The latest UN Climate Change conference in Glasgow, or COP26, underscored the need to act quickly on climate change.
Answering the call, some of the world’s biggest economies and major carbon-intensive enterprises have pledged to bring their emissions to net zero within the next 2050 to 2070 timeframe.
But policymakers are also careful that the great energy transition does not compromise economic growth or constraint efforts by developing economies to raise their people’s standards of living.
While renewable energies are playing their part, one key technology that the fossil fuel industry is deploying is carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCUS) technologies.
The innovative technology prevents new emissions from entering the atmosphere, and instead is captured either in carbon pipeline and stored for other uses.
Indeed, the U.S. and China struck a deal at COP26 which included CCUS as one of the five areas that the two countries would collaborate on.
The International Energy Agency estimates the world’s current annual CO2 capture capacity from power and industrial facilities stands at 40 million tons.
Globally, there are 21 large-scale CCUS facilities already in operation, with another 24 in early development, and 17 in advanced development stage.
“The vast majority are in the United States and Europe, but projects are also planned in Australia, China, Korea, the Middle East and New Zealand,” the IEA said in a report. “If all these projects were to proceed, the amount of global CO2 capture capacity would more than triple, to around 130 Mt per year.”
The nascent industry is growing at a rapid pace, and had surged 48% to 111 million tonnes per annum in capacity by September 2021, compared to the same period last year, according to the Global CCS Institute.
But there is a long way to go, with the IEA estimating that the industry must grow by more than a factor of 100 by the year 2050, to achieve Paris Agreement climate targets.
“This means building 70 to 100 facilities a year, up to 100,000 construction jobs and ongoing jobs for 30,000 to 40,000 operators and maintainers,” the CCS Institute said in its annual report. “The size of the global CCUS industry could approach that of the world natural gas industry within a few decades creating a significant engine of growth, alongside renewable energy, in the new low emissions economy.”
Saudi Aramco, the world’s largest oil exporter, recently announced its climate goals, which include going to net-zero emissions by 2050.
“Aramco recognizes both the scale and urgency of the climate challenge as well as its responsibility to help address it, as the world’s largest energy company,” according to Yasir Al-Rumayyan, chairman of Aramco. “Reducing emissions, while meeting the world’s continuing energy needs, is one of the biggest challenges of this century.”
The company captures 0.8 million tons per annum (mpta) of CO2 at its Hawiyah Naturals Gas Liquids plant, which it has used to demonstrate the viability of enhanced oil recovery at the Uthmaniyah oil field.
Another area is the conversion of hydrocarbons to hydrogen and then
to ammonia, while capturing the CO2 created during the process.
Earlier this year, Aramco exported the world’s first shipment of high-grade blue ammonia (a source of hydrogen) to Japan for use in zero carbon power generation, reinforcing another potential role that hydrocarbons could play in a circular carbon economy.
Indeed, Gulf states’ heavy investments in oil and gas industry makes them key players in finding new innovations. Oil companies have also secured the largest number of carbon-capture patents in recent years.
There are 3 CCS facilities operating in the Gulf States, capturing 3.7 million tons per annum of carbon dioxide — or 10% of the CO2 captured globally, according to the Global CCS Institute, which is based in Abu Dhabi.
The GCC’s leadership in the nascent industry is often overlooked but in contrast, Europe accounts for just four per cent of all carbon captured globally.
The institute expects US$40 billion to US$60 billion investment in the GCC CCUS industry that help them rein in their emissions.
The UAE has also been investing heavily in its CCUS industry, and launched the world’s first commercial-scale CCUS facility from the Al Reyada & Co. steel industry to capture 800,000 tonnes of CO2 annually.
Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, which spearheaded the project, plans to expand the program’s capacity six-fold by capturing CO2 from its own gas plants, with the aim of reaching 5 million tonnes of CO2 every year by 2030 – the equivalent of the annual carbon capture capacity of over 5 million acres of forest.
ADNOC also recently signed a deal with French energy giant TotalEnergies to collaborate on developing CO2 emission reductions and CCUS technologies.
Gulf governments are expected to invest heavily in CCUS technologies over the next few years and be able to capture 30 Mtpa by 2035.
“If efforts to deploy CCUS intensify, as trends suggest, assuming a simple doubling of delivery rates CO2 capture might even reach 60 Mtpa by 2035,” the CCS Institute forecasts.