By Sandra Odendahl, President and CEO, CMCRI
We are in the midst of a global crisis. The climate is getting increasingly unstable, atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases continue to rise, and we will need every tool in the toolbox if we want to halt the negative impacts of greenhouse gas emissions on our climate.
It would be lovely if we could flick a switch and stop burning fossil fuels overnight, or even in a decade, but there is no credible pathway to that outcome and all evidence suggests that humans will continue to burn fossil fuels and emit CO2 for at least a few more decades. The problem is that the climate cannot withstand this. Scientists and policy makers agree that a global temperature increase of even 2° C is the absolute maximum we can withstand without significant disruption to populations, economies and ecosystems.
Virtually all climate change mitigation scenarios show a significant role for capturing CO2 after combustion, if we are to drive down CO2 and greenhouse gas emissions to a level the planet can tolerate. Carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCUS) encompasses a range of technologies to deal with post-combustion CO2, turning it into valuable inputs to other products, or storing it safely deep in the earth.
Using CO2 in Products
An exciting range of carbon utilization technologies is being developed to convert CO2 to useful products such chemicals, cements, or plastic. Carbon utilization is a very attractive option for dealing with post-combustion CO2, because it generates salable products and creates a market for CO2. It’s estimated that the global market for carbon capture and utilization technologies could be as high as $1 trillion.
Canadian innovators have been leading the pack in creating new ways to sequester CO2 into valuable products. In 2018, for instance, 40% of the global NRG COSIA Carbon XPRIZE finalists were Canadian companies. Estimates suggest that these new CO2 products could store as much as 10% of the world’s annual emissions, a significant amount, but one that still leaves lots of room for additional solutions.
Storing CO2 Deep in the Earth
The technology for geological storage of CO2 has been under development for decades, with oil and gas companies using CO2 to enhance oil recovery from oilfields (CO2-EOR) since the 1970s. In the mid-1990s, the first CCS projects designed for dedicated CO2 storage came on line in Norway.
The International Energy Agency estimates that carbon capture and storage (CCS) can help meet approximately 14 percent of the global greenhouse gas emission reductions needed by 2050, under a 2-degree global warming scenario, and CCS is presently the only practical way to achieve deep decarbonization in the industrial sector.
In 2017, there were 17 commercial-scale carbon capture projects operating around the world (including three in Canada), with 22 more in development. CCS faces several challenges to mass deployment, the biggest of which may be its reputation for being very expensive, and governments have not provided consistent policy and financial support that is required to move the technology through its capital-intensive early deployment phase. However, as carbon pricing becomes the norm in jurisdictions around the world, and as the costs of CCS come down to meet carbon prices, there is a resurgence of interest in building new carbon capture and storage facilities.
Canadian CCUS strengths
It’s a rapidly expanding market and Canada has several strengths that could position us to play a lead role as an exporter of CCUS technologies and also as a preferred region for research, development and scale up. Our strengths include national R&D expertise, large-scale CCS installations, and government support. Canada is also home to an energetic, visionary group of developers and entrepreneurs working on cutting edge capture and utilization technologies.
It’s clear we have the necessary components to become a global CCUS powerhouse, but we need to move quickly as a collaborative industry sector to take advantage of the current window of opportunity. It won’t remain open forever.