We take a look at the opportunities for reducing emissions and government recommendations for industry, as well as some of the forerunner projects in carbon capture, carbon recycling, and hydrogen production. How can we achieve net-zero by 2050, and what role will IP play in this in the future?
According to the Global CCS Institute’s 2019 Status Report, 40 million metric tons of CO₂ from power stations currently in operation or construction are captured and stored each year (for context, total greenhouse gas emission in the UK from power stations in 2019 was 58.5 Mt CO₂ and accounted for just 13% of all greenhouse gas emissions in the UK). Carbon Capture, Utilisation and Storage (CCS/CCUS) will almost certainly be a key enabling technology in the decarbonisation of our fossil fuel-based economies. But how can CCS be implemented to achieve net-zero by 2050?
CCS can achieve significant CO₂ reductions from power plants fueled by coal, natural gas, and biomass, as well as from industries such as cement production, steel production, and mining and quarrying. Large sources such as these have few options for achieving significant reductions in emissions. Globally chemicals, steel, and cement production each produce over one Gt CO₂ per year.
CCS can be deployed in power plants (and heavy industry) to capture and sequester carbon at the pre and post and combustion stages, as well as during the combustion process itself. Carbon storage options range from geological sequestration in deep saline aquifers and utilisation of CO₂ for enhanced oil and gas recovery, mineral carbonation and microbial biofixation of CO₂ using algae.
Efforts to integrate bioenergy with CCS—commonly called Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS)—represents a particularly cost-effective pathway to negative emission technologies. BECCS will likely become increasingly important in deep decarbonisation—for example by capturing CO₂ from the waste streams of bioenergy facilities for storage.
The Climate Change Committee’s Sixth Carbon Budget lays out plans and recommendations to achieve net-zero by 2050. The Government appears to recognise the need to work closely with the cement production and mineral extraction industries in particular to develop joint plans to transport CO₂ from dispersed sites that are difficult to access.
The report recommends establishing two CCS clusters in the UK by the mid-2020s increasing to four clusters by the late-2020s, followed by several more in the early 2030s. Furthermore, the report recommends that CCS projects operating by 2025 should capture and store 10 MtCO₂ per year by 2030 and generate 50 TWh of dispatchable and flexible energy generation by 2035 (for example, from gas CCS and hydrogen fuel).
The phase-out roadmap for high-carbon heavy industries to be at near-zero emissions highlights 2035 for gas-fired power and all ore-based steelmaking, followed by 2040 for all cement production, and 2050 for all waste-generated energy fitted with CCS.
International CCS collaboration has expanded with the global marketing projected to grow to $6.3 billion by 2027. Since the world’s first CCS power station went live in 2014, industrial CCS projects continue to enter operation. Globally, there are 51 large-scale CCS facilities in operation or under construction. Some of the notable facilities in the UK spearheading CCS include:
Hydrogen deserves its own special mention as, in power generation, hydrogen is one of the leading options for storing energy. From 2025, HyNet aim to produce, store and distribute hydrogen, as well as capture and store carbon from industry, which has the potential to reduce CO₂ emissions by 10 Mt per year by 2030—the equivalent of taking four million cars off the road.
CCS will almost certainly be essential for the world to stay within the 2°C warming target outlined by the Paris Agreement, and achieving the Paris Agreement targets will require significant acceleration of the development and deployment of technologies that dramatically reduce the output of CO₂. CCS developments to date have the potential to enable carbon-heavy industries like cement, steel, and energy production to continue operation with modification but without adding atmospheric carbon.
While the technologies supporting CCS have experienced great advances in recent years, opportunities remain for reducing costs and improving performance.
Critically, as CCS technologies lay the foundations for scalable carbon removal and storage solutions, they’re paving the way to achieve "negative emissions"—something many see as a key requirement for keeping below the Paris Agreement’s 2°C warming threshold.
Clearly significant further development of Carbon Capture technology is required if we are to meet zero carbon emissions targets by 2050. With this development will come the creation of valuable Intellectual Property (IP). Today there is bountiful government money available to catapult CCS technology forward, but one day that money won’t be there and industry will not only need to make CCS work, but make it work profitably. IP creation and commercialisation will be a key element in that equation. It is important, therefore, that companies innovating in this area develop a robust IP strategy now to ensure that key technologies are captured and protected for commercial use in the future.
The vast majority of CCS projects will require collaboration between many companies, each bringing their own IP to the table. It is critical that all of the companies involved have identified and protected their contributions so that their relative technological contributions can be identified and compensated accordingly.
Finally, it will be interesting for me to see how well companies involved in this technology collaborate and share their IP without becoming caught-up in endless contractual negotiations. I am a true believer in IP rights being due to innovators so that they can profit from their investment, but I’ve also seen nascent joint developments fail because of an unwillingness to concede over IP matters on one or both sides. A pragmatic approach needs to be taken. One which sees all parties rewarded for their contributions, and not one that seeks to deprive IP owners of their just reward, or one which seeks to place intolerable IP infringement indemnities on any one party.
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