To meet net zero emissions targets, China—and the rest of the world—needs these technologies

September 24, 2020, 6:18 PM UTC

Carbon capture, utilization, and storage will be critical for China—and the world—to meet current net zero emissions targets, the International Energy Agency said Thursday.

China announced on Tuesday that it would target net zero emissions by 2060, a target IEA executive director Fatih Birol said the Paris-based agency welcomed. China is the world’s largest emitter and consumes half of the world’s coal.

However, he cautioned that meeting such a target—which is a decade later than most current net zero goals for 2050—would require finding a way to capture and utilize the carbon emitted by China’s relatively young energy infrastructure.

It’s a conundrum facing not just China. In a report released Thursday, the IEA said carbon capture, utilization, and storage (collectively known as CCUS) would be critical to offsetting existing infrastructure and the emissions from difficult to decarbonize sectors—like concrete production and aviation—as well as creating hydrogen and pulling carbon from the atmosphere.

Simply eliminating the emissions of relatively young infrastructure with decades left in their technical lives will require advanced CCUS technology—capable of eliminating 600 billion tons of CO2 emissions over the next five decades, a figure equivalent to roughly 17 years of emissions, the IEA said.

Doing so would require overt government support, Birol said in the Thursday report. Without CCUS technology, “our energy and climate goals will become virtually impossible to reach,” he said.

The push for governments to back CCUS projects was also echoed on Thursday by the Prime Minister of Norway, which is creating a new project to link two CCUS projects to a storage facility under the North Sea.

The country has already used such technology, as pointed out by Prime Minister Erna Solberg.

“We know that this is a safe procedure. We know the technology is there,” Solberg said. “What we now really have to work for is cutting costs.” Governments should bear the “start up costs” to help bring the burden down, she said.

CCUS projects are still relatively few in number, with just 20 commercial projects worldwide, but the numbers are growing. Thirty projects have been approved over the past three years, the IEA says, on track to double the total carbon capture from about 40 million tons today.

While the technology has long been used in some natural gas and fertilizer projects, none of the current projects are in the industries that need them most, said the IEA: steel and, in particular, concrete manufacturing, which has virtually no viable alternatives to the current emissions-heavy process. Concrete production currently produces about 7% of global emissions, the IEA says, more than double the amount produced by global aviation—itself a notoriously difficult-to-decarbonize sector. In aviation, CCUS is critical to produce hydrogen, one of the most likely solutions to aviation’s dependence on jet fuel.

That has produced an influx of investment just this year, the IEA said, with $4 billion from businesses and governments since the start of the year until September. However, the IEA warned that CCUS projects must be a critical part of COVID-19 recovery plans, and are at risk of slowing momentum from the ensuing financial crash.

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