The peak daily concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) witnessed in the earth’s atmosphere in 2022 is 421 parts per million (ppm).This is enough to fundamentally alter the planet’s climatic equilibrium. Human activities continue to emit CO2 at rates that far surpass the intake capacities of natural carbon sinks. The planet is fast racing towards the 550 ppm mark by 2050, which can cause irreversible and catastrophic changes to the earth’s climate.
What is to be done? Only renewable energy systems can not make hard-to-decarbonize industries such as cement and steel carbon-free. By themselves, these systems cannot alone help meet the net-zero targets. For embarking on a net-zero path, additional efforts are needed for the development and deployment of technologies that can capture, utilize and store carbon from various ecosystems on a large scale. Some of these projects have been undertaken at a pilot scale by steel, cement, and petroleum companies.
India is the second-largest manufacturer of cement and steel, the third-largest consumer of energy, and the fourth-largest petroleum refiner. These are ‘hard to decarbonize’ sectors. A recent study by the Global Carbon Capture &Storage (CCS) Institute suggests that some regions in the country may be well-suited for long-term carbon storage. India has an estimated potential of 395-614 gigatons (1 gigaton equals 1 billion tons) of CO2 storage in its geological sinks, 140-200 times India’s annual carbon emissions. This makes India a natural home for nurturing and embracing Carbon Capture, Utilisation and Storage (CCUS) ecosystems.
CCUS facilities are energy-intensive. Previously, fossil fuels were used to power their constituent processes. Emission from these fuels was captured at the same facility, which reduced their efficiency in mopping up carbon from the target ecosystems.
Today, solar and wind energy combined with utility-scale energy storage batteries can fully replace fossil fuels at CCUS facilities. Innovation in carbon-locking materials like melamine porous networks, metal-organic frameworks (MoFs), and hierarchical nano-porous membranes (class of nanocomposites) has made them more efficient, cost-effective, and sustainable. The increased adoption of the circular economy models with a special focus on carbon value chains has re-purposed carbon as an input resource in manufacturing processes. The Europe-based Carbon4PUR initiative, consisting of chemical sector players like Covestro AG, Recticel, and Megara Resins S.A., aim to utilize CO2 from the steel industry to manufacture chemicals on a commercial scale.
As per the World Bank, more than two-thirds of countries have plans to leverage carbon markets to meet their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). In line with this trend, India’s Lower House of Parliament passed the Energy Conservation (Amendment) Bill, 2022, paving the way towards establishing domestic carbon markets. India can emulate countries like Chile, Singapore, and Jordan which are building carbon markets backed by digital infrastructure comprising systems for monitoring, reporting, and verification (MRV) with green house gases (GHG) data synced to national and international registries. Emerging blockchain technologies may also support fair valuation of carbon-finance-products. Such new-age developments in carbon markets can lead to the democratisation of CCUS.
On the finance front, CCUS technologies need a large amount of patient capital for research and development (R&D). Hence, they need to tap into diverse sources of funding to evolve to a level where private investors are convinced to put in their money. Measures like tax incentives, concessional loans,and grants can address the financing challenges in the further development and adoption of this technology. Start-up companies in the CCUS space which may be struggling to access early-stage venture capital or angel investments, will benefit from such measures.
As a strategic initiative in CCUS, the Government of India (GoI) has established the National Centres of Excellence (CoE) for innovation in this domain. These centres are mandated to map, capture and synergise innovation and R&D activities while developing cross-functional networks between academia, industry, public sectors, start-ups, and other relevant stakeholders. The goal is to have pilot projects which can then be scaled up if successful.
Some recent examples from the corporate world are:
- Indian Oil Corporation Limited has established an industrial CCU project
- NTPC has set up a 20-tonne per day of CO2 capture facility, where CO2 is converted to methanol
- Tata Steel has set up a 5-tonne per day of CO2 capture facility
- Tuticorin Alkali Chemicals plant captures around 200 tonnes per day of CO2, converting it to baking soda
- ONGC and Equinor have signed an MoU to collaborate on CO2-enhanced oil recovery
India’s university campuses, start-ups and incubation ecosystems are also making a mark on prominent forums. In a recent global competition supported by the Elon Musk Foundation, a student-led team from IIT Bombay won the XPRIZE for demonstrating a system that can remove CO2 from gaseous industrial effluents and convert it into valuable commercial chemicals. Another start-up incubated at Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advanced Scientific Research (JNCASR), Bengaluru, has received the National Award 2021 from the Technology Development Board of India’s Department of Science and Technology, for developing efficient catalysts and methodologies for CCU processes.
Finally, like the International Solar Alliance, India can create and lead an International CCUS Alliance. India can steer global developments to make the sector more inclusive and equitable. India can provide a trusted and strategically neutral platform for creating outcome-oriented partnerships in the CCUS domain with a special focus on providing visibility to the needs and opportunities in the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) and Small Island Developing States (SIDS). By leveraging and synchronizing the collective strength of its member countries, the alliance can sharpen CCUS as a potent and versatile tool in humanity’s climate action armoury.
As India assumes the presidency of the G20 in December 2022, it can set the ball rolling by initiating and shaping a pragmatic discourse on CCUS. It can help define the nature and quantum of support for public-private partnerships for the upcoming decade. India’s conducive CCUS ecosystem can help it emerge as a front-runner in climate action.
Prasad Ashok Thakur is an IIT Bombay and IIM Ahmedabad alumnus, Labanya Prakash Jena is the Regional Climate Finance Advisor at The Commonwealth Secretariat, & Prof. Vikram Vishal is the Convener at National Centre of Excellence in CCU at IIT Bombay. Views are personal
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The International Energy Agency (IEA) describes carbon capture, utilization, and storage (CCUS) as ‘an important emissions reduction technology that can be applied across the energy system’. CCUS ecosystem typically consists of 3 major functional-blocks. At first, carbon dioxide (CO2) is captured from combustion of fuels, industrial processes, air or other sources. This is followed by its transport over sea or land-based modes. Finally, it can be utilized as resource material to create downstream products/services or can be permanently stored in the depths of suitable geological formations. CCUS can also be considered as a ‘negative emissions technology’ if the source of CO2 is the atmosphere or bio-based processes that leads to permanent removal of CO2.