Technology

India’s subsidy-free carbon capture and usage

 By Mike Scott

Carbon capture and storage is one of the key pillars of successfully decarbonizing the global economy but a continued lack of investment is putting climate change targets at risk, say climate scientists, with a recent report suggesting the market will be worth just $8 billion by 2021. The petrochemicals market, by contrast, will be $603 billion by the same date, new research suggests…

There are only 21 large-scale CCS projects in operation or under construction globally with a combined CO2 capture capacity of around 40 million metric tons per annum, according to the Global CCS Institute. Efforts to grow the industry have stumbled because, for most emitters, CCS is pure cost—and quite a high cost at that. Due to the absence of a meaningful carbon price or a market for the CO2, coupled with governments’ reluctance to mandate CCS, there is little incentive to adopt the technology. It is no surprise that most CCS projects operational today use the greenhouse gas for enhanced oil recovery, one of the few sources of CO2 demand.

Schematic showing both terrestrial and geological sequestration of carbon dioxide emissions from a coal-fired plant (LeJean Hardin and Jamie Payne, Wikimedia)

One UK-based start-up is taking a different approach—rather than seeking to bury the gas, it wants to use it. Carbon Clean Solutions has started capturing CO2 from boilers at an industrial plant in southern India run by Tuticorin Alkali Chemicals. The captured gas, some 60,000 metric tons a year, is then used to make baking soda. Aniruddha Sharma, CEO of Carbon Clean, says the scheme is the first large-scale example of carbon capture and utilization that is unsubsidized. By using a new chemical to take the CO2 out of the factory’s flue gases, Sharma says his company has been able to cut the cost of capturing the carbon by 50 percent to less than $40 per metric ton. The new chemical is, he says, less corrosive, less energy-intensive and costs less than amine, which is the main substance used in CCS currently. Although cutting the cost of capturing the carbon is important, having an end use for it is also vital because it allows companies to make a realistic business case within a reasonable time frame (two to five years).

Carbon capture technology used at a coal mine (Peabody Energy Inc, Wikimedia)

Other companies are looking to use CO2 to make a whole range of products including jet fuel, plastics, fertilizer and aggregates. In the absence of a carbon price, using the gas as a feedstock may be the kick-start the sector needs, particularly when it comes to industrial facilities rather than power stations, where it is both easier to regulate emissions and the scale is much larger.
The downside of this larger scale is that it makes both companies and governments nervous. Governments are hesitant to commit huge sums of money towards such projects and companies are influenced by this reluctance on the part of government. As a result, both parties are often unwilling to invest in what is still a largely unproven technology without any form of public sector “safety net” to help if things go wrong. By contrast, the smaller scale of CCS on industrial facilities mean there is less to lose. Carbon Clean’s approach offers hope of quicker development of the market. “You can produce about 20-25 products from CO2,” Sharma says, “but they don’t all work for all geographies, so you have to customize solutions—our technology can be applied to every single industry that wants to capture CO2. What they do with it depends on local conditions.”

SEE MORE: The carbon climate solution by Michelle Leslie

about the author
Mike Scott
Journalist. Environment, Sustainability, Climate Change, Investing, Energy, Supply Chain, Transport, Circular Economy, Stranded Assets, ESG, Smart Cities, Wealth Management, Family Offices, Asset Management, EU.