The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) recently called on the UK to target net zero carbon emissions by 2050 — and they said carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS) could be crucial in meeting that goal.
Leigh Taylor, head of sales & licensing, Econic Technologies, discusses what needs to be done to move the technology forward.
This ambitious net zero target for the UK will require a range of businesses, industries and authorities to assess their respective carbon emissions and impact upon on the planet. Whilst a number of corporations are taking steps to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions – Unilever, for example, has reduced its carbon emissions by 39% per tonne of product manufactured since 2008 – more needs to be done, and fast.
At the end of April this year, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) issued a report that outlined the urgent need for the UK Government to promote carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS) technology if the UK has any chance of achieving its carbon emissions targets.
The BEIS report reinforces the urgent need for CCUS technologies to be adopted worldwide, and highlights the specific opportunities for UK-based technology pioneers to pave the way in this sector, setting a precedent for other countries across the globe.
CCUS technologies have considerable potential to help tackle the challenge posed by climate change, despite being still in their infancy – there are wide-ranging applications across a range of necessary and profitable industries, from concrete, fuels, aggregates and methanol, to polymers and chemicals. Despite the abundant possibilities for adopting CCUS technology, companies in these sectors require support so that they can turn these innovative technologies into viable realities.
There is already a precedent for the UK Government to implement a credible strategy for the reduction of carbon emissions: the adoption of legislation for diesel to contain a proportion of biodiesel and bioethanol being just one example.
Now that we are under even more pressure to make a difference, the Government needs to put further appropriate legislation in place to encourage the adoption of CCUS technology by all industries. This could include, for instance, the tightening of restrictions on CO2 emissions levels from the largest industry emitters, so that companies are forced to look around for innovative solutions, and are triggered to adopt CCUS.
Crucially, what is needed is not just legislative change, but a change in mindset too. We need to ensure that CO2 is no longer just perceived purely as an environmental villain, but as a raw material. The creation of a carbon economy is key if we are to lower our net carbon emissions in time to meet the CCC’s target.
Whilst the initial implementation of CCUS technology may come at a cost, governments across the world placing a focus on developing these technologies will help to lower the overall costs to industries. Introducing emissions trading or carbon credits as incentives could help to accelerate this adoption and change in mindset, particularly in any traditionally conservative industries.
CCUS technology doesn’t just make environmental sense; it’s also a cost-effective and productive solution. Whilst the already well-established carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies offer a solution to managing emissions, they come at a cost to organisations that make use of them.
In contrast, making use of the captured CO2 through carbon capture and utilisation technologies (CCU) can offset the costs of capturing this molecule – indeed, CO2 can be converted into a useful and abundant feedstock for a number of possible applications.
When used in the production of polyurethane, for example, up to 50% of the expensive and carbon-heavy oil-based raw materials can be replaced by captured waste CO2, creating up to $1bn in extra value within the global polyurethanes industry each year alone.
At present, some industries, including manufacturing and construction, can make use of CO2 as a feedstock more easily than others, but as technologies develop, the number of applications and industries that could employ CCU will also increase. The use of CO2 as a feedstock can also enhance product performance – for example, polyurethane insulation foams made with CO2 require less than half the amount of cork or mineral wools to provide the same degree of insulation – thus positively impacting both the consumer and the environment.
Paving the way
There are already a number of UK-based businesses with world-leading CCU technology solutions that are ready to market. Carbon8 Aggregate, for example, has pioneered a process that uses CO2 to transform thermal waste into artificial limestone.
Meanwhile, CarbonCure’s technologies transform CO2 emitted during cement preparation into nanosized mineral carbonates that are embedded within the concrete. Econic Technologies’ tailorable catalyst systems enable the utilisation of captured CO2 as a feedstock for manufacturing polyols, a precursor of plastics like polyurethanes, on an industrial scale.
The UK is clearly paving the way for change in this respect, and further promoting CCU solutions will enable these technologies to be deployed globally.
The UK already has infrastructure in place for CCS technology – ex-petrochemical sites like those in Runcorn, Aberdeen and Teesside, as well as possibilities for storage in North Sea oil gas fields, for instance – but these are all currently unused. Exploiting the resources we already have to hand is just a first step to helping lower carbon emissions, but the UK could do so much more when promoting CCU technology.
Although seen as being advanced on the global stage, the UK’s CCU sector does not receive sufficient financial support from the Government, compared to the likes of Germany, Canada and the US. To help the sector flourish, and help industries reduce their carbon emissions through a cost-effective method, the Government needs to step up and support the use of CCUS technologies.
Regardless of their source, carbon emissions do not merely stop at borders. Climate change is a global issue, and requires governments and industries across the globe to find a solution.