Capturing Carbon: Role and potential of CCUS technology in emission reduction

Role and potential of CCUS technology in emission reduction

India’s clean energy transition is largely driven by renewable capacity expansion. While the large capacity addition of renewables is a welcome development, it may not be sufficient to help further the energy transition agenda in India. Given the rapidly rising energy demand and infirmity of renewable power, India’s po­w­er se­ctor still relies heavily on its coal assets. Further, the industrial processes of hard-to-abate sectors such as cement, iron and steel, chemicals and fertilisers, and pe­troleum refining result in heavy emissi­ons. Thus, there is a need for more sup­p­o­rtive measures to curb emissions, es­p­e­cially since India is the third largest emitter of carbon dioxide in the world, just be­hind China and the US. One of the solutions in this regard is carbon capture technology, which can help the country move forward on the clean energy path.

Carbon capture and geological sequestration is the process of capturing waste carbon dioxide from large point sources and transporting it to a storage site, whi­ch is typically an underground geological formation. Carbon sequestration projects are ex­pensive and, therefore, are not im­plem­ented in isolation in India. The high cost of storage, transportation and deploy­ment is responsible for the slow uptake of carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS) ac­ross the world, including India.

Current scenario and scope

Although carbon capture technology is nascent in the Indian context with only a few implemented small-scale projects, there is an emerging interest around the technology. One of the proposed applications of CCUS or carbon capture storage (CCS) is coal-based power plants. How­ever, there are more viable solutions available for transitioning from coal.

As per a recent study on coal-based carbon capture storage undertaken by the Ce­nter for Sustainability, Policy and Tech­no­logy Management and Germany-bas­ed Wup­per­tal Institute, the levellised cost assessment deemed that coal-CCS is too expensive as significant cost red­uc­­ti­ons are needed to compete in the Indian po­w­er market. The study further drew att­ention to the enormous volume of wa­ter resour­ces consumed by coal-CCS in comparison to conventional coal pla­nts and renewables. While CCS technologies can significantly reduce emissions from conventional coal-based po­w­er plants by up to 74 per cent, renewables hold an advantage in terms of cost and re­source footprint.

Although not a feasible option for coal-based plants in the near future, there are more conducive sectors for carbon capture technology to be put in use. In 2021, the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) submitted the Third Biennial Update Report to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which included a seg­­me­­nt on “carbon capture, storage/ uti­lisation”. As per the MoEFCC’s report, some in­­dustries that have initiated the process of setting up CCS facilities inclu­de the Na­tio­nal Aluminium Compa­ny, ONGC, Bha­rat Heavy Electricals Limited and the An­dhra Pradesh Power Genera­tion Cor­po­ration. Further, carbon captu­re initiatives are being taken in key industrial sectors such as chemicals and refi­ne­ries, cement and steel.

There is significant scope for carbon ca­p­ture technologies in the chemicals and refinery industries. In fact, this is where the technology was first deployed in India. Since October 2016, Carbon

Cl­e­an Solutions Limited (CCSL) in part­ner­ship with Tuticorin Alkali Chemicals and Fer­tilisers Limited has been operating India’s first industrial-scale carbon capture and utilisation (CCU) plant. At this plant, the captured carbon dioxide is converted into soda ash (sodium carbonate), which is an ingredient used in household products, glass manufacturing and paper production. NTPC Limi­ted, a power utility, is also en­gaged in various CCU projects. Recently, NTPC selected renewable energy developers Green Power International and CCSL to design and build a carbon capture plant with a ca­pacity to capture 20 tonnes of carbon dioxide daily at the carbon dioxide-to-me­tha­nol demonstration plant of NTPC Vin­dh­­yachal, which is being set up by NETRA, the R&D wing of NTPC. The carbon capture solution will be installed in the flue gas stack to capture the emissions from the coal-fired boiler. Through ongoing feasibility studies, IOCL is evaluating the implementation of carbon capture technology at the Koyali refinery.

The cement industry, contributing to nearly 8 per cent of global emissions, is one of the sectors where emissions are hardest to abate. The emissions are produced by the calcination of limestone, which is re­quired to produce cement, a crucial building material. It is important to curb the emissions at source. Carbon capture could prove to be a viable solution in this context. One of the major de­velopments in the space include Dal­mia Cement’s an­nouncement in 2019. The cement manufacturer anno­un­ced the se­tting up of a large-scale unit with a capacity of 500,000 tonnes per year of carbon capture in order to become carbon-neutral by 2040. The facility will be installed at one of its plants in Tamil Nadu in collaboration with the UK-ba­sed CCSL. Dalmia Cement and CCSL plan to explore multiple utilisation str­eams for the captured carbon, including di­rect sale for use in other industries, and manufacture of chemicals.

India is globally the second largest steel maker, contributing 6 per cent to the overall global steel output. This can be equated to a commensurate level of em­issions. The Indian steel industry has a dominance of blast furnaces. The best way to decarbonise existing steel plants is to use CCUS on the blast furnace, ma­king it es­sential to adopt carbon capture technologies for substantially reducing emissions.

However, the commercial viability of this technology is still far off and will require significant modifications in the existing in­frastructure. Tata Steel Li­mi­ted and the Council of Scientific and Industrial Re­search (CSIR) signed an MoU in 2020 to accelerate the development and deployment of CCUS technologies in the steel industry. CSIR has also initiated steps to set up a national facility on CCUS at the Na­tional Enviro­n­mental Engineering Resear­ch Institu­te, Nagpur, with Tata Steel as a founder partner. In September 2021, Tata Steel commissioned a 5 tonne per day carbon capture plant at its Jam­shed­pur Works.

Research and development

In India, the Department of Science and Technology (DST) under the Ministry of Science and Technology, has been working towards creating a facilitative environment for CCUS through R&D as well as capacity building. This is expected to aid the development of technologies and methodologies that address issues related to high capital costs, safety, logistics and high au­x­iliary power consumption. To this end, DST initiated a “Natio­nal Pro­g­ramme on CO2 Sequestration Re­­search”. In addition, it has been in­volved in two ot­her not­able initiatives in this area – the Mi­s­sion Innovation Ch­allenge on CCUS and Accelerating CCS Technolo­gies (ACT).

The Mission Innovation carbon capture challenge aims to achieve near-zero carbon dioxide emissions from power plants and carbon-intensive industries. DST, in collaboration with the Depart­ment of Biotechnology (DBT), jointly launched IC3 – the Carbon Capture In­n­ovation Chall­enge, in July 2018 for un­dertaking joint R&D with member countries of Mission Innovation to identify and prioritise breakthrough technologies in the field of carbon dioxide captu­re, separation, storage and value additi­on. Under this initiative, 20 proposals have been recommended for support, 17 from DST and three from DBT.

DST has participated in the multilateral ACT initiative aimed at accelerating and maturing CCUS technology through tra­n­snational funding of projects. Till date, the­re have been three ACT calls for proposals. Following the success of ACT’s first and second calls, DST jointly launch­ed the ACT-3 Call (in 2020) along with other partners – the Canadian pro­vin­ce of Alberta, Denmark, Italy and Eu­ro­pe’s No­r­dic Countries via Nordic En­er­gy Re­se­arch, joining forces with France, Germany, Greece, Norway, Ro­ma­nia, Swit­zerland, the Netherlands, Turkey, the UK, and the US. Under ACT’s third call, India was allocated a total funding of Euro 1 million for four projects, each being res­tricted to Euro 0.25 million. This funding will be divided into two eq­ual parts to support CCU and CCS project proposals.

Future path

Moving ahead, there is a need for innovation in CCUS in order to make it technically feasible, robust, scalable, safe and cost effective. The uptake of carbon capture would require more R&D supp­ort, a supportive policy framework as well as ec­o­nomic incentives. There are also a va­riety of uses of captured carbon, which can be explored to improve its via­bility. So­me of its uses are carbon mi­neralisation, algae cultivation, conversi­on of carbon dioxide into metha­nol and ethanol, and urea yield boosting. There is also a need to identify the geological storage potential across the country and map the viable carbon dioxide st­o­rage spaces. It will be beneficial to plan future facilities in proximity to good storage re­so­­urces. Go­ing forward, the country nee­ds to develop a long-term strategy to reap the be­nefits of CCU, st­o­rage and beco­me a green economy.

Meghaa Gangahar