Achieving sustainability with Carbon Capture Utilization and Storage (CCUS)

Achieving sustainability with Carbon Capture Utilization and Storage (CCUS)

By Ron Beck, Senior Director, Industry Marketing and Lawrence Ng, Vice President, APJ, Aspen Technology, Inc.

Asia saw its warmest April on record this year in 2022. In July, summer heat waves swept across Europe, with much attention centered upon the United Kingdom. As global warming accelerates the melting of icebergs in the Artic and Antarctic, rising sea-levels is an environmental threat for coastal areas and islands in Asia. These two threats will progressively impact Asian economies, as the demand for electricity to support air-conditioning needs, as well as infrastructure spending to protect coastal cities, and agricultural areas, increases. 

 

A critical lever in achieving up to 20% of the carbon reduction required globally, carbon capture comes in two approaches. First, point-source carbon capture removes CO2 through chemical treatment processes, from power generation and industrial flue gases, while direct air (DAC) capture removes CO2 present in the atmosphere by moving large quantities of air through removal systems. With either approach, carbon must be stored via carbon capture and storage (CCS); or utilized via carbon capture and utilization (CCU). 

In both approaches, considerable energy (usually renewables) is required to achieve the carbon capture outcome. Hence, digital technology solutions are mission-critical in optimizing and improving the economics of CCS and CCUS. 

A driving economic imperative

Carbon mitigation is top of mind for process companies, such as Petronas, Pertamina, PTT, Sinopec, and most other Asian energy mega-players, who have announced sustainability goals. Key stakeholders have also sounded the urgency for achieving net zero carbon emissions. Proposed SEC disclosure rules on climate change risk for publicly-listed U.S. companies, strict European Green Deal requirements for emissions reduction, and demands from the investment community, and environmental lobbyists for auditable reporting further accelerates this cause. 

A key economic factor lies in the pricing of carbon taxes, carbon credits, and carbon offsets. This pricing pegs the removal of carbon dioxide from emissions captured and stored – in Europe, at about USD 75 per ton of CO2 and notably, carbon taxes are also going up. Recently, carbon credit deals agreed upon, by Airbus, Microsoft, and others have moved the needle to peg the price of CO2 removed from air and securely stored – at over USD 100 per ton. This level of pricing makes projects attractive. 

Advanced innovation can reduce the cost of carbon capture. Carbon capture is necessary to achieve commitments while the world transitions to carbon-free energy sources. However, direct air capture (DAC) technology is emerging as a long-term solution to remove the current elevated level of CO2 that has accumulated in the atmosphere. DAC helps companies deal with emissions that are hard to abate from industries like steel, cement, air transport, and agriculture, which due to their dependence on high heat (steel smelting) or need for concentrated fuel (air transport) lag in the area of decarbonization. 

Significant breakthroughs have been made in direct air capture. Energy consumption is the biggest economic challenge. A recognized innovator in DAC, Bill Gross, CEO of Heliogen and founder of Carbon Capture Inc., combined breakthrough efficiencies in solar with new direct air capture concepts–leveraging process modeling software—to tie solar technology more closely with direct air capture, improving the overall economics.

Also, since direct air capture removes CO2 from air at much lower concentrations, these processes require more effective removal agents, such as zeolites, and liquid and solid solvents. Concurrent engineering modeling software is helping innovators like Bill Gross and Carbon Engineering Inc. (and their partner 1PointFive) evaluate thousands of process alternations, and then simulate scale-up to understand tradeoffs between capital and operating costs, select designs, and move rapidly into executing. 

Carbon Capture, and Storage (CCS)
Digital technologies are already being used heavily in carbon capture to optimize the design and operation of the capture systems. Technology Center Mongstad (TCM), one of the largest testing and innovation centers for carbon capture, has built an integrated data collection and modeling platform, based on AspenTech’s advanced modeling solutions,  to understand key details of how the capture system is performing at the solvent level. Insights provided can include solvent degradation and reclamation, emission abatement options, including control of process temperatures and selection of where in the emissions stream to remove carbon. TCM is now examining the use of the same models as operator training for carbon capture systems. A virtual digital twin training application like this is crucial given the scale and speed of carbon capture systems envisioned in the world economy.  

The earliest carbon capture projects that achieved positive economic benefits were those where the CO2 was injected into producing reservoirs for enhanced oil recovery (EOR). Such projects have been executed effectively by a few companies. Kinder Morgan leverages software innovations to create an integrated workflow to optimize well placement, optimize production, achieve higher production yields and keep the CO2 in place in the reservoir.

At the funding stage, companies can leverage simulation, and economic modelling tools, to rapidly optimize designs and technology selections, to match the processing system, with the target storage. Following which, at the implementation stage, both tools can be optimized together, employing reduced order modeling and AI, to achieve the most secure, and effective execution plan. In the longer term, during the operation of the carbon management system, digital technology is critical to enable reliable and transparent auditing of the CCS assets performance. 

CCUS and a long-term solution

The International Energy Agency (IEA) Energy Technology Perspective 2020 represents a commonly held viewpoint that CCUS will almost certainly play a key role in greenhouse gases (GHG) emission reduction, and global energy transition. CCUS is already retrofitted in existing power and industrial plants to tackle carbon dioxide emissions, provide a feasible pathway, and support a rapid scaleup for low-carbon “blue” hydrogen production. This is the most effective current approach for some of the challenging emissions in heavy industries, such as cement, and steel production. Adair Turner, Chair, Energy Transitions Commission surmises, “As a low-carbon, but not zero-carbon technology, CCUS has a complimentary role to play in decarbonization alongside massive clean electrification, hydrogen and sustainable bioresources. Collective action by government, corporates and investors is needed now to ensure that CCUS can scale-up and play this vital but limited role in industrial decarbonization and deliver some of the carbon removals essential to keeping 1.5°C alive.” 

The US EIA projects that global demand for energy will increase 50% between today and 2050. This is partially due to a rise in the middle-class across developing economies, driven by global population increases. Increased industry focus on energy efficiency can mitigate this curve, but fundamental growth drivers remain. The increasing global demand for energy will accelerate the need for more effective and sustainable ways of delivering this energy to all consumers – from industry, to mobility, to domestic use. Shifts to renewables, and associated increase in electrification is an important, ongoing trend. While industry firms see project fossil fuels, as a very significant energy source over the next forty years, it is necessary to progress rapidly in scaling the world’s capacity to execute carbon capture projects economically.