CCS and CCU. The opportunity that Europe cannot afford to waste

By Graeme Sweeney, Chairman of the European Zero Emission Technology and Innovation Platform (ZEP)
Spring 2019

The climate change debate in Europe is about to heat up this year. Much of that will be influenced by the Parliament elections and how the new MEPs approach this challenge as they take the concerns of their local constituencies to Brussels. The big question many of them will be tasked to take forward is how we can ensure a transition that works for all and does not disproportionally affect the regular citizen; a transition that is just.

This debate will accelerate as further details on the Commission’s strategy for long-term greenhouse gas emissions reduction are expected to come out during the course of the year, with adoption to the UNFCCC Secretariat expected by early 2020. Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) and Carbon Capture and Utilisation (CCU) technologies can facilitate an economic transition that creates positive socio-economic factors rather than only an industrial transition. Whilst CCS and CCU creates new jobs and economic benefits, it also crucially helps to retain Europe's vital energy intensive and process industries in a net-zero world, helping to avoid carbon leakage.

In fact, there is a strong case for treating CCS and CCU as a societal good to reduce CO2 emissions across various sectors of Europe's regional and national economies. We can compare its development to water systems; the collection, treatment, storage, distribution and drainage. Water system infrastructure was a public investment when undertaken in the 19th century in Europe. It is a common public resource we now take for granted, but continues to be one of the backbones of our society. CO2 transport and storage infrastructure should be seen in the same way; an enabling infrastructure underpinned by the public sector through direct investment and/or appropriately structured regulation. This will be needed now that it is becoming increasingly clear that CCS and CCU are crucial technology solutions that must be urgently deployed to enable Europe to meet its contribution under the Paris Agreement.

Since the Paris Agreement was adopted in 2015, attention has turned towards the goal of net-zero emissions and how to achieve this. It is important to stress that all solutions will be needed to achieve this goal and certain solutions provide cross-cutting benefits which will be vital to enabling the transition to a low-carbon economy. One such solution is CO2 transport and storage infrastructure.

The development of CO2 pipeline and storage networks in key European regions such as the Port of Rotterdam and Norway creates strategic CCS and CCU clusters which can unlock decarbonisation in a number of important sectors, such as energy intensive industries, power and heating. Such networks can also be linked to natural gas infrastructure, thereby providing low-cost low-carbon hydrogen. In the German federal state of North Rhine-Westphalia, CCS and hydrogen is becoming an attractive concept for achieving carbon neutrality in heavy industry – with proposals to connect to North Sea storage sites for permanent CO2 storage.

The short story is that CCS and CCU technologies are proven and readily available, and much progress has been made in the last few years with regard to operational projects. According to the Global CCS Institute, there are now 23 large-scale CCS projects in operation or construction around the world – spanning sectors such as power generation, natural gas processing, cement, iron and steel, chemicals and fertiliser. There are also a large number of small-scale and part-chain projects and some of these are located in Europe. Interestingly, one application of CCS has really stepped into the spotlight in the last eighteen months – the combination of CCS and steam methane reforming of natural gas to produce hydrogen (blue hydrogen). This has become a particularly significant solution in the debate around how to decarbonise heating and transport – and hydrogen can also be used as a low-carbon source of electricity.

There are those who believe CCS is purely a CO2 mitigation solution. While this is technically true, it is only half the story. CCS and CCU also represent a massive growth industry for Europe and, where CCS is included in scenarios that achieve a 2050 net-zero emissions energy system, it delivers a saving of over €1,150bn. This is one opportunity that Europe cannot afford to waste. As we approach the EU Parliament Elections, let’s make sure MEPs hear this one message loud and clear: CCS and CCU is ready and now is the time for action.