These PhD students will be among the leaders developing carbon capture and storage around the world. The International CCS Knowledge Centre is advocating for much more CCS around the world.  Photo by Brian Zinchuk

Open letter dated July 10, 2023

To:

Rishi Sunak, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom

Jeremy Hunt, Chancellor of the Exchequer

Grant Shapps, Secretary of State for Energy Security and Net Zero

 

Joe Biden, President of the United States

Jennifer Granholm, Secretary of Energy

Michael Regan, Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

 

Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada

Chrystia Freeland, Deputy Prime Minister & Minister of Finance

Jonathan Wilkinson, Minister of Natural Resources

Steven Guilbeault, Minister of Environment and Climate Change

 

Re: Carbon capture and storage is needed and ready to address climate change

The significant support for carbon capture and storage (CCS) projects adopted by the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom in recent months has highlighted the importance of CCS in meeting international climate goals. Indeed, achieving net-zero emissions will rely heavily on implementing CCS in industries across the world — power generation, cement, steel and fertilizer manufacturing and mining, in particular — as well as for hydrogen fuel production from natural gas and addressing emissions from the production and consumption of fossil fuels as the world undertakes an orderly transition towards decarbonization.

While much attention is on the hefty upfront price tag for building large-scale CCS infrastructure, what is often lost in the discussion about investment in CCS are the costs to our society if we do not proceed at pace with the massive build-out of CCS that is required to meet Paris Agreement commitments.

At the highest level, the world can’t afford to ignore CCS as a key tool in fighting climate change, along with energy efficiency and greater electrification based on the expansion of renewable and nuclear power. The International Energy Agency estimates that CCS will be required for 15 to 25 per cent of the GHG reductions necessary by 2050, while the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change forecasts that the cost of climate mitigation could more than double without the application of CCS technologies.

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It is also important to look beyond the direct cost of building a CCS facility and consider how the cost of CCS impacts end users of the products and services we all rely on for daily life. Several studies have concluded that implementing CCS on large-scale industrial projects yields significant CO2 reductions at minimal cost to the public over the long term. As seen in a recent study examining CO2 emissions from the construction of a major U.S. bridge project, CCS is a relatively cheap emissions reduction solution for the end users of the commodities that heavy-emitting industries provide. After all, the average person does not tend to directly buy a lot of steel, cement, fertilizer or crude oil, but we do rely on these inputs for our homes, buildings, roads, clothing, food, pharmaceuticals and electronic devices. It turns out the overall cost for mitigating CO2 emissions with CCS is marginal and well within the normal range of variation we see in market prices for many goods and services.

To be clear, reaching a net-zero world requires using all the tools we have at our disposal. However, CCS is the only proven solution we have today that can drastically cut CO2 emissions from hard-to-decarbonize industries that are the pillars of our economy.  It is worth pointing out that investment in this emissions reduction pathway has been virtually non-existent compared to what has been spent on wind turbines, solar panels and electric vehicles so far this century – during which time greenhouse gas emissions have continued to climb, absolute fossil fuel consumption has grown by more than one-third,  and the share of fossil fuels in the world’s energy mix has only budged marginally from 87 per cent in 2000 to 84 per cent by 2020.

Boundary Dam Unit 3 turbine, the blue mechanism on the right.

 

The argument against CCS, that it is unproven — aside from being incorrect — is circular. Far from unproven, this group of technologies is being applied on many tens of industrial CO2 capture projects, including two offshore operations in the North Sea (Sleipner and Snohvit), which have been capturing a million tonnes of CO2 a year for 27 years and 15 years respectively. Meanwhile, Canada is home to the world’s first CCS facility on a commercial power plant – SaskPower’s Boundary Dam Unit 3 CCS facility, which has captured more than 5 million tonnes of CO2 so far, while the Quest CCS facility operated by Shell has captured and safely sequestered more than 7 million tonnes from the Scotford Refinery near Edmonton since 2015. Like any evolving technology, the rapid scale-up of CCS comes with uncertainties and unexpected challenges, which is why applying the knowledge and lessons learned from the first generation of CCS projects is critical to reducing the risk, lowering costs and improving the performance of the hundreds of new projects being planned around the world.

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Building the new CO2 capture facilities, pipelines and storage systems on the massive scale and aggressive timelines needed to meet international climate obligations requires significant collaboration between industry, governments, financial institutions and other partners. As governments continue to work on implementing the necessary policies and efficient regulatory processes to support private-sector investment in CCS, the industries that depend on the successful development of CCS for their long-term survival must also set out realistic business models that are not overly reliant on public subsidies to ensure their existence in a net-zero world.

It’s time to get on with proving the enormous potential of CCS to fight climate change in a just and sustainable manner — transitioning our CO2-intensive industries that employ millions of people, provide major contributions to national GDP and government revenues — while driving up efficiency, reducing hydrocarbon consumption and paving the way for the necessary removal of historic CO2 emissions from the atmosphere.

Our children are counting on us to realize this once-in-a-generation opportunity.

Sincerely,

Paul Fennell, Professor of Clean Energy, Imperial College London

Niall Mac Dowell, Professor of Energy Systems Engineering, Imperial College London

Geoffrey Maitland, Professor of Energy Engineering, Imperial College London

Andrea Ramirez Ramirez, Professor of Low Carbon Systems and Technologies, Delft University of Technology

Vikram Vishal, Associate Professor, Department of Earth Sciences, Indian Institute of Technology Bombay

Kevin O’Brien, Prairie Research Institute, University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign

Simon Roussanaly, Research Scientist, SINTEF Energy Research

Rahul Anantharaman, Research Scientist, SINTEF Energy Research

Nathalia Weber, Co-Founder, CCS Brazil; Research Centre for Greenhouse Gas Innovation, University of São Paulo

Myles Allen, Professor of Geosystem Science, Oxford University

Stuart Haszeldine, Professor of Carbon Capture and Storage, University of Edinburgh

Jon Gibbins, Professor of Power Plant Engineering and Carbon Capture, University of Sheffield

Matteo Romano, Professor of Systems for Energy and Environment, Politecnico di Milano

Howard Herzog, Senior Research Engineer, MIT Energy Initiative

Jeffrey Brown, Managing Director, Energy Futures Financing Forum; Adjunct Professor, Stanford Doerr School of Sustainability

Dianne Wiley, Dean of Engineering, University of Newcastle Australia

Matthew Green, Center for Negative Carbon Emissions, Arizona State University

Sean McCoy, Assistant Professor, Schulich School of Engineering, University of Calgary

Steven Bryant, Professor of Petroleum and Chemical Engineering, Schulich School of Engineering, University of Calgary

Yrjo Koskinen, Professor of Sustainable and Transition Finance, University of Calgary

Rick Chalaturnyk, Professor of Geotechnical Engineering, University of Alberta

James Millar, President and CEO, International CCS Knowledge Centre

 

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