Carbon capture utilisation and storage (CCUS) has been identified as a mandatory solution for reducing our carbon impact, but can carbon capture save us from climate change? In this article, we explore the impact that fossil fuels have on our planet and what CCUS methods are available.
Howden has a longstanding involvement in heavy industries looking towards large-scale carbon capture. Find out more about Carbon Capture, Utilisation and Storage (CCUS).
The United Nations defines climate change as "long-term shifts in temperatures and weather patterns." Although these changes in our atmosphere can fluctuate naturally, the dramatic increase over the last 200 years has been triggered by human processes and industrial practices. The release of greenhouse gases into our atmosphere causes energy from the sun to become trapped, and warms our planet in ways that negatively impact our environment.
Sources of Greenhouse Gases
There are many sources of greenhouse gas emissions. These primarily come from the steep increase in the use of fossil fuels over the last 200 years which have allowed us to dramatically advance modern life. From generating power and electricity to manufacturing goods, the way we live has led to a rapid increase in the amount of greenhouse gas being released into our atmosphere.
Sources of greenhouse gas emissions include:
Generating Power, Heat & Electricity
For hundreds of years, we've burned fossil fuels like coal, gas, and oil to create electricity. We rely on this commodity during our daily lives. We use it to turn on the lights in our homes and to heat our water and cook our meals, and even to charge our cars. Yet, these types of fuels produce harmful greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide. In the last 50 years the demand on our electrical supplies has increased. More devices within our homes than ever before rely on this source of power.
As well as electricity, our homes still rely heavily on gas, predominantly to heat our buildings and power our appliances. While in the western world we've moved away from burning coal, many countries around the world still rely on this as an energy source, leading to ongoing CO2 emissions.
Another key source of greenhouse gas emissions is the transportation industry, as most cars, ships and planes require fossil fuels like oil and petroleum to run. In the last 100 years we've seen a vast increase in emissions from these sources, as global overseas importation, trade and travel has become an integral part of our daily lives. The transportation industry makes up almost 1/4 of the global CO2 emissions that have a detrimental effect on our atmosphere.
A large percentage of all global carbon emissions comes from manufacturing processes, particularly in the production of materials such as plastics, cement, metals, and clothing. Plastics in particular are extremely damaging to our environment, not only due to the post-consumer pollution of these materials entering our oceans, but also in the early production stages. Plastics are made from hydrocarbons derived from crude oil, natural gas and coal, all of which are fossil fuels that produce CO2 emissions.
Cement production heavily relies on the burning of fossil fuels to turn hard rock materials and compounds into concrete. This leads to high greenhouse gas emissions. Between the production and transportation of cement, iron and steel, it is no surprise that the construction industry is one of the largest polluters of CO2 in our modern world.
Another large contributor to a rise in CO2 within our atmosphere is how our food is produced. As our population grows, the food required also increases. Through each stage of the farming process there are many key areas that lead to the release of CO2 and methane into our atmosphere. From field to plate, the production and global transportation of food products as well as the packaging and distribution makes the food production industry a large contributor to greenhouse gas.
Trees are scientifically known to absorb CO2 through natural sequestration, minimising the greenhouse gases that enter our atmosphere. Deforestation not only impacts our environment but has a direct effect on climate change. To reverse the effects of deforestation and increased greenhouse gas emissions, scientists are finding new ways to permanently capture and safely store CO2.
How much has carbon dioxide increased in the last 200 years?
Carbon dioxide levels within our atmosphere have vastly increased in the last 200 years since the beginning of the industrial revolution, with a rise in new manufacturing processes and production that utilised materials like coal, gas, and oil. The metric for measuring carbon is parts per million (ppm), with carbon levels rising from 280 ppm in 1750 to over 419 ppm in 2022.
CO2 emission levels have vastly increased from the late 1950s and continue to rise today, making it more important than ever to find solutions to halt the release of CO2 and other greenhouse gases through methods like CCUS.
How does carbon capture work?
CCUS is the process of capturing carbon dioxide emissions gathered from industrial processes before it enters the Earth's atmosphere and storing it safely deep underground, where it cannot impact global warming. There are a variety of ways to capture CO2 from industrial processes, including point source capture and Direct Air Capture (DAC).
Carbon Capture, Utilisation and Storage has been identified as a key technology in addressing emissions. Learn more about the key stages Carbon Capture, Utilisation and Storage (CCUS).
Point source capture works by capturing CO2 before it's released into our atmosphere, which is useful for large scale industrial facilities which rely on fossil fuels. This includes facilities such as power plants, cement production facilities and chemical plants where no alternative fuel source is currently available . Point source capture allows these industries to continue to operate without releasing vast quantities of CO2. Instead, they utilise modern technology to capture and transport carbon emissions for permanent storage or utilisation.
Direct Air Capture (DAC) is the process of capturing CO2 directly from the ambient air, which is the air we breathe. In this method, carbon dioxide is captured using low pressure axial fans to draw the air through a recirculating fluid or solid sorbent to trap the CO2. The captured CO2 is then safely stored or transported for use in other industrial processes.
According to reports from the International Energy Agency (IEA), CCUS could account for up to 20% of emissions reductions required across industry sectors.
What are potential uses of captured CO2?
The removal of CO2 from our atmosphere as a preventative measure for climate change is possible and is being effectively implemented globally across a variety of industries. However, what's also interesting is the possibility of using captured CO2 in a diverse range of industries.
CO2 has been used in everyday processes for many years, from biofuel and food and beverage production to pharmaceuticals and refrigeration processes.
How does carbon sequestration work?
The permanent storage, or sequestration, of CO2 is essential to reduce the effects of greenhouse gas emissions on global warming. In sequestration CO2 is injected using compressors to permanently trap gases deep underground where they cannot impact global warming. There are a variety of locations underground where CO2 can safely be stored during the sequestration process, including geological saline rock formations, coal seams and oil and natural gas reservoirs.
Basalt sequestration is an alternative sequestration process and is the process of locking CO2 within basalt rock formations deep within our oceans. When carbon is injected into basalt rock this causes a chemical reaction that allows the CO2 to be absorbed by the rock in a process called basalt carbonation.
Although these are the current sequestration methods, there are many others that are being researched by scientists to facilitate the long-term storage of carbon dioxide.
Can Carbon Capture Save Us from Climate Change?
CCUS will significantly contribute to reducing the negative impact of CO2 in our atmosphere, by reducing the amount of CO2 that's released from highly polluting industries. However, like all technology it's only successful if it's utilised and adopted at-scale, particularly by the industries producing the most emissions.
CCUS technology alone cannot save us from climate change, it will take a complete portfolio of solutions to reach our climate goals. From industries implementing processes to capture and safely store CO2, to governments taking responsibility for their countries CO2 emissions and individuals reducing their own carbon footprint.
Contact Howden to find out how we can support our customers with solutions across the CCUS value chain.
Download our brochure to learn more about our advanced solutions for CCUS. Carbon Capture, Utilisation and Storage (CCUS) brochure.