Photo: John Dalrymple
By Mie Kjær
How can the EU meet their climate mitigation targets?
One factor that seems promising is Carbon Capture and Utilisation (CCU). However, a new Ramboll study shows that the conditions to achieve climate benefits from CCU can prove difficult in the absence of a supportive policy framework incentivising more industrial emission cuts.
CCU entails diverse technologies and processes, of which some use CO2 as a chemical feedstock and convert it into value-added products such as polymers (plastics), minerals, chemicals and synthetic fuels.
The climate benefit from CCU technologies is evaluated in the study using a life cycle assessment methodology which compares the production process-related GHG emissions for a CCU product with the same emissions for a conventional product, made using fossil- or bio-based sources of carbon.
From this point of departure, the study inquired to what extent different CCU technologies could be considered ‘promising’ in contributing to EU climate mitigation targets.
Due to the sheer diversity of CCU technologies and their relative novelty, it is not possible to draw general conclusions for all technologies, and each should be valued in its own right by conducting a life cycle analysis, explains Samy Porteron, consultant at Ramboll Management Consulting and expert in sustainable development and environmental governance.
- What the study does tell us is that CCU technologies are often highly energy intensive. The use of renewable energy is key to mitigate energy-related CO2 emissions from CCU, and the climate mitigation potential of CCU processes is therefore limited by the availability of renewable energy. In the current state of the EU energy mix, our study shows that using grid-sourced energy to power CCU processes would not be beneficial from a climate mitigation perspective. CCU processes should be undertaken where renewable energy is abundant.
CCU is nevertheless a relevant solution for the creation of a circular economy:
- CCU could enable industrial symbiosis, support the replacement of fossil fuels, and reduce the reliance on fossil imports. It is also a relevant solution where carbon is needed, such as in the chemical industry, Samy Porteron adds.
There is often a misconception that CCU technologies could offer similar climate benefits as geological carbon capture and storage technologies (GCCS), where CO2 is stored into the ground for it to never escape. However, aside from a few CCU products the characteristic of CCU compared to GCCS is that the CO2 captured in a product is often re-emitted at the end-of-life of that product.
Some CCU technologies that show climate benefits do exist while others may be discovered in the future.
However, these technologies will not allow society to fully break away from its reliance on carbon. What is more, these technologies are sometimes still unable to break even financially and therefore require public financial support. Consequently, CCU technologies should be compared with other low or even zero carbon technologies, according to Ramboll’s expert:
- In sectors where carbon is not needed, other technologies - such as electrification for the transport sector - can offer better climate mitigation impacts. The environmental costs and benefits of CCU technologies should therefore be weighed carefully against those of other technologies that can serve the same purpose. This matters especially for the EU and other public or private organisations conscious about making environmentally-friendly investments.
After this study, the EU will continue investigating the potential of various low-carbon technologies and developing the appropriate regulatory framework to ensure their contribution to low-carbon development. The new EU Innovation Fund - designed to finance highly innovative technologies and big flagship projects from 2020 onwards - is hoped to contribute to the breakthrough of technologies with the highest emission reduction potential.
Teams from Ramboll’s Management Consulting and Environment & Health divisions worked on the study with valuable support from IASS Potsdam, Kassel University CESR, CE Delft, and IOM Law.