With the backdrop of the veteran naturalist and filmmaker Sir David Attenborough's powerful speech at the COP26, the Head of the International Energy Agency (IEA), Fatih Birol, tweeted that, if the COP26 climate pledges were met in full, and on time, global warming could be limited to 1.8°C by 2100, but implementing them will need higher ambition, strong implementation and clear tracking. The IEA has reported that to achieve 1.5°C the clean energy transition requires carbon capture, usage and storage (CCUS) is the only technology option that can contribute to CO2 reductions in key sectors where emissions are hard to avoid. In a move to decarbonise its operations to net zero by 2050, Shell Catalysts & Technologies is investing in CCUS and has organised a webcast with the aim of sharing their CCUS experiences, challenges and aspirations to the world.
Nick Flinn, VP technology licensing and services, opened the webcast by stating how CCUS is an increasingly important technology to achieve the Paris Agreement goals on climate change. The webinar was delivered in 4 parts: firstly, the implication of Covid-19; powering progress with CCUS; CCUS sustainable recovery panel discussion; and finally live questions and answers with participants. Nick, the webcast facilitator, then introduced the panel team that included: Andy Gosse, President, Shell Catalysts & Technologies; and Syrie Crouch, the VP CCS Shell. The first presentation, by Andy, explained how economies across the world, and especially in the energy sector, have been affected by Covid-19 through a sharp reduction in the demand for liquid fuel. This has disrupted operations within the supply chain matrix. With such a downturn, projects were cancelled or delayed. Strong signs of acceleration in the 2021 energy market were a welcomed development.Andy then posed the question "what does the future hold?". Three post-covid scenarios were projected:
- Wealth first scenario: This is the scenario where recovery evolves around economic strength, stimulated by a drive to get back to normal as soon as possible. This scenario underlines the broader social and climate issues to a lesser degree.
- Security first scenario: This is the state where people prioritise self-sufficiency, nationalism and even fear and resentment. This becomes a more turbulent world in which the economy stagnates.
- Health first scenario: In this scenario, the institutions that the pandemic has exposed to be weak are acted upon such as the health system and social safety nets. Initiatives are more effective, health and social well being are improved alongside the faster pace of the clean energy transition.
Shell is responding to the clean energy security and sustainability drive via the powering progress strategy. This initiative is focused on working with stakeholders to achieve net zero emission by 2050 whilst generating shareholder value to create the financial strength necessary to achieve the clean energy transition.
During the panel session, Nick asked the panellists how governments will, in the post-Covid recovery, stimulate the economy, build back greener, and how much CCS can contribute in the low carbon economy. Further, what are the immediate and longer market forces that are required to ensure CCS achieves its full potential as a decarbonising technology. Syrie acknowledged the rapid acceleration that has been observed in CCS within the last eighteen months. She further stated that CCS stands to potentially transform the power and heavy chemical industries to achieve the net zero emissions (NZE) goals. For market forces to have an effective impact Syrie thought that CCS will require a price premium to increase the value of decarbonised products. The right regulatory regime and innovation are also needed. Natural clustering of industries also offers opportunities to consolidate resources.Moreover this is expected to be far better for the overall economics than a single industry working in isolation.
Syrie responded to a question raised on the scale and pace of CCS development to achieve net zero by 2050. She stated that the quantity of CCS to reach net zero ranges from 3 to 12 Gt CO2 per annum (in context, the weight of the world's human population is about 0.5 Gt). The high range is a reflection of the rate of global transition to renewables. The faster the move to renewables deployment, the lower the pace of CCS deployment at scale. To translate the scale of CCS deployment to net zero, in terms of projects, will require an equivalent of two projects the size of Quest project deployed weekly. Syrie stressed that we are nowhere near that scale. Current CCS projects stands at about 20 which accounts for about 40 Mt per annum. In a scale of gigatons, this hardly registers. Clearly industry has a long way to go but big challenges offer big opportunities.
Syrie placed the role of CCS in the renewable energy sector in context. There are about 300 tonnes of steel and a tonne of copper wire in a wind-turbine (depending on its size), not to mention the amount of cement for the foundation. The production of a tonne of copper wire emits 15 tonnes of CO2. Therefore, the concept that CCS is exclusively focussed on capturing CO2 from large point sources of fossil fuel-powered plants no longer holds water. The role of CCS today extends to the hard-to-abate industries such as steel, cement, mineral extraction and process chemical industries. In a nutshell, the green industries can be challenged to be greener by using blue steel, blue cement, blue copper etc. The blue taxonomy in this context refers to CCS-abated fossil fuel combustion.
Nick closed the webcast after thanking the panelists for their insightful presentations and thanked the participants for participating in the webcast.
Abdul'Aziz A. Aliyu
5th November 2021