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In association with Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) Group
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December 1, 2021updated 10 Jan 2022 1:18pm

Reimagining the carbon problem

If countries’ net-zero targets are to be met by 2050, it is essential to dramatically reduce CO2 emissions – and the use of renewable energy sources alone is not enough.

Carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS) is one of the only technologies that can both reduce and remove carbon dioxide (CO₂) emissions. It has the potential to make an enormous difference, absorbing more than 90% of the CO2 emitted by power stations and industrial plants. Captured CO2 can even be transformed into a valuable commodity.

CCUS is playing an increasingly pivotal role in our action on climate change. The International Energy Agency has recognised it as a key pillar in the clean energy transition, but if its potential is to be realised, CCUS needs to be embraced on a much greater scale.  

The rise of CCUS

CCUS is being increasingly deployed in an effort to decarbonise our energy system and is set to produce significant results. Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) Engineering has so far supported 13 commercial carbon capture plants globally, with a total yield equivalent to three million metric tonnes per year.

Most of the world’s carbon capture currently takes place in North America, and the continent looks set to continue to lead the way. “In North America, interest in CCUS is growing faster than at any other time in the past, and CCUS deployment exceeds every other region globally,” says Tiffany Wu, business development manager in the MHI Engineered Services Division (ESD). “The US Department of Energy continues to fund R&D and engineering studies, and Canada is ramping up similar programmes.”

MHI Engineering is constantly developing more efficient CCUS methods. A new proprietary solvent for capturing CO2 concluded testing at the Technology Centre Mongstad, Norway – one of the world’s largest carbon capture demonstration facilities – in October 2021, and a Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage facility is being developed at the Drax Power Station in the UK.  

More than power

While CCUS has traditionally been used to capture CO2 from power generation, its applications are now being expanded.

“The focus for CCUS development has shifted over time,” says Jerrad Thomas, MHI ESD business development manager. “Ten years ago, the primary interest was power generation, based on the idea that it was the largest source of carbon emissions by sector. Now, power generators are joined by a broad spectrum of facilities, including liquid natural gas (LNG) producers, cement producers, refiners, steel producers and so on.”

According to Makoto Susaki, senior vice-president and CTO of MHI Engineering, “the area in which CCS shows the most promise in helping to reach net-zero emissions is in decarbonising heavy industries”. Cement is currently responsible for 8% of global CO2 emissions. MHI Engineering is conducting a feasibility study for CCUS in cement production at the Lehigh Cement Plant in Edmonton, Canada, estimated to capture 600,000 metric tonnes annually. Captured CO2 can be repurposed by injecting it into concrete to reinforce it.

For the shipping industry, MHI Group is developing a unit to capture CO2 from marine exhaust gases. The Carbon Capture on the Ocean project will be the first of its kind.

“In a world first for the LNG industry, MHI Engineering is partnering in the roll-out of a large-scale, post-combustion carbon capture facility at the Rio Grande LNG project in Texas,” Susaki adds. The facility will have the potential to capture and store more than five million metric tonnes of CO2 per year.  

The carbon future

Despite the huge potential of CCUS, it is yet to be rolled out on a truly global scale.

A significant remaining barrier is cost. MHI Group is working to bring down the average price of CCUS from $50–70 per tonne of CO2 to around $30 by developing cheaper technology, creating economies of scale and applying it to industries like LNG.

As well as this, for a true carbon economy to be developed, a carbon value chain must be created, covering capture, transport, storage and utilisation.

“There needs to be a coordinated effort to rapidly scale both the CCS and CCU markets,” says Susaki. “The goal of these efforts has to be directed towards creating an end-to-end value chain for CO2 that can advance its commercial viability. Eventually, the enhanced recycling of CO2 could transform it into a valuable commodity.”

The market promises to evolve over time, says Thomas. “In the long term, we may see divergence of CCUS deployment between sectors,” he explains. “Power generators may shift to renewable or nuclear power. Some industrial facilities will utilise blue or green hydrogen. However, there are certain hard-to-abate industries such as cement production where CCUS may play a key role for many decades.”

Ultimately, carbon capture has the potential to sequester a third of all industrial emissions by 2040 – but for this to be realised, policymakers, investors and energy sector stakeholders will need to work together. MHI Group intends to be involved in all aspects of the supply chain, including the physical and digital carbon network, with the aim of helping to develop a thriving carbon marketplace.

“At MHI Group, our contributions will span the full value chain of decarbonisation through our world-leading CCUS capabilities and in supporting the shift to non-carbon energy sources,” says Thomas.

CO2 is sometimes seen as the big bad wolf of the climate narrative, but it doesn’t have to be so. CCUS offers the change to reimagine CO2 as a resource, and this new way of thinking offers the chance to turn the tide on the climate problem.

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