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Issues Surrounding Carbon Capture and Storage, Application, Challenges

Context: Carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies, considered for reducing CO2 emissions, may be ineffective and unfeasible, as per Oxford and Imperial College study.

What is Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS)?

  • Carbon capture and storage (CCS) is a process in which carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from industrial sources, such as power plants, refineries, and steel and cement production, are captured, transported, and stored in geological formations deep underground.
  • This prevents the CO2 from being released into the atmosphere and contributes to climate change.
  • Approaches:
    • Point-Source CCS: This approach focuses on capturing carbon dioxide directly at its emission sources, such as industrial smokestacks and power plants. This technique prevents the release of CO2 into the atmosphere before it can contribute to greenhouse gas buildup.
    • Direct Air Capture (DAC): This method aims to remove CO2 that has already been emitted and dispersed into the atmosphere. DAC technologies actively capture and concentrate existing atmospheric CO2, offering a potential solution for tackling the existing climate crisis.
  • Working:
    • Capture: The CO2 is captured from the emissions stream using various technologies. The most common method is amine scrubbing, which involves absorbing the CO2 into a liquid solvent.
    • Transport: The captured CO2 is compressed into a liquid and transported via pipelines or ships to the storage site.
    • Storage: The CO2 is injected deep underground into geological formations such as depleted oil and gas reservoirs, saline aquifers, or unmineable coal seams.
      • These formations are chosen because they are porous and have impermeable rock layers above them to trap the CO2.

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Difference between Carbon Capture And Storage (CCS) And Carbon Dioxide Removal (CDR)

Aspect CCS CDR
Source of CO2 Captures CO2 directly from emissions sources like power plants, factories (point-source capture). Removes CO2 directly from the atmosphere, not at specific emission sources (direct air capture – DAC).
Scope Can be implemented on individual sources or entire industrial sectors. Has the potential to remove CO2 globally, regardless of its source.
Maturity More established technology with several operating projects worldwide. Still in the early stages of development, with limited deployment and higher costs.
Permanence CO2 is stored underground in geological formations, aiming for permanent storage. Different methods have varying degrees of permanence. Some methods, like afforestation, store CO2 in biomass that can be released back into the atmosphere.

Application Of Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS)

  • Mineralization (Transforming Carbon into Stone): Captured carbon can be reacted with specific minerals, like magnesium and calcium, to form stable carbonates, essentially turning CO2 back into rock.
    • This process, known as mineral carbonation, offers a long-term and secure method of storing carbon in a form resembling its natural state.
  • Synthetic Fuels from Captured Carbon: Captured CO2 can be combined with hydrogen, often produced via electrolysis using renewable energy, to create synthetic fuels.
    • This technology offers a cleaner alternative to fossil fuels, allowing us to utilise existing infrastructure and transportation systems while reducing reliance on carbon-intensive resources.
  • Carbon Dioxide for Enhanced Agriculture: Captured carbon dioxide can be supplied to greenhouses and indoor farming facilities to enhance plant growth.
    • This technology can significantly improve crop yields and contribute to more sustainable and efficient agricultural practices.
  • The Diverse Applications of Dry Ice: Captured carbon dioxide can be used to produce dry ice, which is solid CO2 at extremely low temperatures. Dry ice has various applications, including:
    • Shipping and transportation of perishable goods, ensuring their safe arrival at their destination.
    • Medical and scientific purposes, such as cryopreservation and preservation of biological samples.
    • Special effects in the entertainment industry, like creating smoke or fog for theatrical productions.

Challenges Associated With CCS

  • Cost: CCS technology is expensive to develop, implement, and operate. The high costs associated with building and maintaining CCS facilities raise concerns about its economic viability.
    • To achieve net-zero emissions by storing up to 20 billion tonnes of CO2 underground by 2050 could cost $30 trillion, compared to strategies where only about 5 billion tonnes of CO2 need to be stored.
  • Limited scalability: Current CCS projects capture only 49 million tonnes of CO2 annually, a minuscule fraction of global emissions.
    • Large-scale deployment seems impractical due to high costs and limited infrastructure.
  • Technical limitations: CCS projects failed to function as designed, raising concerns about the technology’s reliability and effectiveness.
  • Applicability Limitations: CCS is only suitable for specific industries like cement and iron and steel where emission reduction options are limited.
    • Other sectors like power generation have cheaper and more effective solutions like renewables and afforestation.
  • Geological Storage Suitability: Finding and securing the right geological formations for long-term storage of CO2 poses a significant challenge. This is because not every geological formation is suitable for storing CO2, as there are risks of leakage or seismic activity associated with certain types.

Way Forward

  • Integrating Natural Climate Solutions: Combining CCS with natural climate solutions like reforestation, afforestation, and sustainable land management can significantly enhance its impact. These efforts naturally sequester carbon, promote biodiversity, and strengthen ecosystem resilience, complementing CCS’s role in reducing emissions.
  • Fostering International Collaboration: Addressing the global challenge of climate change requires international collaboration and knowledge sharing. Establishing international forums, research partnerships, and technology-sharing initiatives can accelerate the development and adoption of innovative carbon capture solutions, ensuring global benefit.
  • Balancing CCS and Emission Reduction: The United Nations report highlights the potential of CCS to integrate with the Paris Agreement’s market-based mechanisms through carbon credits. However, it emphasises that emission prevention remains paramount. An effective climate strategy necessitates both the adoption of carbon capture technology and proactive emission reduction efforts.
  • India’s Commitment to Emission Reduction: India has demonstrated its commitment to tackling climate change by pledging to reduce its emissions intensity by 45% by 2030 through its Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC). This ambitious target underscores the importance of both CCS and emission reduction strategies for achieving a sustainable future.
National Centres of Excellence in Carbon Capture and Utilisation In India
  • NCoE-CCU at the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay (IIT Bombay): This centre focuses on developing and demonstrating technologies for capturing CO2 from flue gas emissions of power plants and biogas plants.
  • National Centre in Carbon Capture and Utilisation (NCCCU)at the Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advanced Scientific Research (JNCASR), Bangalore: This centre focuses on developing and demonstrating technologies for converting CO2 into fuels and chemicals.

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