The Role of CO2 Utilization in Greenhouse Gas Emissions Mitigation

R. Munson
Global CCS Institute,
United States

Keywords: carbon capture, carbon storage, greenhouse gas


Global leaders have committed to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions by mid-century, and carbon capture and storage (CCS) is an essential element of the portfolio of solutions needed to address climate change. Modeling by the International Energy Agency (IEA)shows that CCS provides 12% of required emissions reductions through 2050. Those reductions will come from the power sector, which accounts for about 40 percent of global emissions, and from the industrial sector – steel, cement, fertilizer, petrochemicals – which produces nearly 25 percent of emissions. However, current costs associated with carbon capture are too high to support widespread deployment without a comprehensive carbon valuation mechanism. CO2 utilization has potential to play a key role in accelerating deployment of carbon capture because it provides an income stream to offset the costs. Enhanced oil recovery (EOR)-based projects using captured carbon dioxide have been operating since the early 1970s, and to date have served as the main economic driver to capture CO2. However, economic opportunities for CO2 go far beyond geologic utilization. The National Coal Council (NCC) has recently produced a report for the U.S. Secretary of Energy that identified a variety of options to produce useful industrial products from captured CO2 such as fertilizers, organic and specialty chemicals, cement, plastics and polymers, among others. Therefore, non-EOR CO2 utilization has the potential to play an additive role in accelerating the deployment of capture technologies. Beyond providing an income stream, CO2 utilization has the potential to contribute to CO2 emissions reductions in three main areas: 1) It can help drive down costs associated with carbon capture, and those cost reductions are transferrable. Entities that use CO2 as a feedstock would seek to minimize the price they pay for the CO2. From a practical standpoint, that means minimizing the cost associated with carbon capture. Consequently, since CO2 utilization can help drive down capture costs, those cost reductions can also be applied to approaches that result in long-term geologic storage. 2) Utilization can help advance the second major component in the CCS value chain – transport. It is highly unlikely that facilities producing CO2 and manufacturers using CO2 as a feedstock would be co-located. Transporting the CO2 from the production site to the use site requires the same infrastructure that would be needed to transport CO2 to a long-term storage site. Hence, the experience gained through development of transport infrastructure for CO2 utilization eventually will benefit the development of infrastructure for traditional CO2 storage. 3) It can reduce the amount of anthropogenic CO2 additions to the atmosphere. While some forms of non-EOR utilization may not represent permanent storage of CO2, it is utilizing CO2 that otherwise would have been vented directly to the atmosphere and transforming it into a form that will keep it out of the atmosphere for some period of time. For instance, if captured CO2 is eventually used for plastics production, positive GHG impacts accrue. The same applies if the captured CO2 is incorporated into aggregates or other building materials. Finally, if life-cycle assessment indicates that particular utilization pathways reduce the carbon footprint of products and services compared to conventional processes, this can also have a positive impact on GHG emissions. While not all CO2 utilization pathways are as effective for GHG reductions as long-term geologic storage, it is a step in the right direction that will help reduce net CO2 emissions. Most importantly, CO2 utilization will lower the costs of carbon capture and help create CO2 transportation networks, contributing to the acceleration of widespread deployment of CCS.