Carbon neutrality, a goal that many countries around the world are racing to achieve by 2050 requires not merely migration to renewable energy sources but also development of technical solutions to capture/store/utilize carbon. In particular, CCUS (Carbon Capture, Utilization and Storage) technology is deemed to be one of the most promising greenhouse gas emission reduction solutions that can address issues arising from climate change until renewable energy sources are secured. The International Energy Agency (IEA) also stated that “It is not possible to achieve Net-Zero without CCUS”. Let’s find more about how CCUS technology works, where it stands now, and how SK Group is working on its applications.
Transition to carbon-neutrality era called for
Catastrophic floods hit Western Europe including Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands in July this year. The record-breaking heavy rains that lasted two days killed over 100 people, with hundreds of residents missing. In contrast, Iran is suffering a severe water shortage and water supply outage in the wake of a drought known to be the worst in 50 years. With water evaporating dramatically, Lake Urmia in Iran has shrunk in size by half over three decades, covering just 2,500㎢ today from 5,400㎢ in the 1990s. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predicts that global warming will make Middle East winter drier and summer more humid.
(Left) A German village submerged under water due to floods / (Right) Lake Urmia, Iran dried out by drought
In response, countries around the world have been developing policies to reduce their carbon footprints across political, social, and economic realms. The 2015 Conference of the Parties (COP) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change adopted the Paris Agreement wherein the parties consented to keep the rise of average global temperature at a level considerably lower than 2℃ above the pre-industrial level and try to contain it at no more than 1.5℃. The Republic of Korea also declared last October its commitment to reaching carbon neutrality by 2050.
Carbon neutrality essentially requires the energy paradigm to be shifted toward renewable energy sources in the long run and a low-carbon industrial ecosystem to be promoted. Yet, coping with the challenges of climate change in the short run necessitates reduction of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, which is made possible by *CCS and CCUS technologies. CCS and CCUS are similar in concept, difference being in that the former (CCS) goes just as far as storing CO2 whereas the latter goes a step further to utilize the stored CO2. Then, what are CCS/CCUS technologies that many countries around the world are rushing to commercialize?
*CCS: Carbon Capture and Storage
What is CO2 capture, storage and utilization (CCUS) technology?
CCUS technology is intended to prevent CO2 from being emitted into the atmosphere from the moment it is generated in industrial sites such as factories across the entire cycle of transportation, storage and recycling. Net-Zero emission is achieved by a three-step approach to capturing CO2, transporting and utilizing or storing it.
CCUS technology costs are currently estimated to be 100 to 150 dollars per 1 ton of CO2. 70% of the cost is spent on capturing CO2, which makes it critical to develop a highly effective CO2 capturing solution. CO2 is emitted in large quantities by thermal power plants, steel mills, cement factories, petrochemical plants, etc. CO2 capture technology selectively captures only CO2 among gases emitted into the atmosphere by the aforementioned emission sources.
CCUS Concept (source : www.kcrc.re.kr)
How far has CO2 capture technology progressed?
Attempts to develop chemical absorption solutions to capture CO2 contained in emissions from coal-fired thermal power plants have been launched around the world for the past two decades. One of the most notable examples is the Petra Nova project of the United States which has already reached the demonstration scale treating 6,700 tons of CO2/day.
2021 Korean Government CCU Roadmap – Demonstration Cases for Commercial Viability of CCU in Major Countries
Status of SK Group’s CO2 capture technology development endeavor
SK Group is stepping up on its Net-Zero drive, establishing the first-ever carbon footprint reduction certification center among private businesses. To that end, SK Group is making significant investments on CCUS-related R&D programs and MOUs.
SK innovation signed an agreement on the national CCS project designed to utilize the East Sea gas field owned by the Korea National Oil Corporation in May. The project is the first-ever government-initiated CCS project in Korea that will capture and store 400,000 tons of CO2 in the East Sea gas field from 2025. SK innovation expects the project to provide an opportunity in which the company can verify the optimization of its CO2 capture solution performance and assess its commercial viability. SK innovation also predicts that the company will be able to earn carbon credits in consultation with partnering companies when they launch CCS business subsequently.
SK materials signed a CO2 capture technology (KIERSOL) transfer agreement with the Korea Institute of Energy Research (KIER). The company agreed with KIER in March to upscale the KIERSOL technology in a bid to contribute to meeting the carbon neutrality target of the nation and venture into the North American market. SK E&S also signed an MOU on joint development of CO2 capture technology with KIER in June. SK E&S and KIER vowed to cooperate in advancing the relatively more advantageous wet carbon capture process for capturing CO2 in large quantities. The MOU will set a stage for the parties thereto to develop a CO2 capture solution not just optimized to the needs of LNG power generation and hydrogen production processes but it will also be applicable to a variety of industrial applications.
Future of CCUS technology
CCUS technology development must meet the following requirements:
Firstly, applicability of CO2 capture technology needs to be expanded.
Currently, the scope of emissions from which CO2 is required to be captured is being expanded to encompass not only emissions from smokestacks of coal-fired thermal power plants but also combustion gases from LNG-fired co-generation power plants and emissions from hydrogen production LNG reformers. Therefore, research into CO2 capture technology needs to include strategies to optimize the technology to the needs of LNG-based applications as well.
Secondly, storage space for captured CO2 needs to be secured.
Australia, Canada, the United States, and Norway can afford to store CO2 in decommissioned fossil fuel production sites where oil or gas used to be mined, but South Korea needs to find suitable CO2 storage space in offshore environments. Storing captured CO2 under the seabed can meet greater space requirements and ensure better stability when compared with land-based underground storage. However, as it also requires enormous costs for upfront development and subsequent transportation, solutions that can reduce such costs need to be developed as well.
Thirdly, it needs to be accompanied by CO2 conversion technologies.
It takes several tens of thousands of years for CO2 stored underground to be transformed into minerals (calcium carbonate, magnesium carbonate, etc.) and potential above-ground leaks of CO2 need to be monitored, which is likely to incur risks to the generations to come. Chemical conversion of CO2 requires additional energy input in the form of electricity, heat, hydrogen or methane. Should renewable energies be sufficiently harnessed in chemically converting CO2, additional carbon footprint will be eliminated and high-value chemical substances will become readily available. Assuming that economic viability and environmental benefits are secured in this way, CO2 conversion solutions currently available can become commercially viable.
Access to effective CCUS technology for achieving carbon neutrality is one of the inevitable requirements to be fulfilled by business organizations preparing for the advent of the era of hydrogen economy in full swing. CCUS technology plays a pivotal role in all three scenarios recently published by the Carbon Neutrality Commission to meet the Net-Zero target by 2050. CCUS technology will prove to be a robust bridge to enable migration from the age of fossil fuels to the era of hydrogen economy.