Explainer
March 31, 2022

The current Australian government has a plan to achieve net zero emissions by 2050. And part of that plan includes the increased use of carbon capture and storage.

But it’s a divisive issue, as many climate change experts don’t believe the technology will do enough to reduce emissions to hit that net zero target.

What Is Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) and Carbon Capture Utilisation (CCU)?

Carbon capture involves catching carbon dioxide emissions from industrial processes, such as power plants and heavy industries like cement, steel and those that manufacture fertilisers. This carbon dioxide is then separated from other gases and compressed.

It can then be:

  • Permanently stored underground - carbon capture and storage (CCS), or
  • Used to create products like animal feed, agricultural chemicals, or even flavours and fragrances, as well as blue hydrogen (though it's increasingly viewed as not-so-good for the environment) - carbon capture and utilisation (CCU)

Those in Favour of CCS and CCU

There are a number of proponents of the use of CCS and CCU technology, including the CSIRO. Perhaps the biggest is the current government, labelling it as a ‘priority’ technology. According to the latest budget, they’re looking to invest over $1.3 billion in energy and emissions reduction, with a portion going directly towards CCS and CCU (provided they win the next election, although Labor also seems somewhat supportive).

Those Against CCS and CCU

Despite government support, the technology has many detractors. From the Climate Council to a host of senior climate scientists, here are a few reasons why they believe these technologies do more harm than good:

1.    The Technology Doesn’t Work

Many point to Chevron’s Gorgon project in Western Australia as testimony to the failure of CCS. Over a five year period, it was touted as being able to capture 80% of emissions, but only managed to achieve 30%.

Another study analysed all CCS projects attempted in the US, finding more than 80% either failed to launch, or failed after launch.

2.    The Cost Doesn’t Justify the Outcome

The technology has been in existence for decades and has received billions of investment dollars. Even after all of this, the Climate Council says that “when CCS is attached to coal and gas power stations, it is likely to be at least six times more expensive than electricity generated from wind power backed by battery storage.”

3.    The Industries Using the Technology Still Keep Producing Emissions

Global temperatures don’t stop increasing until zero emissions occur. But the industries that use CCS and CCU will continue to produce emissions. For it to work, they’d need to completely stop burning coal, oil and gas, rather than just reduce their emissions.

CCS and CCU - The Way Forward or Not?

Based on these arguments, it seems clear that CCS and CCU technology is not the answer to Australia achieving net zero emissions by 2050. However, with the government’s recent budget announcements regarding heavy investment in the area in coming years, perhaps there is still scope for technology enhancements?

One such enhancement is currently occurring with the work done by Mineral Carbonation International (MCi), an Australian company that uses CCU technology to turn carbon dioxide into raw materials.

They focus on ‘decarbonising’ heavy carbon-producing industries, such as the cement sector. MCi captures carbon and then uses it to produce new types of cement and drywall products, ones that are less carbon-loaded and better for the environment. It’s the ultimate form of recycling which will hopefully result in less emissions from these industries overall. Certainly an interesting space to watch. 

 

Main Image Credit: International Energy Agency

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