What happened?

Earlier this month, Irish startup Silicon Kingdom Holdings announced plans to develop a plant that will capture 100 metric tons of CO2 a day, which will ultimately be scaled to a capacity of 4 million tons of CO2 a year. This follows a series of recent funding in other direct air capture technologies, such as Carbon Engineering, which announced in March that it has received an additional $70 million in funding, including investments from major oil and gas companies such as BHP and Chevron. Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) involves the capture of CO2 from fuel combustion or industrial processes at the precise moment and place it is emitted. The increasing popularity of CCS technologies is largely attributable to decreasing costs and increasing efficiencies. Research from eight years ago still pointed to problems such as costs ($1.000 per ton CO2 captured) and efficiency (net positive CO2 emissions) due to the use of fossil-based energy sources for CCS processes. However, current research shows that the costs are below $100 per ton CO2 and it achieves significant carbon removal.

What does this mean?

A plethora of reports have stressed the urgency of reducing worldwide CO2 levels. The IPCC has highlighted that achieving the ambitions of the Paris Agreement will require more than just efforts to reduce emissions; it will also require the deployment of technologies to actually remove carbon from the atmosphere. CCS is one of the only technology solutions that can significantly reduce emissions directly at the source of CO2intensive processes. In the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) sustainable development scenario, CCS accounts for 7% of the cumulative emissions reductions needed by 2040 (other components are 6% nuclear and 34% renewables). 80% of today’s CCS capacity is concentrated in the oil and gas sector, of which 70% is in North America (due to policy support).

What’s next?

In order to achieve the IEA’s 7%, society must overcome three hurdles. First, an analysis by the IEA suggests that attracting investments in CCS will require a commercial incentive as low as $40 per ton of CO2. This $40 goal is not yet in sight,considering that currently, only under favorable circumstances (i.e. pure streams of CO2 in normal operation, such as natural gas processing), have the costs been lower than the average of $100 per ton CO2. Second, broader application across industries and continents is necessary. Authorities need to recognize the high potential of CCS in delivering the steep emissions reductions needed across key industrial processes such as steel, cement and chemicals manufacturing, all of which will remain vital business blocks of the modern industrial society. Third, authorities need to develop attractive policy incentives to stimulate future projects that can advance expertise and drive down costs. Given the serious contribution of CCS to cumulative emissions reductions, policymakers should establish attractive funding to complement commercial investments.