CCS: why it can only be a transition technology

Carbon capture, storage and utilisation technologies can help Europe’s industries decarbonise, but they should not be seen as a holy grail for achieving climate neutrality, writes Jens Geier.
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By Jens Geier

Jens Geier (DE, S&D) is a member of Parliament’s Industry, Research and Energy Committee

30 Jul 2020

The fight against climate change has become the most important challenge for our society, economy and industry. As a social democrat, I believe that it is our duty to do all that we can to avoid irreversible changes to our environment and ecosystems while addressing the dramatic consequences this will have on our way of life.

I therefore strongly support the Paris Agreement, the European climate goals and especially the target of making Europe climate-neutral by 2050. To achieve climate-neutrality, every part of our society will need to make significant efforts to minimise greenhouse gas emissions.

Industry must play an essential role, as it will need to find ways to decarbonise its production processes, while remaining competitive. This industrial transition requires significant amounts of investment, research, innovation and development in finding technological solutions that not only contribute to decarbonisation but are also viable business cases for companies.

This double requirement has grown in importance in light of the increased economic pressure brought about by the Coronavirus crisis and by increased international competition. Now, it is our responsibility as policymakers to enable an industrial transition that leaves no one behind. Carbon capture and storage (CCS) can be a part of this transition, as it is an opportunity for industry to store carbon emissions.

“CCS and CCU technologies cannot be used as an excuse to delay research, innovation and investment in carbon-free production processes or to delay the deployment of renewable energies”

CCS is particularly important for industries that cannot rely on cost-efficient carbon-free solutions yet, but still need to reduce emissions. It should, however, be clear from the beginning that although storing CO2 may be better than emitting it, the best solution remains avoiding it altogether.

Furthermore, CCS is an expensive process that is still in the large-scale demonstration phase. I believe that the technological, economic and environmental feasibility of this technology needs to be guaranteed before deploying it. For this, we need EU-wide research, development and innovation, as well as investment.

We also need sufficient and safe CCS infrastructure to make the technology a success. I am convinced that a European approach to these requirements is the most efficient approach, as it allows us to join forces and share experiences and resources.

For a long time, the European Commission was sceptical about CCS, but they now recognise it as a priority area in the European Green Deal. Funding for the further development of this technology at European level is also available, for example under Horizon Europe, the Connecting Europe Facility and the Innovation Fund.

I hope that the Innovation Fund will be able to provide the funding needed for breakthrough technologies that can decarbonise industrial processes such as CCS and carbon capture and utilisation (CCU), despite the Coronavirus crisis that could lead to lower carbon prices and therefore a smaller fund.

Notwithstanding the important role CCS can play in helping achieve climate-neutrality; we need to recognise that the technology is controversial in Europe. National legislation can hamper its fast deployment while public acceptance is low in many Member States, including in my home country, Germany.

Therefore, transparency and the involvement of citizens in the deployment of CCS, and more specifically storage facilities, are key. People’s scepticism and concerns need to be taken seriously and addressed by governments and businesses. An alternative to CCS that encounters less public resistance is CCU, which involves further utilisation of CO2 instead of storing it.

This technology allows industrial sectors to cooperate with each other and to use the CO2 produced by, for example, the steel industry, in the chemical industry as a feedstock. This results in the producing industry not emitting CO2 while the utilising industry doesn’t need to use additional CO2 for their product.

This technology is, unfortunately, not economically viable yet. Therefore, we again need more intensive research and development and huge amounts of investment to bring the costs of this technology down and to make it viable for businesses.

This needs to happen fast, as energy-intensive industries such as the steel industry will depend on CCU for their decarbonisation, in the short and medium term. Generally, the funds that are available for CCS can also be used to support CCU.

“CCS and CCU are important elements in the short- and medium-term towards climate-neutrality, but they are by no means the Holy Grail for carbon-neutrality”

For me, it is therefore crucial that funding for carbon capture technologies focuses not only on CCS, but also on CCU. Even though I believe that CCS and CCU technologies can help us achieve climate neutrality by 2050, I also want to underline that these technologies can only be transitional, as they do not omit the use of CO2.

In the long run, our goal should be to find carbon-free solutions for industrial production processes, such as green hydrogen, and to make these solutions economically viable. CCS and CCU technologies cannot be used as an excuse to delay research, innovation and investment in carbon-free production processes or to delay the deployment of renewable energies.

Moreover, carbon-free solutions should remain the main focus of EU funding initiatives and programmes, because for me one thing is clear: CCS and CCU are important elements in the short and medium term towards climate-neutrality, but they are by no means the Holy Grail for carbonneutrality.

The sustainable long-term solutions for our industrial and energy sectors are those that are carbon-free if we are to ever realise climate neutrality in Europe.

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