Carbon capture and storage (CCS) – the process of capturing CO2 from high emission sources and injecting it into the ground for permanent storage – has come a long way since first used in the 1970s.
Back then, the technology was mainly used for enhanced oil recovery – separating CO2 from methane in natural gas reserves and pumping into nearby oil fields.
Nowadays, the technology is increasingly being looked upon for emissions reduction – both for energy production and ‘hard to abate’ industries, such as cement and fertiliser.
In April 2021, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced $263.7 million to be spent on CCS projects over the coming decade, building on last year’s pledge of $50 million over five years.
Globally, there are now also 26 large scale CCS projects in operation, with another 37 in construction and various stages of development.
Although potentially a game-changer for Australia’s decarbonised future, CCS has a way to go before achieving wide spread public acceptance, as a necessary means of reaching net zero.
To make a meaningful contribution to clean energy targets, the industry will need to scale up rapidly, with the current pace of CCS deployment quickening.
Paving the way
Enter the likes of Low Emission Technology Australia (LETA), whose work is paving the way for future CCS projects and investments.
LETA’s newly formed partnership with Glencore, for example, will be Australia’s first capture and storage of CO2 from a power station; and only the third of its kind, globally.
The company hopes to meet all conditions for financing mid-2021, with a view to supporting construction by the end of the year.
Once complete, the project will see the CO2 from power stations removed, transported and stored more than two kilometres below ground, permanently and safely, by 2023.
Chief Executive Officer Mark McCallum is optimistic the project will make the conditions easier for later projects.
“Glencore’s CTSCo Project will de-risk investment decisions for other organisations looking to reduce and remove their carbon emissions,” he said.
“If your business plans to pursue a carbon project next, you won’t have to spend ten years working out which technologies to use, where to store the carbon, which markets to sell to, or which regulation you need to abide by.”
With this ground work laid and more companies following suit, Mr. McCallum hopes the industry will be sufficiently scaled and viable in a matter of years.
“Each and every time you do these things, costs come down,” he said. “Take for example the broader clean energy sector, with solar panels and wind turbines getting more affordable and more efficient each year.”
Indeed, Petra Nova learnt from the world’s first facility capturing CO2 from a power station at Boundary Dam in Canada – which was approximately 40 per cent cheaper than its predecessor. Later attempts were 30-60 percent cheaper than Petra Nova’s; and today, Chinese companies are trumping that, with a target of $25 per tonne.
Also ongoing, are LETA’s efforts to find permanent, safe storage reservoirs for captured carbon, on the doorstep of high-density power sources – a pursuit that McCallum hopes will open up hydrogen industry opportunities.
“Once we have found the ideal storage locations for carbon, technology can remove and store the carbon, while on-sell the hydrogen as a fuel, at a third to a tenth of the cost of green hydrogen. This will be especially valuable for consumer markets that are seeking clean energy solutions but don’t have access to carbon storage – like Japan and Korea,” he said.
Direct air capture
Meanwhile CSIRO has extended its CO2-capture research to ‘direct air capture’ – in which CO2 is taken from the atmosphere and either permanently stored, or used in the production of fuels, chemicals and building materials.
“Direct air capture can create ‘negative emissions’ and compensate for emissions elsewhere or even for historical emissions. As CO2 can be produced at the point of use, it avoids the need for CO2 transport which is an important simplification of the technology chain,” said Dr. Feron.
Feron and his colleagues are exploring new methods for direct air capture, in a bid to increase the uptake of CO2 captured from the atmosphere and speed up the overall process.
“The low concentration of CO2 in the air – i.e. 300 times lower than a flue gas from a coal-fired power station – is challenging. It means that larger equipment and more energy is needed for a direct air capture process,” he added.
His team is working to reduce cost and improve efficiency, so that direct air capture is a viable option for Australia’s energy future.
“Our research has focused on enabling support to large-scale demonstration projects that provide a pathway for industry to adopt capture technologies cost-effectively and at scale,” he said.
“When we started mapping the air capture technology cost, we identified a number of approaches to reduce costs significantly. The techno-economic evaluations showed us a pathway to bring the costs down to $100 per ton – which is roundabout the cost of where the CO2 capture from coal fired power stations currently sits.”
The organisation’s broad science capabilities and strong track record of working with government and industry are expected to make further valuable contributions on this front, using a portfolio of direct air capture technologies.
A bright future
While there may be a way to go before CCS becomes mainstream, the rate of progression is an encouraging sign of things to come.
“Each and every time we look at a challenge with this much focus, better, cheaper, more affordable methods appear. I’m excited about the CCS future,” Mr. McCallum concluded.
Join CSIRO’s Dr. Paul Feron and LETA’s Mark McCallum at the Australian Carbon Capture, Utilisation & Storage Conference, due to take place on 18 – 19 August 2021 | Rydges Melbourne and virtually delivered.
Learn more and register.