The demand for carbon capture is taking off. Is it ready?

December 13, 2021, 12:13 PM UTC

Good morning.

This is Katherine, filling in for Alan today from London. I’ll also be filling in for David Meyer this week, too.

Fortune‘s Eamon Barrett has a great read from this weekend on the rise of Carbon Capture Utilization and Storage (CCUS) technology—titled, “So you’ve captured carbon. Now what?”. CCUS is gaining increasing attention, not just as a tool for the oil and gas industry—which have been using a form of it for years, albeit to increase oil extraction—but as a way to help decarbonize heavy industrial sectors, like steel and concrete.

But as Eamon points out, the technology and the economics behind it have hit snag after snag—and not all of those speed bumps would be eliminated even with a carbon tax.

“Carbon capture facilities are expensive and energy-intensive to run, while transporting carbon to a storage site—such as a dried-up oil field—is a logistical and regulatory nightmare that few businesses are willing to pay for,” he writes.

Previous projects, including a highly touted project from Chevron in Australia, have failed to live up to expectations. And right now, despite a few promising options like injecting it into concrete, there simply isn’t enough demand for the CO2 we’re creating.

For now, the scale of CCUS in the world remains tiny: the total volume of CO2 captured over all of 2020 adds up to less than half a week’s worth of the world’s CO2 emissions. But the IEA, among others, considers the development of CCUS vital for decarbonization. The question now is whether government support—and the quality of the tech itself—can catch up.

And for another read on the promise, and snarls, of decarbonization, Bloomberg Businessweek has this smart read on the ESG ratings business, and what those “green” ETFs are actually tracking.

More news below.

Katherine Dunn


Tornado wreckage 

Devastating tornadoes have hit the U.S., leaving dozens of people dead, many more missing, and hundreds of thousands without power in Kentucky alone. Whole towns have been decimated, including many local warehouses and depots—with the scale of the destruction hitting as families continue to grapple with the pandemic, and just ahead of Christmas. New York Times

Omicron spread 

The relentless pre-holiday spread of the Omicron variant continues—in Europe, the new mutation is expected to overtake the Delta variant "within days, not weeks", said Scotland's first minister, Nicola Sturgeon. While the U.K. is grappling with what restrictions to bring back, it's not alone. A key question: should you still hold your holiday party? Sturgeon, for one, says no. Washington Post 

Buybacks and ETFs

A couple records today. First, stock buybacks set a fresh quarterly record—surpassing the previous record in 2018—with companies in the S&P 500 repurchasing $234.5 billion in Q3, according to preliminary data. Analysts also expect buybacks to top that record in the final quarter of the year. Meanwhile, annual ETF inflows crossed the $1 trillion mark for the first time at the end of last month, according to Morningstar. Wall Street Journal

Vaccine mandates 

In a survey of 6,000 U.S. companies, almost two-thirds said they plan to require some level of vaccination from their employees—with nearly 20% planning to require triple vaccination. That proportion has shot up, after U.S. President Biden announced a proposal—now stalled—to require businesses over a certain size to make sure their employees are fully vaccinated or tested regularly. The plan is less common in Europe—but there, governments are moving ahead with their own mandates. Financial Times


Return to the...metaverse? 

With "return to the office" up in the air once again, some companies are turning to the "metaverse" to try and bring employees together, with mixed results. Some of them are designed as private islands, while others are open to the public. And there's another benefit, too. “We’re actually having our office holiday party there next Friday,” said one executive. Fortune

Can layoffs be ethical? 

In the wake of the scandal—in which the CEO enacted a mass-layoff of 900 people on Zoom, and blamed the layoffs on the employees' own performance—Jane Thier talked to executives and HR specialists to remind leaders of the humane basics of laying employees off, including getting the communication right, and making sure the CEO themselves is getting honest feedback. Fortune

Lithium Valley 

The Rhine Valley is home to what some believe may be the world's richest concentration of lithium—a mineral that the clean energy revolution depends on. Now, a Germany company called Vulcan Energy is setting out to exploit the "geothermal brine", and Volkswagen—in the midst of its own EV revolution—is a new customer, writes Fortune's Christiaan Hetzner. Fortune

Italian fast food 

Five Guys is the latest American chain to expand to Italy. But in the land of carbonara, saltimbocca and other delights, U.S.-style fast food has a distinctly spotty history, as Eric Lyman writes—just ask Starbucks, Burger King, and a doomed Dunkin' Donuts located near Rome's Trevi Fountain. Fortune

This edition of CEO Daily was edited by Katherine Dunn.

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