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What does low emission technology mean?
Low emission technology (LET) includes a range of technologies that allow us to produce the energy and goods we need to grow the economy now while at the same time move us towards a low emissions future.
LETs can create clean, reliable, affordable and flexible power and reduce carbon emissions from ‘hard-to-abate’ industries such as heavy manufacturing (such as steel and cement) as well as heavy transport. They include:
- Carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS), that captures carbon from power and industrial plants, then stores it underground, or uses it in industrial production.
- The Allam Cycle, which recycles or captures its own carbon emissions as it produces clean electricity. The captured CO2 can be stored or used by industry. It can even generate a clean fuel critical to our net-zero emission future - hydrogen.
- Clean hydrogen using carbon capture, for example, can be used as a fuel to lower emissions from heavy industries.
Why do we need low emission technology?
Low emission technologies have a vital role to play in reaching net-zero carbon emissions and meeting international climate commitments. Under the Paris Agreement, Australia has agreed to cut greenhouse gas emissions from 2005 levels by 26% to 28% by 2030.
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’.
LETs enable the production of clean, affordable, reliable and flexible energy that limits CO2 emissions. These technologies can also be used for transport and to produce the materials that we rely on every day - such as steel, cement and chemicals - in a way that is clean and climate friendly.
Where can low emission technology be used?
Low emission technologies are a crucial part of the energy mix needed to transition to a clean energy future.
These proven technologies can be used to reduce carbon emissions from energy production as well as hard-to-abate industries such as steel, cement and chemical manufacturing.
Carbon capture utilisation and storage (CCUS), which stores CO₂ safely underground for use across multiple industries, contributes nearly 15% in cumulative emissions reduction, according to the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) Sustainable Development Scenarios.
The IEA Scenarios assess the contribution of clean energy technology — through innovation such as CCUS and low-carbon hydrogen — to reach net-zero carbon emissions within 50 years.
In 2020, Australia’s then chief scientist Dr Alan Finkel AO said low emission technology would help Australia be a leader in the global shift to a decarbonised future.
“This means developing and adopting low-emissions technologies that can cost-effectively replace high-emissions incumbents. These low-emissions technologies will underpin our success in agriculture, transport, industry, the built environment and electricity supply.”
What is happening with low emission technologies in Australia?
Low emission technologies are hitting a new phase in their development in Australia, with a central focus on the transition to a clean energy economy.
Carbon capture utilisation and storage (CCUS) is starting to scale, with more storage sites being identified and tested. In 2020, Chevron’s Gorgon project reached the milestone of 3 million tonnes of CO₂ captured and stored.
As demand for cleaner fuel and energy sources grows, attention is also turning to how CCUS can be used to produce ’clean hydrogen‘ in the move to a net-zero emissions future.
Hydrogen has been identified as having a strong role to play in the reducing emissions from ‘hard-to-abate’ sectors — such as heavy transport including aviation, shipping and long-distance road transport; and heavy industry such as cement, steel and chemical manufacturing.
Through LETA’s investment, investigation is also underway into the viability of the Allam Cycle using coal. The technology uses high-pressure CO₂ — rather than the steam produced by burning fossil fuels — to generate low-cost power while capturing 100% of CO₂. The process also produces clean hydrogen.
LETA is also funding research to assess the viability of mitigating fugitive emissions from underground coal mines through a process called ventilation air methane abatement (VAM). The impact of methane is 25 times greater than carbon emissions.
How can low emission technology and renewables work together?
Low emission technologies and renewable energy are partners working towards a shared goal - a net-zero carbon emissions future.
Renewables, such as hydro, wind and solar play an important part in lowering emissions. Yet despite their increasing role in Australia, they currently have limitations, particularly around scale and supply.
Renewables account for about 20% of Australia’s electricity generation, while traditional sources such as coal and natural gas provide the remainder.
LETs, such as carbon capture utilisation and storage, can work side by side with renewables, reducing emissions from the power sector and other ‘hard-to-abate’ industries such as steel and cement manufacturing, and heavy transport.
How much money has been invested in low emission technologies?
Since 2014-15, the Federal Government has spent more than $10 billion on research, demonstration and commercialisation of low emissions and renewable technologies including:
- $440 million for low emission fossil fuel technologies
- $85 million for hydrogen
- solar (over $3 billion)
- energy efficiency (almost $3 billion)
- wind (over $1 billion)
The government’s technology roadmap details its plans to spend over $18 billion on low emission technologies in the 10 years to 2030.
Since 2006, LETA has invested more than $310 million in low emissions technology projects, including $209 million on carbon capture utilisation and storage.
Who is investing in low emission technologies?
In Australia, investment in low emission technologies comes from State and Federal governments, research and development groups such as the CSIRO and CO2CRC, as well as through industry — either directly or through LETA.
Since 2006, LETA has invested more than $310 million in over 15 projects developing low emission technologies in Australia. These include proving carbon capture for coal-fired power stations, geological studies for carbon storage locations across Australia, and ventilation air methane abatement studies
For example, the $230 million CTSCo Project, located in southern Queensland is jointly funded by natural resources company Glencore, LETA, and the Queensland and Federal governments.
Currently a number of companies are all actively investigating and investing in CCUS for mining and energy resources projects around Australia.
In an endorsement of the role that low emission technology will pay in the transition to a clean energy future, the Federal Government is planning on expanding the remit of several agencies to invest in these critical technologies.
Does more investment in low emission technologies mean less for renewables?
The need to cut carbon emissions is an urgent one. And the solution to reaching a net-zero emissions future will come from a range of technologies, including low emission technologies and renewables working side-by-side.
Take, for example, the view of the International Energy Agency (IEA), which finds an energy transition to net-zero carbon emissions by 2070 will require ‘radical technological transformation’. There is no one solution.
“Energy efficiency and renewables are central pillars, but additional technologies are needed to achieve net-zero emissions,” the IEA reports on the technology needed for net-zero emissions.
The shared goal of low emission technologies and renewables is also reflected in the Federal Government’s Technology Investment Roadmap. With bipartisan backing, the 2020 plan identifies coal, gas, solar and wind energy as ‘mature’ technologies. It also seeks to increase investment in a suite of technologies including ‘clean’ energy, storage, ‘low carbon’ steel and aluminium, carbon capture utilisation and storage as well as soil carbon for priority investment.
Under the $1.9 billion roadmap, the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC) would have their investment scope broadened to include a range of low emissions technologies, as well as renewables.
This mixed technology approach to emissions reductions — balancing the needs of consumers and industry, with the maturity of technologies and the need to reach a clean energy future — is reflected in the International Panel on Climate Change’s view that “combinations of new and existing technologies and practices” are crucial.
What is CCUS?
Carbon capture utilisation and storage (CCUS) uses technology to capture more than 90% of the CO2 emitted from industrial facilities and power stations.
CO2 is released when fuels such as coals, oil and natural gas are used. Capturing these emissions stops them from entering the atmosphere and contributing to climate change. Emissions from industry are a major contributor to global carbon emissions.
Once CO2 is captured, it can be stored safely and permanently underground in geological formations, or it can be used by industry.
For decades, CCUS has been removing carbon emissions in countries like Canada, the United States, Japan and Norway. Currently, 40 million tonnes per annum of carbon emissions are being captured.
CCUS allows us to keep producing the energy and products we need for our way of life as we move to a net-zero emissions future.
Is CCUS a proven technology?
Yes. Carbon capture utilisation and storage (CCUS) is a mature, proven technology that has been used at large scale for decades at commercial level.
More than a hundred pilot and demonstration projects have been run to develop the science and technology across a range of industries, as well as in varying geographic locations and geological formations around the world.
CCUS is recognised as a proven climate change mitigation measure by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the International Energy Agency, the UK Committee on Climate Change, and the US Environment Protection Agency.
There are 26 working, large-scale carbon capture facilities, removing carbon emissions from steel and cement manufacturing, refineries and power stations across the globe. Another 34 are in various stages of development. Currently, 40 million tonnes per annum of carbon emissions are being captured.
Captured CO2 can be safely stored in oil and gas reservoirs or other geological formations and is highly regulated.
As CCUS technology has matured, captured CO2 is also increasingly being used in manufacturing, for example in the production of fertiliser (urea), concrete and chemicals.
How does CCUS work?
Carbon capture utilisation and storage (CCUS) is a proven technology to capture carbon emissions when fuels such as coal, oil and natural gas are used, often by industry.
Here’s how CCUS works:
- Carbon emissions are separated from other gases released by the use of fuels, and captured.
- The CO2 is compressed into a liquid-like state so it can be safely transported via pipeline, road or ship.
- Once transported, the CO2 can be stored safely deep underground in porous rock within geological formations. This is called geosequestration. Or the carbon dioxide can be used by industry or in manufacturing products such as cement, plastics, memory foam, methanol, pharmaceuticals and even carbonated drinks.
- Stored CO2 is sealed and closely monitored to make sure the CO2 is safely contained.
Is storing carbon under the earth’s crust safe?
Yes. Storing carbon deep underground – also known as geosequestration – is a safe, permanent solution for removing carbon emissions. Safe carbon storage is the result of decades of global scientific research, including projects funded by LETA, and is highly regulated.
To store carbon, captured CO2 is injected in a liquified form more than one kilometre below the earth’s surface into carefully chosen geological sites. These locations include saline rock formations and former oil and gas fields.
The CO2 is securely locked in by a layer of impermeable rock, known as ‘caprock’, such as shale or clay, which seals the CO2 and prevents it from escaping. After the CO2 is injected, storage sites are carefully monitored to ensure the carbon remains trapped in their reservoirs.
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”.
The ongoing project is one of the world’s largest carbon geosequestration research efforts. It has stored more than 80,000 tonnes of CO2 in a depleted gas reservoir deep underground and other natural formations.
Could CO2 stored undergound explode?
No. CO2 cannot explode or burn. That’s why it is used in fire extinguishers found in homes and workplaces across Australia.
Carbon dioxide is found naturally in the atmosphere and is essential for plant and animal life. For example, CO2 is a key part of photosynthesis, where plants process sunlight, water and CO2 to grow, and in doing so produce the oxygen we breathe.
Captured CO2 is generally stored between 1 and 3 kilometres beneath the surface and is locked away by a layer of impermeable rock called ‘caprock’. Transportation of CO2, most commonly through gas pipelines, which are highly regulated by the government.
Does stored CO2 affect the water table or groundwater quality?
Studies show that captured CO2 doesn’t affect water tables. Captured CO2 is generally stored well below groundwater aquifers. While acquirers are generally 200 metres below ground level, carbon dioxide is injected and stored between 1 and 3 kilometres below ground level.
Due to the specific geology of storage locations, sites are extensively researched and tested, including with drilling testing and investigation of seismic activity. As a result storage sites are not connected to freshwater or even water for use by industry.
Scientific testing from Canada’s the Weyburn-Midale Carbon Dioxide Monitoring and Storage Project, conducted between 2000 and 2012, found there were no changes to water quality from CO2 stored deep in local geological formations. Recorded minor changes in well water are likely from natural, seasonal or other causes.
How is CO2 transported?
CO2 is a stable substance that is regularly transported around the world and in Australia.
Once CO2 is captured from a power station or industrial facility it is compressed into a liquid-like state, known as ‘supercritical fluid’. It can then be transported safely for storage or for use in industry. There are four ways to transport CO2:
Ships, rail and trucks are generally used to transport smaller volumes of CO2, in specially adapted tanks. Trucks are currently the most common way to transport CO2 in Australia.
Around the world, pipelines are the preferred way to transport large volumes of CO2 across large distances - similar to how water is piped. Globally, thousands of kilometres of pipeline are currently moving captured carbon for storage, with over 6,000 kilometres in the US alone. In Snohvit, a natural gas field in Norway, 700,000 tonnes of CO2 are transported 160 kilometres to the North Sea each year.
Can carbon capture technology be used for more than just coal-fired power plants?
Yes. The benefit of carbon capture utilisation and storage (CCUS) technology is that it has multiple uses in addition to enabling power stations to produce low-emissions electricity.
Carbon capture lowers carbon emissions produced by industries such as steel and cement. Globally, these industries generate a quarter of CO2 emissions, so applying this technology in this sector will be critical to achieving our climate change commitments.
CCUS also allows captured carbon dioxide to be reused in industrial processes. Once captured, CO2 can be transported and stored safely deep underground, or used by industry. Manufacturing uses include making plastics, memory foam and methanol, pharmaceuticals and even carbonated drinks.
How can captured CO2 be used?
Carbon emissions captured through CCUS don’t just have to be stored underground. The ‘utilisation’ part of CCUS means CO2 can be used to make low-emissions products we use every day.
Captured carbon is being used as a key raw material to produce plastics, concrete, chemicals such as urea for fertilisers, and carbonated drinks. For example, the Coca-Cola-owned Swiss brand Valser, produces Switzerland’s first CO2-neutral mineral water from captured carbon dioxide.
What role does CCUS play in a net-zero carbon emissions future?
The consensus from international climate and energy groups, including the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the International Energy Agency (IEA), is that low emission technologies are crucial to the ‘net-zero challenge’.
Under the Paris Agreement, Australia has agreed to cut greenhouse gas emissions from 2005 levels by 26% to 28% by 2030. And a number of international governments, including the US, UK, Japan and South Korea have pledged to be carbon neutral by 2050.
Carbon capture utilisation and storage (CCUS) can work alongside renewable energy sources as they continue to mature and scale. CCCUS reduces the carbon emissions of heavy industries such as electricity generation, mining processes and steel and cement production, by at least 90 per cent. And it enables affordable clean production of zero-emissions hydrogen and creates CO2 that can be used by industry.
As low emission technology develops and decreases in cost, CCUS’s contribution to reducing and removing emissions will only grow.
New areas of CCUS development include bioenergy with CCUS or BECCS, which captures and stores CO2 when energy is produced by biomass and direct air capture (DAC), which captures CO2 directly from ambient air for safe storage.
According to the International Energy Association (IEA), CCUS has the potential to capture more than 28 gigatonnes from industry by 2060.
What is the Allam Cycle?
The Allam-Fetvedt Cycle (Allam Cycle) is a groundbreaking new technology that converts carbon dioxide, including carbon emissions, into a source of near-zero emission power.
Here’s how the Allam Cycle works. To generate energy, traditional power plants use hot steam - produced by burning fossil fuels mixed with air - to spin turbines. Instead, the Allam Cycle uses fluid CO2 created by burning a mixture of natural gas or coal syngas with pure oxygen. The high pressure CO2 is then used to create electricity.
The by-products of the technology are CO2 and water. The carbon dioxide can be reused to produce more power, captured and stored safely or used by other industries.
Another major benefit of the Allam Cycle is that it can deliver power when demand on the grid is high, while the traditional steam method is slow to react. The technology is also well suited to Australia due to its rich natural resources.
Does the Allam Cycle just produce electricity?
No. As well as electricity, the Allam Cycle also produces several by-products that can be used to make products we use every day. Nothing is wasted in the Allam Cycle.
The two leftover products from producing power using the technology - CO2 and water - can be reused for a variety of purposes and products:
- to produce more electricity
- the pipeline-ready carbon dioxide produced can be captured and safely stored underground or used by industry
- to help create hydrogen - which can be used as a clean energy source - and create valuable products. For example, hydrogen produced by the Allam Cycle can also be used to produce the urea used in fertiliser. Australia currently imports fertiliser, which has a significant carbon footprint.
What role does hydrogen play in a net-zero carbon emissions future?
Hydrogen is a key to unlocking a clean energy future. And the main reason is its versatility.
Much like electricity, hydrogen is an energy carrier, which means it is a way to store, move and use energy taken from other sources. And like electricity, zero-carbon energy carriers will be vital for reaching net-zero.
Not only can hydrogen be used to produce the grid electricity that powers our homes, it can equally be used to power trucks and planes, and be used by industry to make steel and cement. Importantly, clean hydrogen produces no carbon emissions.
Hydrogen’s flexibility means ’clean hydrogen ‘could be scaled to lower or remove carbon emissions from ‘hard-to-abate’ industries such as steel-making. The International Energy Association estimates 40% of global energy is used by emissions-intensive industry.
Analysis by the World Energy Council found 33 countries are moving towards having national hydrogen strategies. By 2025, these strategies would cover countries that account for 80% of global GDP.
Clean hydrogen is seen as a potential major driver of economic development in Australia, which is already one of the top three exporters of hydrogen to Asia. The COAG Energy Council forecast that within 30 years, the hydrogen industry could generate about 7,600 jobs and $11 billion in GDP.
LETA’s investment in the Allam Cycle — which produces clean hydrogen as well as near-zero emissions power — aims to prove that competitive, zero-emission industries like hydrogen can be created using CCUS and coal, complementing renewables’ increasing role in the energy mix.
How is hydrogen produced?
Hydrogen is set to become a vital source of energy for electricity, heating and fuel for transport. When produced in a clean way, hydrogen can lower emissions in ‘hard-to-abate’ industries and help reach our international climate commitments.
The main benefit of hydrogen when it is used as a fuel is that the only by-product is water. There are no carbon emissions.
But energy is needed to extract hydrogen from either water, coal, biomass or gas. How clean the hydrogen is depends on what energy is used for the extraction process.
- ‘Grey’ hydrogen is considered unclean because it is derived from high emission fossil fuels with little or no capture, storage or use of carbon.
- ‘Blue’ hydrogen is clean hydrogen produced using fossil fuels such as gas (steam methane reforming) or coal (gasification) coupled with carbon capture and storage technology - lowering emissions.
- ‘Green’ or ‘renewable’ hydrogen, is produced from renewable electricity. Green energy uses a process called ‘electrolysis’ where electricity is used to extract hydrogen from water. When renewables are used to power electrolysis no carbon emissions are produced.