The myths about low emission technology and carbon capture, utilisation and storage — busted
CCUS technology is critical in the transition to a net-zero carbon emissions future. But there are a range of misconceptions about its viability, use and value. So we’ve busted some of the most common myths about the technology and the important role it plays in a clean energy future.
Myth #1: CCUS isn’t needed to help reduce emissions and meet climate commitments
False. International climate and energy groups — including the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the International Energy Agency (IEA) — agree low emission technologies are crucial to the ‘net-zero challenge’.
The IEA has found, “a broad portfolio of technologies is needed to achieve deep emissions reductions, both practically and cost-effectively. Energy efficiency and renewables are central pillars, but other technologies and strategies have a major role to play.”1
Under the Paris Agreement, Australia has agreed to cut greenhouse gas emissions from 2005 levels by 26-28% by 2030.
CCUS contributes to the transition to net-zero by tackling CO2 emissions from existing energy assets and providing solutions in hard-to-abate industries like steel and cement manufacturing. Plus, it supports the rapid scaling of new clean energy sources such as hydrogen.
Decarbonising hard-to-abate sectors remains a challenge — but a range of low-emission technologies including CCUS could bridge the gap between the energy demands of industry and reducing carbon emissions.
Myth #2: If CCUS was a viable, proven technology it would be in use all over the world
It is used across the world. CCUS is a mature, proven technology that has been used at large scale for decades. Currently, CCUS removes the equivalent of about 10 million cars worth of carbon emissions every year in countries like Canada, the US and Norway.
More than 100 pilot and demonstration projects have been run to develop the technology. In the US, carbon capture was first used at natural gas processing plants in Texas in 1972 – almost half a century ago2. In Australia, LETA has been investing in low emission technology projects for almost 15 years, and was the first in the world to prove carbon capture on a coal-fired power station.
There are now 63 commercial CCUS facilities currently operating or in development across the world. This technology has the capacity to capture, store and use over 100 million tonnes of CO2 annually, and that number is constantly growing.
Myth #3: The use of CCUS does not reduce CO2 emissions
Untrue. CCUS has been widely recognised as a proven climate change mitigation measure by the IPCC, the IEA, the UK Committee on Climate Change, and the US Environment Protection Agency.
Studies have shown that the technology could reduce global CO2 emissions by almost a fifth. That could lower the cost of tackling the climate crisis by 70%3 and will enable the use at scale of clean, affordable, reliable and flexible energy sources. To date, over 220 million tonnes of man-made CO2 emissions have been stored using this technology4.
One of the key reasons CCUS is necessary is because heavy industries are hard-to-abate — so they are difficult and expensive to adapt to run on cleaner energy. The IEA estimates that 40% of global energy use is by emissions-intensive industries.
For some of these industries, CCUS currently is the only scalable option at hand. The IEA gives the example of cement production, where “two-thirds of emissions are from chemical reactions related to heating limestone (rather than burning fossil fuels)”, while “CCUS is currently the cheapest option for reducing emissions in the production of some important chemicals such as ammonia, which is widely used in fertilisers”1.
Myth #4: Low emission technologies compete with renewables
Incorrect. CCUS and renewables are not in competition. Low emission technologies and renewable energy share the same goal — a net-zero emissions future — and both play an important role in lowering emissions.
While renewables account for about 20% of Australia’s electricity generation, traditional sources such as coal and natural gas provide the remaining 80% and, with CCUS, can complement renewable energy with on-demand electricity while significantly reducing emissions.
The Allam-Fetvedt Cycle or Allam Cycle is a revolutionary low emissions technology that can also work side-by-side with renewable energy sources. Operating like a large-scale grid battery, the zero emission Allam Cycle can ramp up power production almost instantly, allowing it to help with energy security by acting as a backup to power from intermittent renewables.
Myth #5: Rapid investment and uptake of renewables is the only way to meet international climate commitments
Not really. Reaching a net-zero future will require more than renewables and need a range of technologies across areas like transport, industry and agriculture. It will also require behavioural change and the more efficient use of resources. According to the IEA, “achieving net-zero emissions by 2050 will require nothing short of the complete transformation of the global energy system”5.
CCUS contributes to the transition to a clean energy future in multiple ways, including reducing emissions from existing energy assets, hard-to-abate industries and enabling low-emission hydrogen production. That hydrogen can then be used to power industries where gaps exist between energy demand and the supply of renewable sources. And with electricity continuing to play an increasing part of total energy consumption from households to industry low emissions fuels and technologies are critical.
Myth #6: Transporting CO2 is dangerous
CO2 is regularly transported around the world and in Australia. Once CO2 is captured it is compressed into a liquid-like state. It can then be transported safely by road, sea or pipeline for storage or for use in industry.
There are around 50 CO2 pipelines currently operating in the US, which transport approximately 68 million tonnes of CO2 per annum. CO2 pipelines are highly regulated by governments to ensure that they are safe no CO2 is released into the atmosphere.
Myth #7: CO2 leaks when it’s injected underground
When CO2 is stored it is securely locked in by a layer of impermeable non-porous rock known as ‘caprock’, which permanently seals the CO2 and prevents it from escaping.
Thorough geological survey work is done to test the viability of any potential storage location to ensure safety and security. And after CO2 is injected, storage sites are carefully monitored to ensure carbon remains trapped.
Victoria’s CO2CRC Otway Project — partly funded by LETA — has confirmed that storage in depleted gas fields and saline aquifers can be safe and effective and that these structures could store globally significant amounts of CO2.
Myth #8: CO2 stored underground can affect water quality
False. Studies have shown that captured CO2 doesn’t affect water tables.
Captured CO2 is generally stored well below the level of groundwater aquifers. These are around 200 metres below ground level, while CO2 is injected and stored between one and three kilometres below ground level.
Storage sites are not connected to freshwater or even water for use by industry. Their locations are extensively researched and tested, so that they’re deemed safe from the impact of drilling and seismic activity.
For example, the Weyburn-Midale Carbon Dioxide Monitoring and Storage Project — conducted in Canada between 2000 and 2012 — found there were no changes to water quality from stored CO2.
Myth #9: CO2 stored underground can explode
CO2 cannot explode or burn. That’s why it is used in the fire extinguishers found in homes and workplaces across Australia. It is found naturally in the atmosphere and is essential for plant and animal life. CO2 is a key part of photosynthesis — where plants process sunlight, water and CO2 into oxygen.
Captured CO2 is generally stored between one and three kilometres beneath the earth’s surface, locked away by a layer of impermeable rock called ‘caprock’.
Myth #10: CCUS is an expensive technology
Not only is the cost of CCUS justified considering the capabilities of the technology, the cost of acting on climate change would increase if it wasn’t used.
IPCC analysis has found that the financial cost of mitigating climate change would rise by 138% if CCUS isn’t used.
And, according to IEA research, large-scale CCUS projects have already managed to reduce costs substantially. It gives the example of CO2 capture in the power sector, where costs were reduced by 35% from the first to the second large-scale CCUS facility1. This is a trend that is set to continue as the market expands.
By building carbon capture into a range of energy systems, emissions can be lowered at an affordable level for consumers and industries.
Likewise, the IEA has stated that “limiting the availability of CCUS would considerably increase the cost and complexity of the energy transition by increasing reliance on technologies that are currently more expensive and at earlier stages of development”1.
One key reason for this is that CCUS can be retrofitted to existing facilities in hard-to-abate industries — while facilities that use alternative sources can be built. In some high-emissions industries, CCUS is currently the only solution available as well as the cheapest.
Looking to the future, the continuing development of CCUS — as well as increased commercial use at scale — means costs related to production and implementation will decrease.