CCUS – Carbon Capture, Utilisation and Storage

CCUS, short for “Carbon Capture, Utilization and Storage”, is a process for capturing carbon dioxide (CO₂) and transporting it to a facility where it is either used for other purposes or stored in geological formations.

The main goal of CCUS is to prevent the emission of large amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere while making biogenic CO₂ a valuable, environmentally friendly resource. Nowadays, carbon can be captured from flue gases from industrial plants, combined heat and power plants or waste incineration plants, as well as from biogas plants, instead of simply releasing it into the air.

One way to capture CO₂ is to pass it into a liquid containing special additives to absorb the CO₂. Once the CO₂ has been absorbed into the liquid, it can be separated and either used for other purposes or stored in underground reservoirs, either on land or in the ocean. CO₂ is stored, for example, by pumping it into the many small cavities of a subsurface while the overlying clay layer acts as a cap.

When the captured biogenic carbon is used, it can be converted into green fuels that can, for example, power aircraft and ships of the future. By using it, it is recycled and further emissions from fossil fuels are avoided.

CO₂ is already a valuable raw material. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), 230 million tons of CO₂ from fossil fuels are consumed worldwide each year.

CCUS is concerned with the capture of CO₂ from large sources such as power plants or industrial facilities that use either fossil fuels or biomass as an energy source. The CO₂ can also be captured directly from the atmosphere. When not used on-site, captured CO₂ is compressed and transported via pipelines, ships, trains, or trucks to be used for various applications or injected into deep geological formations where it is permanently stored.

The following CCUS value chain is representative, but does not necessarily apply to the entire CCUS sector:

CCUS value chain

The potential for capturing and using carbon dioxide from major industrial sources such as cement plants, pulp and paper mills, and waste incinerators is enormous. A recent study by LUT University in Finland in the Journal of Cleaner Production estimates that global demand for carbon dioxide will increase from 0.6 gigatons in 2030 to 6.1 gigatons in 2050. The most significant industrial sources can supply 2.1 gigatons of carbon dioxide, meeting most of the demand in the 2030s. By 2050, however, most of the demand is expected to be met by direct capture of carbon dioxide from the air, with 3.8 gigatons of carbon dioxide recoverable annually.

There are already several major projects addressing this issue, including a very recent project by Heidelberg Materials. The company is consistently expanding its global pioneering role in the cement industry in the capture, utilization, and storage of CO₂ (CCUS). Since the beginning of the year, several CCUS projects have been launched or moved into the next project phase. The world’s first industrial-scale plant for CO₂ capture in the cement industry is scheduled to come on stream in Brevik, Norway, as early as 2024.

A CO₂ capture process jointly developed by Linde, Heidelberg Materials and BASF, based on BASF’s OASE® blue technology, will be used for the first time in a commercial-scale CO₂ capture plant. It will be the world’s first large-scale CO₂ capture and utilization plant. Around 70,000 metric tons of CO₂ will be captured, purified, and liquefied there each year. Linde will sell most of the resulting liquid CO₂ as a raw material for the chemical industry and the food and beverage industry.

Evonik, together with two Leibniz institutes and the company Rafflenbeul Anlagenbau, wants to extract chemical raw materials from greenhouse gases. In the PlasCO₂ project, they are developing a special plasma reactor for this purpose. The aim of the project is to use carbon dioxide as a raw material to produce organic compounds for C4 chemistry. With the help of a plasma reactor and a newly developed process, carbon dioxide and hydrogen will first be converted into a synthesis gas that can then be used to manufacture chemical products, such as plasticizers or petrochemical products. Evonik believes it will be possible to build a pilot plant within about four years that can produce plasma based on renewable raw materials.

A growing number of other large-scale projects are expected to advance carbon capture and storage:

The most significant biotechnological conversion pathways based on CO₂ lead to the production of methane and ethanol. The latter is already produced on a large scale and is used as a fuel and in the chemical industry, e.g., for ethylene glycol and the polymer industry (polyethylene). In addition, biodegradable polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHA) can be produced using gas fermentation and made commercially available. Several pilot plants are in operation worldwide to produce chemicals and proteins via gas fermentation. Using the most advanced electrochemical processes, it is possible to convert CO₂ into CO (or syngas), methanol, formic acid, or ethylene.

The following is a small sample of companies working on various processes to utilize stored carbon dioxide:

Quelle: Nova Institute

Basic chemistry plays a critical role in building CO₂ cycles, both by meeting energy needs with renewables and by replacing fossil feedstocks with hydrogen or its derivatives synthesized with CO₂ to reduce Scope 3 emissions. These include all emissions associated with the manufacture, transportation, use and disposal of a product.

The production of these molecules requires large amounts of renewable electricity, which can be provided both domestically and abroad. According to the dena lead study by the German Energy Agency, this amounts to about 379 TWh in Germany. Bringing together CO₂ generators and the chemical industry is crucial to building a CO₂ economy, with transport and intermediate storage of CO₂ also playing an important role. The VCI roadmap and the German Energy Agency assume that about 35-40 million tons of CO₂ will be needed for CCU by 2045/2050.

According to a recent study by the Nova Institute, a current total production capacity of about 1.3 million tons per year for novel CO₂-based products was calculated in 2022. This production capacity in 2022 was dominated by the production of CO₂-based aromatic polycarbonates, ethanol from captured CO/CO2, aliphatic polycarbonates, and methanol.

By 2030, CO₂-based capacity is expected to exceed 6 million tons per year. A high dynamic growth rate is observed for methanol projects, methane plants, ethanol, and hydrocarbons, especially in the aviation sector.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) first identified carbon capture and utilization (CCU) as a suitable solution to combat climate change in its sixth assessment report published in 2022. Future scenarios for a net-zero chemical industry by 2050 show that between 10 and 30 % of product-bound carbon could come from CO₂ use.

In the European region, however, a lack of policy support is hampering major investments and the positive prospects of widespread CO₂ utilization. It is therefore necessary to adopt far-reaching policy measures to successfully close the gap between today and the 2050 targets. At the same time, these policies must ensure that industry businesses remain competitive in the context of sustainable transformation.

But there are other hurdles to overcome such as competitiveness of products manufactured by CCU or the lack of infrastructure.

Carbon capture & utilisation barriers

In Germany, underground CO₂ storage has so far been de facto prohibited or only permitted on a limited scale for test purposes. Even this could be prohibited by the federal states in the approval process. In the meantime, the deadline for registering projects had also expired, so that CCS is currently de facto prohibited. However, Federal Economics Minister Robert Habeck of the Alliance 90/The Greens has announced that CCS technology will also be used in Germany, and he intends to introduce legislation to this effect in 2023.

Incidentally, the Bundestag has removed the debate on the “Evaluation Report of the Federal Government on the Carbon Dioxide Storage Act” (20/5145) from the agenda for Thursday, March 16, 2023. After the debate, the briefing is to be referred to the lead committee on climate protection and energy for further discussion.

Fields of action CCUS

In the next article, my colleague, Dr. Volkhard Francke, will look at the topic of “New innovative technologies and processes”. What are the potentials and opportunities for the chemical industry and where are the current obstacles?

Dr. Ronald Hinz, Market Intelligence Senior Expert