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IEA Greenhouse Gas R&D Programme



Over recent years, interest in CO2 capture and utilisation (CCU) from policy-makers, industry and academics has increased dramatically, although uncertainty remains regarding the technology’s true potential to contribute towards wider greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reduction goals. A range of views have been expressed in these contexts, but on the whole it remains largely speculative and unproven. Consequently, it is difficult to provide firm opinions on whether CCU technologies can make a meaningful and lasting contribution to tackling climate change. This report provides an assessment of the range of views presented by various stakeholders, and attempts to establish an empirical evidence base upon which to qualify the views and opinions expressed.


Additionally, the key way to gain a clearer understanding of the potential for CCU technologies to reduce GHG emissions is to assess the overall energy and carbon balances for different CCU processes, and to take a view on how and whether these could make a contribution to GHG emission reductions. In other words, as noted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in its 2005 Special Report on Carbon Dioxide Capture and Storage (SRCCS) ‘further study of the net energy and CO2 balance of industrial processes that use the captured CO2 could help to establish a more complete picture of the potential of this option’. Such detailed studies have, at best, only partially been carried out and are heavily reliant on the assumptions made in the analysis. Thus, IEAGHG has commissioned Carbon Counts (UK) Ltd to characterise CCU technologies, as well as their policy support, regulation and emissions accounting


Key Messages


  • CCU activities with potential GHG benefits are currently limited in scale. Excluding those commercial activities such as CO2-EOR which make use of CO2 for enhanced commodity production only, CCU projects are currently extremely small-scale (e.g. utilising hundreds or thousands of tCO2 per year) in comparison with other GHG mitigation technologies.
  • Potential GHG benefits are proven but are highly dependent on circumstances. The case studies that claim net GHG reduction benefits have been able to clearly demonstrate the capacity to deliver real emission reductions. However, notwithstanding forthcoming LCA analysis of up-stream and downstream issues, it is clear that these are highly predicated on certain conditions. For example, the highly electro-intensive production process for certain technologies means that GHG benefits are contingent on the availability of a reliable low-carbon electricity source at a suitable price. The scale-up potential of CCU may be constrained by such niche conditions and limit the ease of replicability for some technology applications.
  • Monitoring, reporting and verification (MRV) of facility-level energy and carbon flows is well established. Current procedures and systems for the MRV of energy, material and carbon flows at all facilities are advanced and adequate to meet requirements under most regulatory support schemes. Operators are undertaking high quality MRV across their sites as part of R&D and/or commercial activities and have an extremely high level of data handling and analysis. In respect of site-level energy and carbon flows, MRV requirements for most GHG reduction schemes (both economic and non-economic instruments) would pose few, if any, technical challenges to operators.
  • GHG reduction policy is not yet a major driver for CCU activities. Notwithstanding the potential for the scale-up of CCU technology to deliver real and significant GHG benefits, emission reduction incentives are not significantly driving CCU activities. CCU-derived fuels production remains at demonstration stage subject to increased incentives and/or proven economics, whilst for mineralisation and CO2-EOR, the commercial drivers for the activities are not at all related to climate policy; CO2 supply is effectively an operational cost.
The report is free to download.