If we want to keep global warming below 1.5°C, we can only emit another 500 gigatons of carbon in the atmosphere, according to the UN climate council – is about eight years at the current rate.
In the race to reduce emissions, much hope lies in carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology – which captures the carbon produced in industrial processes before it reaches the atmosphere, whether in cement and steel manufacturing processes, oil refineries or natural gas production.
And investor interest in CCS is growing. British startup Clean Carbon has just raised $150 million. greatest trick of all time for a CCS startup, according to Dealroom.
Clean Carbon receives corporate support from Samsung, Chevron and Saudi Aramco
There is a lot of heated discussion about CCS’s relationship with fossil fuels, but big players in the industry are fervently behind the technology. The latest Clean Carbon round was led by Chevron and was attended by Samsung (which has a large oil and gas portfolio) and Saudi Aramco, among others.
The round comes amid growing interest in CCS – last year, the global capacity of planned CCS projects increased by 50% in nine monthsand the industry was further boosted by the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, which highlighted the need for the technology.
Other forms of carbon removal are also attracting interest. Air conditioninga Swiss startup working on direct air capture (where carbon is removed from the air itself rather than captured at source) raised $650 million last month.
lower the price
“Capturing carbon at the point of origin is quite simple,” Clean Carbon founder Aniruddha Sharma told Sifted. “It’s not as complicated as capturing directly from the air, and the variations have been around for about 50 years.”
CCS works by taking gases from industrial processes and moving them through a tower structure where they are sprayed with a chemical that absorbs carbon dioxide. It produces a beer-like substance with CO2 trapped inside, which is then heated to remove the CO2. This CO2 can then be used to make other products, such as fuels, or stored in abandoned gas wells.
Modeling suggests that the cost of storing CO2 emissions from natural gas plants is approximately $80 to $90 per ton. To reduce the cost of CCS, there has been an effort to produce larger plants, so economies of scale come into play and lower the price per ton.
But this created a problem: the initial cost of building a factory is high and takes up a lot of space. Sharma estimates that companies would need 40% more land per plant.
That’s where he says Carbon Clean’s technology comes in. It was able to compress the required equipment size and increase efficiency by introducing a rotating disk into the turret, which increases the contact area for the reaction.
Sharma claims his equipment requires 10 times less space than other models. “That means you don’t have to have ugly rides, you can have everything in one container, and that makes adoption much, much easier. This paves the way for carbon capture for heavy industry.
Clean Carbon says its technology brings the cost down to $45 per ton and could bring it down to $30 per ton by 2025. CCS is also significantly cheaper than eliminating air capture directly – Climeworks is targeting US$ 250 to US$ 300 per ton by 2030, for example.
Greening the fossil fuel industry?
There is much debate about where CCS should be deployed. Some experts point out that it should be used in industries such as cement and steel, where emissions are unlikely to reach zero.
There is an argument that their use in oil and gas production encourages the perpetuation of fossil fuels – because the focus is on greening their processes rather than developing inherently more sustainable energy sources such as wind, solar and other renewable energies.
Some CCS projects also fell short of expectations. Chevron acknowledged last year that a CCS Project in Australia failed in its goal of capturing 80% of CO2 emissions. The project did not involve Carbon Clean.
But other experts believe that removing all the carbon from the atmosphere is positive. “I have a carnivorous attitude towards climate change,” says Jon Gibbons, CCS professor at the University of Sheffield and director of the CCS Research Center in the UK. “We just need to stop the net addition of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere.
“At the moment [oil companies] it is not necessary [deal with Scope 3 emissions]. But regulation, or market differentiation, or public opinion will force them to do so.”
“Oil companies will eventually have to meet their scope 3 emissions. They will have to sell oil and remove the corresponding CO2 from the atmosphere within that cost”, which he says he can pay, given the recent rise in oil prices.
“Right now, they don’t need to. But regulation, market differentiation or public opinion will force them to do so. If we have a way to remove the carbon we emit from the atmosphere and not dump it on future generations, the pressure on these companies to do so will become stronger.
Sharma says the core objective of Carbon Clean is to help the industries that are hardest to eliminate.
“We focus on steel, cement, energy from waste, refining and petrochemicals. These are industries that you cannot get rid of in the short or medium term, or in some cases also in the long term”, he says.
“It is difficult to find sustainable substitutes, so our product is very focused on industrial decarbonization.”
Freya Pratty is a reporter for Sifted. she tweets from @FPratty and writes our sustainability-focused newsletter — You can sign up here.