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In January the largest carbon capture and storage (CCS) project ever built at a power station was completed on time and on budget. The exciting Petra Nova project in the US illustrates the potential of a technology that the world urgently needs to meet its current climate commitments. However, despite significant progress, there is a lot more that can be done to help CCS realise its full potential. Governments and industry both have roles to play. 

The International Energy Agency (IEA) has estimated in its two degree scenario that nearly 60% of our primary energy needs will continue to be met by fossil fuels in 20401. Without ways of capturing the emissions created from the production and use of fossil fuels, such as CCS, we will struggle to reach the emissions targets agreed at the COP21 climate conference in Paris in 2015. 

And CCS isn’t just for power stations. Emissions from the industrial sector represent approximately a quarter of global emissions, and more than half of these originate from the chemical and thermal processes currently used to produce steel and cement. Developing economies need these products to build their cities and infrastructure. Only CCS can eliminate these emissions.

So CCS is not just a technology to reduce emissions: if we can deploy it widely, we will maintain access to energy while supporting the jobs of millions of people around the world in the oil, gas, coal, steel and cement-making sectors. 

Although CCS and its component processes have successfully been demonstrated, more needs to be done to make it economically viable for wide deployment. Collectively, we can’t afford to ‘kick the can down the road’ when it comes to meeting our emissions targets. The challenge is to scale up CCS development at a pace that keeps us on track for credible decarbonisation.

So what should be done? Policies must be embedded in long-term strategies that recognise a range of abatement options will play a role in the future. In an ideal world, there would be mechanisms, such as a carbon price as part of a suite of policy solutions, to help steer commercial investment into low emission technologies like CCS. In the nearer term, industry and government must work together to develop pilot projects, demonstration plants and ‘first of a kind’ commercial scale operations. 

We need to understand and plan CCS development roadmaps in a range of sectors. As an example, BHP Billiton is working with Peking University to identify policy, technical and economic barriers to CCS deployment in the steel sector in China. This cooperative approach can help define the CCS deployment pathways, giving project developers the confidence to evaluate and then invest. 

There have been many valuable lessons learned on the way to developing the existing suite of CCS projects and sharing these experiences can significantly reduce the costs of the next generation. SaskPower, following successful integration of CCS into their Boundary Dam power station in Canada, estimates that they could cut development costs by 30% if they built the project again. BHP Billiton is helping them to find ways to make relevant findings accessible to others.

The longer that action is delayed, the more critical CCS will become. This is particularly the case if we need to develop negative emissions technologies, of which CCS is an important potential contributor2.

It’s been 20 years since the first large-scale CCS project came on stream at Sleipner in Norway. We’ll need to move more quickly in the next 20 years. The size and the scale of the climate challenge demands it – and CCS stands on the edge of being a major part of a global solution.

[1] The International Energy Agency’s 450 scenario.
[2] An example is bio energy-CCS (or BECCS), where a CCS project is combined with an industrial facility that burns biomass to create energy, or uses biomass as part of an industrial process. Biomass comes from living, or recently living, materials; usually this is wood or other plant matter.

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