So, you’ve captured carbon effectively. Now what?
September 12, 2023
September 12, 2023
Once captured, we can sequester, transport, and leverage carbon for use in industry. Here’s how.
Carbon capture, utilization, and storage (CCUS) will be a critical tool for reducing emissions and pressing forward with the energy transition. In fact, the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES) believes that “carbon capture can achieve 14% of the global greenhouse gas emissions reductions needed by 2050.” That’s why it’s being viewed as a primary pillar of decarbonization amongst climate and industry experts.
CCUS is even more important for the energy and industrial sectors. As per C2ES, it could help these industries capture more than 90% of carbon emissions. That’s why we are seeing so much interest in carbon capture technologies around the globe. But it may have a lot of people wondering: “What do we do with the carbon once we’ve captured it?”
There are a few things we can do with captured carbon. We can sequester it deep into the Earth’s core where it can be safely stored. We can use it to enhance oil recovery. Or we can use it in industrial processes such as food processing or product manufacturing.
The International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates that around 230 million tonnes (Mt) of carbon dioxide (CO2) were used in 2018. The largest consumer was the fertilizer industry, followed by the oil sector. CO2 is also widely used in food and beverage production, the fabrication of metal, cooling, fire suppression, and in greenhouses to stimulate plant growth.
As you can see, there are quite a few things we can do with captured carbon. Below, we’ll explore some of these methods and demonstrate how carbon can be safely stored and used in ways that will help us support decarbonization.
One of the primary ways to mechanically manage captured carbon is to inject it deep underground where it can be safely and permanently stored. The process is called carbon sequestration and it is primarily used when capturing carbon directly at the source, whether pre-combustion or post-combustion. It’s a popular option for large emitters like energy producers, power plants, and industrial plants, giving these types of facilities the ability to capture carbon during gas and power production and then immediately inject it deep into the Earth for storage.
So, how does it work? When a facility successfully captures carbon, they transfer it to an approved storage site. Once received, the carbon is then pumped deep underground and into geological formations. These can include oil and gas reserves, deep saline formations (unusable water with high salt quantities), or old coal or mineral patches. There have been even more recent developments, such as sequestering carbon deep under the ocean floor.
One thing is clear: Sequestering carbon will continue to be a main way to better manage our emissions. And with so many eyes on the technology and its impact on the industry, it is our hope and expectation that continued innovation will make this process even more effective.
In most cases, captured carbon will need to be transported from the capture site location to the final destination. Then it is either sequestered or leveraged for use.
Carbon is typically transported through pipelines. After all, pipelines are the safest and most sustainable way to transfer large quantities of liquids and gases. According to C2ES, there are more than 4,500 miles of pipeline throughout the United States (US) that are being used to transport CO2. But in order to hit our decarbonization targets, more pipelines will need to be constructed. Additionally, some of the pipelines traditionally used for petroleum and other products could be converted to transport carbon. This is an excellent example of asset transformation and reuse, and it could help us decarbonize our energy infrastructure.
A great demonstration of this is the Alberta Carbon Trunk Line in Alberta, Canada. It is the world’s largest carbon pipeline and has the potential to sequester up to 1.8 megatons (mT) of carbon each year. According to Natural Resources Canada, that’s the equivalent of taking more than 330,000 cars off the road.
As you can tell, carbon pipelines should continue to be part of our CCUS strategy heading forward.
In addition to pipelines, there are other methods to transport CO2, such as rail cars and truck trailers. Using those last two methods with depend on the quantity being transported and the difficulties to build a new pipeline or reuse an existing one. For example, our team is currently supporting a client in California, providing the engineering to transport CO2 using railcars.
Whether we sequester carbon deep underground or transport it for use in the many industries that need it, the atmosphere will be all the better off for it.
Now that we have covered how we are able to sequester and transport carbon, let’s explore just how we can use it. Carbon Utilization (CU) involves the use of CO2 as a resource to create valuable products. As we teased earlier, there are plenty of uses for captured carbon. Let’s look at some key examples below:
Carbon capture technologies will continue to be a strategy across many sectors, especially when it comes to energy production. After all, we need to reduce the carbon emissions being released into the atmosphere. And we also need energy. Carbon capture gives us the ability to achieve both.
New methods to use or expand the use of CO2 in the production of fuels, chemicals, and building materials are generating interest from governments, industry, and investors. It is estimated that funding for CO2 research is surpassing a billion dollars over the last decade.
But going even further, there are several ways we can manage the carbon we capture. Whether we sequester carbon deep underground or transport it for use in the many industries that need it, the atmosphere will be all the better off for it. And so will the energy transition as we continue to push towards our net zero targets.