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Climate Action

Carbon capture, use and storage

Why do we need carbon capture, use and storage?

While CO2 emissions from fuel combustion have been declining in Europe, industries like cement, iron and steel, aluminium, pulp and paper, and refineries have inherent CO2 emissions resulting from energy-intensive industry processes. Carbon capture, use and storage can provide a key contribution to tackling these sectors’ emissions. Furthermore, it can help removing carbon from the atmosphere through carbon removals such as bio-energy carbon capture and storage (BECCS) and direct air carbon capture and storage (DACCS) and be a platform for low-carbon hydrogen production.

On 15 December 2021, the Commission has published the Communication ‘Sustainable Carbon Cycles’, which sets the long-term objective to restore sustainable and climate-resilient carbon cycles.

The Commission’s strategic long-term vision depends in part on CO2 removal techniques based on CCS: either in combination with direct air capture (DACCS) or biomass (BECCS) to achieve climate neutrality. The target of climate neutrality has been written into law by the European Climate Law (Regulation (EU) 2021/1119), which requires that Union-wide greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) and removals are balanced within the Union at the latest by 2050 and that the Union shall aim to achieve negative emissions thereafter. Furthermore, several organisations and institutions such as the Intergovernmental Panel on ClimateChange (IPCC), International Energy Agency (IEA) and National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) argue that without carbon removals it is difficult to keep the temperature levels indicated in the Paris agreement (explore the IPCC report).

How do CCS and CCU work?

The technological options envisaged in the 2050 long-term strategy and the ‘Sustainable Carbon Cycles’ Communication are the capture of carbon dioxide from the combustion of biomass or, as a last resort, fossil fuels, from industrial processes, and direct air capture. Capturing carbon dioxide directly from the atmosphere (DACCS) or from the combustion or fermentation of biogenic carbon (BECCS) has the potential to deliver negative emissions (carbon removals). The captured carbon is then either stored underground or used for the production of synthetic materials (fuels, chemicals, building materials).

Capture, Use and Storage

Carbon Capture and Storage

Before carbon dioxide gas can be stored, it must be captured and stripped of most associated substances. This is not a new technology, as CO2 is routinely separated and captured as a by-product from industrial processes. The captured CO2 is then stored in compressed form and transported to the place of sequestration in tanks, pipelines or ships.

Carbon Capture and Utilisation

The utilisation of carbon dioxide in production processes refers to technologies and procedures, which use CO2 as a feedstock rather than releasing it to the atmosphere, e.g. by

  • directly using CO2 in soft drinks or greenhouses,
  • using it as a working fluid or solvent such as for enhanced oil recovery (EOR), or
  • using CO2 as a feedstock and converting it into value-added products such as polymers, building materials, chemicals and synthetic fuels.

The latter family of novel technologies using CO2 as a feedstock may contribute to the circular economy and the climate mitigation objectives.

How is CO₂ transported?

Transport is the stage of carbon capture, utilisation or storage that links CO2 sources with production or storage sites. There are four basic options for transporting CO2: pipeline transport, waterborne transport, rail transport, and road transport.

In the context of long-distance movement of large quantities of CO2, pipeline transport is part of current practice. Pipelines routinely carry large volumes of natural gas, oil, condensate and water over distances of thousands of kilometers, both on land and in the sea. CO2 pipelines are not new: they extend over hundreds of kilometers worldwide. However, in Europe there are few CO2 pipelines today. Liquefied natural gas and petroleum gases such as propane and butane are routinely transported by marine tankers on a large scale. CO2 is transported in the same way, but on a small scale because of limited demand. Finally, liquefied gas can also be carried by rail and road tankers.

The challenges for a successful deployment of CO2 transport infrastructure are of economic and regulatory nature and often referred to as the chicken-and-egg problem. Due to the limited demand for CO2 to be stored in geological formations or incorporated into materials and fuels, there is a lack of incentive for CO2 emitters and potential direct air capture operators to capture CO2. Consequently, there is also no business case for operators of a potential CO2 infrastructure.

Integration of CCUS in high emission industrial hubs and clusters is expected to be the most cost-efficient approach. Sharing, eventually across borders, CO2 transport, use and/or storage infrastructure will help with achieving economies of scale, and improving the business case.

How safe is storing CO₂ underground?

The storage of CO2 in geological formations, including oil and gas reservoirs, unmendable coal seams, and deep saline reservoirs, is safe. The 2005 Special Report on CCS by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded that appropriately selected and managed geological reservoirs are 'very likely' to retain over 99% of the sequestered CO2 for longer than 100 years and 'likely' to retain 99% of it for longer than 1000 years. The site selection and safety assessment are ensured through the CCS Directive, which is the legal framework for safe geological storage of carbon dioxide in the EU and EEA countries.

Ensuring safe and environmentally sound CCS and CCU

The environmental integrity of CCS and CCU is the Commission's overriding concern.

For CCS, this is a matter of ensuring that the CO2 captured and stored remains isolated from the atmosphere in the long term; and a matter of ensuring that the capture, transport and storage elements do not present other risks to human health or ecosystems.

For this reason, the EU's CCS Directive provides a clear regulatory framework and guidelines for the safe geological storage of CO2. Before CCS projects receive any construction and operation permits, they need to conduct an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) addressing all environmental concerns, a detailed assessment of the site selection, and develop a monitoring plan addressing all possible leakage risks.

Carbon Capture and Storage

(EU source)

For CCU, it is a matter of better understanding the climate mitigation potential of the technologies by applying rigorous GHG emission reduction calculations such as for the Innovation Fund and adjusting the regulatory support accordingly, e.g. through the recast of the renewable energy directive, RED II.

The stakeholder event on carbon capture and utilisation technologies in 2018 informed about the GHG emission avoidance potential of these technologies and challenges ahead of them.

Barriers

Although the components of CCS and CCU are all known and deployed at a commercial scale, integrated systems are new. The capture component, in particular, is an expensive part of the process.

Large-scale CCS projects are currently in operation worldwide. However, some projects in planning have also been cancelled. The majority of these projects are slowed down by the lack of a robust business case, lengthy and complex implementation and lack of public acceptance and support. Some more barriers are mentioned below.

Large-scale CCS projects barriers

Most novel CCU technologies are not yet commercialised. It is known that the large-scale expansion of CCU technologies will require large volumes of renewable energy and low-carbon hydrogen at competitive prices. Therefore, these developments will need to go hand in hand to reap the environmental and economic promise of CCU technologies.

EU funding for CCS and CCU

Several funding mechanisms for R&D and demonstration projects have been created via the research framework programmes and other EU funding mechanisms. Current EU funding schemes dedicated to supporting CCS and CCU are the following programmes: 

  • The Innovation Fund mobilises over EUR 25 billion, depending on the price of carbon, over ten years for breakthrough technologies in carbon capture, use and storage, as well as in renewable energy, energy-intensive industries, and energy storage. 
  • Connecting Europe Facility (CEF) supports cross-border CO2 transport networks. 
  • The Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF) aims to mitigate the economic and social impact of the coronavirus pandemic through investments in flagship areas such as clean technologies and renewables, e.g. CCS and CCU.
  • The Just Transition Fund (JTF) provides support to territories facing serious socio-economic challenges arising from the transition towards climate neutrality, i.a. support for CCS and CCU technologies.
  • Horizon Europe supports research, pilots and small-scale demonstration projects related to carbon capture, utilisation and storage.

Legislation and policy initiatives in the EU

The Directive 2009/31/EC on the geological storage of CO2 (so-called "CCS Directive") establishes the overall legal framework for the environmentally safe geological storage of CO2 to contribute to the fight against climate change. The Commission works closely with competent authorities in Member States to ensure the implementation of the CCS Directive inter alia by facilitating exchanges, publishing guidance documents, and adopting Commission Opinions on draft storage permits.

As of 2021, the recast of the Renewable Energy Directive will encourage fuels produced by CCU. This element has been also been strengthened with the legislative package to deliver the European Green Deal. Besides the proposal for a revised Renewable Energy Directive, the Commission has also proposed the ReFuelEU Aviation Initiative that will oblige fuel suppliers to blend increasing levels of sustainable aviation fuels in jet fuel taken on-board at EU airports, including synthetic low carbon fuels, known as e-fuels.

In addition to this, the Commission is investigating the possibility to develop an EU certification system for carbon removals. On 15 December 2021, the Commission published the Communication ‘Sustainable Carbon Cycles’, which sets out an action plan on how to develop sustainable solutions to increase carbon removals.

In the next few years, we need to scale up carbon removals, be it in the land sector or in industry. Improving the monitoring, reporting and verification is the first fundamental step to enable robust markets and regulatory uses of carbon certificates. Carbon farming and industrial projects that invest in carbon removals today should have a prospect of a future robust accounting and certification framework that ensures comparability and recognition of the action started already on the ground.

To this end the Commission will propose a regulatory EU framework for the certification of carbon removals [link to Roadmap or Call for Evidence] by the end of 2022. The certification framework should ensure the transparent identification of carbon farming and industrial solutions that unambiguously remove carbon from the atmosphere. 

Furthermore, the Strategic Energy Technology (SET) Plan TWG9 identifies Research and Innovation (R&I) priorities for CCS and CCU. This serves as a guideline for Member States, research institutes, and companies to focus on bringing these low-carbon technologies to the market faster and in a cost-competitive way.

Further regional opportunities

FAQ

Questions and Answers on the geological storage and utilisation of carbon dioxide (Status: December 2021)