to 40%, allowing for a greater substitution of emission intensive materials with CO2-embedded alternatives.
CEMEX Ventures’ commitment to clean the air we breathe
We understand that reducing emissions is not enough. Removing carbon from industrial activities and finding alternate uses for it is fundamental if we want to transform the construction industry, tackle climate change, and stop global warming in its tracks.
At CEMEX Ventures, we are looking for partnerships and opportunities to support startups that focus on Green Construction to bring the sector closer to the low-carbon economy. Our investment in startups that seek to decarbonize the built environment, promote a circular economy, and adopt renewable energies help us achieve this objective.
Are you an entrepreneur and have a solution related to Green Construction? Let’s talk. Get in touch with us today!