Carbon capture and storage technologies experience setbacks – Why carbon utilization is the game-changer we need right now

Madison Savilow is the Director of External and Corporate Affairs for Carbon Upcycling.

Madison Savilow

Traditional carbon capture and storage (CCS) has long been touted as a way to help Canada achieve our global commitments to a reduced carbon footprint. Unfortunately, the technology has experienced setbacks which push deployment timelines further into the future.

We don’t have time to wait. Scientists have sounded the alarm that global warming is happening faster than projected. Fortunately, there are other options we can employ.

It’s time governments and industries turn to carbon capture and utilization as a solution we need to sequester CO2 emissions permanently. Many of the technologies utilizing or converting CO2, rather than storing it underground, offer implementable, economically viable alternatives to address our urgent climate targets. 

So, what’s the hold-up? Lack of awareness of the options available may be one reason. 

Carbon capture, utilization, and storage (CCUS) encompasses a trio of strategies aimed at reducing atmospheric CO2 levels, each addressing different stages of carbon management. Each offers a means to reduce our carbon footprint and achieve our climate goals significantly.

Carbon capture is the process of collecting carbon dioxide from industrial emissions before it can contribute to global warming. Once captured, the carbon dioxide can either be stored or utilized.

Storage involves sequestering the captured CO2 in underground geological formations to prevent its release into the atmosphere.

Utilization involves sequestering or converting the captured CO2 into valuable materials and products. This not only prevents the CO2 from entering the atmosphere but also creates economic benefits by turning CO2 into a raw material feedstock.

The extensive infrastructure and geological storage requirements of carbon storage have resulted in delays in implementing this carbon management technology. The recent decision by Capital Power to withdraw from the Genesee CCS project highlights the economic and logistical obstacles inherent in such large-scale CCS endeavors. This underscores the need for decarbonization pathways that offer a return on investment and are less regionally tied.

CCU technologies can enable a new route for captured CO2 and are ideal for regions without geological storage options. In regions with CCS compatible geology, CCU is a complementary solution that transforms captured CO2 emissions into valuable products.

In both scenarios, these technologies can create dual benefits for the environment: it prevents carbon from entering the atmosphere by sequestering or converting it for permanent use, and it replaces raw, carbon-intensive materials in various industries.

For example, ex-situ mineralization is an aboveground process that converts gaseous CO2 into solid minerals. It can then be used in industrial processes such as the concrete sector as supplementary cementitious materials (SCMs). SCMs replace traditional, more carbon-intensive materials in concrete production, significantly reducing the carbon footprint of buildings and infrastructure.

Multiply this with the current global building boom and this could have a massive impact on our climate goals. 

The versatility of CCU also extends beyond construction materials.

Innovations in the sector are producing sustainable aviation fuels, regenerative plastics, and even synthetic fibers for clothing — all utilizing captured carbon. These products not only mitigate carbon emissions but also foster new industries and markets, contributing to economic growth while supporting global sustainability goals.

Of course, different CCU technologies each have their limitations and benefits. For these methods to be truly sustainable, they must be economically viable, scalable, and offer improvements over the conventional materials they replace, thus providing solutions that are both environmentally and economically advantageous.

A common theme across CCU methodologies is their ability to integrate into existing industrial systems. By utilizing waste CO2 from power plants and industrial processes, CCU technologies reduce the CO2 released into the atmosphere and support circular economy principles. With the displacement of carbon intensive materials, they enable decarbonization and reduce reliance on fossil fuels.

The economic impact of CCU is significant. By creating markets for carbon-enhanced products, CCU aids in decarbonizing various sectors and spurs investment in green technologies. This market-driven approach fosters innovation, reduces costs, and promotes the adoption of sustainable practices on a wider scale.

As we confront the urgent deadlines of climate targets, it is crucial to utilize every available technology. CCU emerges as a practical, impactful, and economically sound strategy that complements long-term CCS goals. With its capacity for immediate implementation and versatility in applications, CCU is an essential tool in our environmental strategy.

Embracing CCU is key to transforming the daunting challenges of carbon management into powerful opportunities for growth and sustainability, paving the way for a healthier planet and a thriving global economy.

Madison Savilow is the Director of External and Corporate Affairs for Carbon Upcycling.