• The pandemic presents us with an opportunity to embrace and accelerate the energy transition.
  • Carbon capture and storage has a vital and growing part to play in decarbonization around the world.
  • Demand and capacity is growing encouragingly - but we still have much work to do.

This year will long be remembered as extremely challenging, due largely to the emergence and spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. The human toll has been awful; the economic impact will take decades to overcome.

This has been a classic black swan event, and its arrival has inflicted health, social and economic damage on an exceptional scale. The world is still working through the management of the pandemic – and with a vaccine not yet available, the need to learn to live in a world in which COVID-19 is a reality is fast presenting itself as the key challenge for governments, business and communities.

As many have observed, with governments needing to devise and implement economic stimulus packages to lift their nations out of recession and get people back to work, we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to alter course and re-grow the global economy in a climate-friendly and environmentally sustainable manner. Right now, we have before us an opportunity to embrace and accelerate the energy transition to deliver the new, clean energy and clean industry jobs that will sustain economies for many decades to come.

There is evidence that both the private and public sectors are increasingly choosing the road to climate friendly policies and investments. A growing number of countries have committed to net-zero emissions by around mid-century. Alongside national government commitments, it has been remarkable to see in 2020 that despite difficult trading conditions, major multinational energy companies have made pledges to achieve carbon-neutral outcomes by mid-century. For some this includes scope 3 emissions; those that are the result of the consumption (often combustion) of their products by customers.

A huge scaling up of CCS capacity is needed to meet our climate goals
A huge scaling up of CCS capacity is needed to meet our climate goals
Image: Global CCS Institute

It has also been notable that some governments have included increased abatement ambitions in their fiscal COVID-19-response packages, and that carbon capture and storage (CCS) has featured in several instances. This is welcomed and necessary. It has been clear for some time that achieving net-zero emissions by mid-century and containing temperature increases to well below 2˚C will require the rapid deployment of all available abatement technologies as well as the early retirement of some emission-intensive facilities and the retro-fitting of others with technology like CCS. It is also clear that carbon dioxide removal (CDR) will be required at large scale as overshooting carbon budgets is, regrettably, almost assured.

As we have been reporting for the past two years, the pipeline of operating and in-development CCS facilities around the world is growing again. This year continues the upward trajectory. The diversity of the industries and processes to which CCS is being applied is a continued testament to the flexibility of CCS to remove emissions from industries that are hard to decarbonize but which manufacture products that will continue to be essential to daily life around the world.

Global CCS capacity is on the rise once more
Global CCS capacity is on the rise once more
Image: Global CCS Institute

The sustained lift in activity around CCS and the increased investment in new facilities is exciting and encouraging. But there is so much more work to do.

Just considering the role for CCS implicit in the IPCC 1.5 SAR, somewhere between 350 and 1,200 gigatonnes of CO2 will need to be captured and stored this century. Currently, some 40 megatonnes of CO2 are captured and stored annually. This must increase at least 100-fold by 2050 to meet the scenarios laid out by the IPCC. Clearly, a substantial increase in policy activity and private sector commitment is necessary to facilitate the massive capital investment required to build enough facilities capable of delivering these volumes.

In every part of the CCS value chain, substantial progress is being made. New, more efficient and lower-cost capture technologies across a range of applications are changing the outlook for one of the most significant cost components of the CCS value chain. Proponents of the CCS hub model continue their impressive march towards reality; notable in this area is the move into operation of the Alberta Carbon Trunk Line. CDR technologies are also featuring in increasing investment and project activity, while new and favourable policy settings in many countries, including the USA, UK, the EU and Australia are boosting the number of projects under active investigation and development.

It has been especially significant to see the increasing engagement with, and interest from, the financial and ESG sectors. Significant investment opportunities are being comprehended while the need for many businesses to transition to the future net-zero emissions world means that ESG advisers are looking to technologies that can deliver the necessary change.

The road ahead is challenging, but CCS is increasingly well-placed to make a significant and necessary contribution to achieving net-zero emissions around mid-century.