Forget Carbon Capture & Storage; Think Carbon Capture & Utilization

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Rather than treating carbon dioxide as a waste, as is the case with high-profile Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) technology, energy, industrial and power industry participants, as well as people all over the world, would be better served investing in researching and developing Carbon Capture & Utilization (CCU) systems, according to a research and policy paper from The Centre for Low Carbon Futures (CLCF).

CCS has been the energy and power industries’ favored solution when it comes to climate change mitigation, but it’s turned out to be a straw man, as well as a seeming dead end. Nothing in the way of real-world CCS is even on the road to fruition, despite all the hype and touting energy and power industry proponents have put into it.

Plus, it’s become apparent that CCS has a number of significant drawbacks: high start-up costs; high energy inputs and costs, difficulty in finding suitable sites, as well as uncertainty regarding CO2 leakage into groundwater and soil, CLCF points out. Besides all that, the big power and energy industry backers of CCS aren’t even willing to invest in it without substantial government subsidies or other investment guarantees and financial assistance.

Though poorly understood and relatively unknown, CCU offers several distinct advantages and benefits over CCS. Like many really good ideas, it seems like a ‘no brainer,’ one that is readily apparent, at least once someone brings it forward. After all, wouldn’t it be better to use captured carbon dioxide to make other useful products rather than just storing it?

“The CCU process converts it into commercially viable products such as bio-oils, chemicals, fertilizers and fuels. These could replace fossil fuel based products further reducing greenhouse gas emissions and improve waste treatment,” CLCF explains.

Among the numerous and varied applications of CCU are:

  • Using waste CO2 as a chemical feedstock for the synthesis of other chemicals;
  • Using waste CO2 as a chemical source of carbon for mineral carbonation reactions to produce construction materials; and
  • Using waste CO2 as a nutrient and CO2 source to make algae grow and supply fuels and chemicals.

Moreover, CCU can payback investments in relatively short periods of time, according to the report, entitled “Carbon Capture and Utilisation in the green economy: Using CO2 to manufacture fuel, chemicals and material.”

The hurdle for CCU at the moment is that it is still in the research and development phase. It has not been commercialized on a large scale yet, and greater investment is required to make it a reality, the CLCF notes.

In its policy briefing paper, the CLCF puts forward a number of “concrete” policy recommendations that could remedy the situation. While focused on the UK, they are applicable to any country, and several are international, or supranational, in nature. Among these are:

  • Formation of a strategic policy group charged with increasing investor awareness of the potential benefits of CCU, thereby bringing barriers down;
  • Considering CCU whenever and wherever CCS is proposed;
  • Establishment of an international agreement on CCU through the International Energy Agency (IEA);
  • Creation of a CCU Global Technology Roadmap; and
  • Inclusion of CCU in the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Best Practices for greenhouse gas accounting for national greenhouse gas inventories to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

* Photo courtesy of NASA’s Global Climate Change website.

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