Understanding the basics

What is carbon capture and utilization or sequestration (CCUS)?

CCUS, also referred to as carbon capture and storage, is the process of capturing carbon dioxide (CO2) formed during power generation, like from a natural gas or industrial plant, and storing it underground so that it can’t enter the atmosphere.

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The lifecycle of CCUs—how does it work?

Similar to introducing hydrogen to a plant, CCUS can be applied to both new and existing gas power plants, again avoiding lock-in of CO2 emissions for the life of the power plant. To capture the CO2, it can be extracted from power generation and industrial sites post-combustion, or even directly from the air—this is known as Direct Air Capture (DAC). Once it’s been captured, the CO2 is compressed and then transported either by ships or pipelines (the US has about 5,000 miles of CO2 pipelines today). Finally, the CO2 can be stored safely far underground—or, the CO2 can be re-used. The captured CO2 is generally reused to produce synthetic fuels, chemicals, and building materials. However, most of it is likely to be used for sequestration and enhanced oil recovery (EOR), because of the limited volume of CO2 demanded for utilization.

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Can it be applied to existing assets?

Yes, post-combustion carbon capture can be installed on both new and existing CO2 producing assets. For example, let’s consider retrofitting existing plants.

The retrofit strategy helps de-risk future carbon regulations that impact the decision to build a gas-fired power plant today. Furthermore, retrofits can significantly extend the lifetime of operating assets, extending their economic viability and even deferring costly decommissioning expenses with forced retirements. Carbon capture retrofits are expected to account for 50 percent of all CO2 capture projects by 2050 (source: IEA, 2020 Sustainable Development Scenario)

However, it is important to note that not every asset will be considered a good candidate because of things like available land, access to geologic storage formations, and lack of policy to encourage its deployment.

Looking forward

Realizing its potential

One of the major barriers to people embracing carbon capture is the high cost of its technologies and deployment strategies. More funding of research and development (R&D) can help reduce costs, improve efficiency, and accelerate the deployment of hydrogen and carbon capture solutions—leading to a more reliable grid. Also, governments can help establish certain policies accelerate these decarbonization technologies’ potential.