• Electrification… CO2 use… CCS… – striking the balance

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      Philip Sharman

      IFRF Director

In September, the European Zero Emission Technology & Innovation Platform (ZEP) – a unique coalition of European companies, academics and NGOs with a keen interest in carbon capture and storage (CCS) – launched an interesting report looking at the relative merits of electrification, carbon capture and utilisation (CCU) and CCS as potential solutions for decarbonising energy-intensive industries across Europe.  The report, ‘Climate solutions for EU industry: interaction between electrification, CO2 use and CO2 storage’ (available here), takes the 2016 Paris Agreement goals as its starting point, and looks at the potential contributions of these three approaches – and their limitations – in meeting these emission reduction goals.

ZEP challenges the growing perception that electrification can deliver the majority of the CO2 abatement that the Paris Agreement identifies as necessary to limit average global warming to less than 2°C (or even the more aspirational 1.5°C).  Its analysis shows that while electrification can reduce CO2 emissions in certain industries and locations, its abatement potential is limited in industrial sectors where CO2 emissions derive from chemical processes and not from the combustion of fossil fuels.  The electricity requirement for large-scale electrification of Europe’s industry would necessitate enormous quantities of low-carbon electricity generation:  For example, ZEP’s analysis shows that decarbonising Europe’s chemicals industry through electrification would require more than twice (+140%) the EU’s current electricity generation, and decarbonising Europe’s cement industry via electrification would require the equivalent of all electricity currently produced in Poland.  ZEP therefore concludes that electrification alone is not a viable pathway for decarbonising Europe’s energy-intensive industries within the timeframe relevant to the Paris Agreement goals, and complementary methods of decarbonisation must be deployed (i.e. CCU and CCS).

ZEP recognises that CCU, in some instances, can lead to a reduction in emissions by recycling CO2 into specific products that would otherwise use CO2 generated solely for that purpose, and, in many cases CCU offers resource efficiency benefits.  However, ZEP concludes that the extent to which a CCU process can contribute towards climate change mitigation depends on the lifecycle of the product, and whether (and when) the captured CO2 is released into the atmosphere.  Analysis of different CCU processes must be weighed against a “robust and transparent counterfactual”, for example, whether a fuel produced from recycled, fossil-derived CO2 actually displaces conventional fossil fuel use, or whether it is likely to compete against other more effective climate change mitigation technologies and processes.  Each application of CCU must be assessed comprehensively on its ability to contribute to long-term climate change mitigation.  Based on this approach and on current trends in CO2 utilisation, ZEP estimate that 9-20% of the total captured emissions from Europe’s energy-intensive industries could be converted, corresponding to a reduction of 40-120MtCO2/year, competing in a market with CO2 from other sources.  As a result, the majority of the captured CO2 emissions from these industries will need to be geologically stored – i.e. 360-540MtCO2/year based on the current product portfolio of Europe’s energy-intensive sectors.

The overall conclusion that ZEP arrives at is that, considering the challenges around electrification and the limited scalability of CCU, these solutions must be combined with making available large-scale, permanent storage for captured CO2 (i.e. CCS) in order to meet the required level of emission reductions, thus enabling the long-term sustainability of these key industries in a ‘low-carbon’ Europe.

At the launch of the report, Dr Graeme Sweeney, Chairman of ZEP stated:  “If we are to have any hope of meeting the goals of the Paris Agreement, CCS is absolutely critical.  Europe needs to urgently deliver CO2 transport and storage infrastructure that will service a large number of sectors and create industrial CCS clusters.  Such clusters open up opportunities to link to hydrogen networks, CCU and the provision of negative emissions, and will enable the lowest-cost route to sustainable growth in key regions across Europe.”

Read the full report ‘Climate solutions for EU industry: interaction between electrification, CO2 use and CO2 storage’ here.