Although CCUS is incredibly promising, various activists have voiced concern over its impact. Some experts believe it’s the answer to climate change, while others feel it’s an excuse for manufacturers to produce more greenhouse gas emissions.
What Is CCUS and How Does It Work?
Carbon capture, utilization, and storage (CCUS) involves collecting carbon dioxide — primarily from industrial and commercial sources — to make it usable or pump it underground. Instead of offsetting greenhouse gas emissions, it reduces the total amount humans produce.
CCUS initially captures carbon dioxide as a facility produces it, then people compress it into a liquid for transportation. Once workers ship it, others use it to make something else or store it underground. They use various methods to accomplish each step, including smokestack filters and pipelines.
Most commercial and industrial manufacturers “write off” their emissions. In other words, they pay to keep producing them without consequence. Even the facilities offsetting contribute significantly to climate change. It’s like if you burned a piece of paper and printed a new one to make up for it — you’ll still have a pile of ash you need to deal with.
CCUS is different because it deals with carbon capture and storage directly. Capturing them keeps them from contributing to climate change at all. Plus, its storage and use methods are practical solutions to real-life issues.
What Are the Benefits of CCUS?
Carbon capture, utilization, and storage has many incredible benefits — its primary one being greenhouse gas reduction. Its importance is unparalleled, considering manufactured greenhouse gas emissions contribute most to climate change out of any other factor. Since it directly captures them, humanity has a dramatically better impact.
Additionally, when CCUS reuses carbon dioxide, it makes the product much more environmentally friendly, even fossil fuels. Since manufacturers can make fuel, plastics, and other various items, there’s a wide range of unsustainable goods it improves.
According to experts, 99% of the carbon dioxide in geological storage will stay there for over 1,000 years. Instead of contributing to climate change, it remains in a safe spot for a millennium.
What Are the Drawbacks of CCUS?
The drawbacks of CCUS include poor resource allocation, issue minimization, and operational complexity. Despite all its benefits, it has multiple concerning aspects. For instance, its actual carbon reduction impact may not be as significant as it initially seems.
CCUS projects capture 10%-15% of Scope 1 and 2 emissions — emissions that come directly from operations and indirectly from energy use — and they say they’re carbon neutral because of it. However, the truth is more complex because they don’t factor in Scope 3.
Scope 3 emissions come from indirect use when someone processes, transports, or uses a product that creates greenhouse gasses. For oil and gas, it accounts for up to 90% of carbon dioxide emissions, meaning CCUS projects aren’t carbon neutral. By claiming they are, they’re significantly exaggerating their positive environmental impact.
Additionally, CCUS leads to poor allocation of natural resources. Carbon capture and storage alone require almost double humanity’s water footprint to reach the EU’s goal of a 1.5° Celcius warming maximum. This is a concerning issue considering how climate change is making water scarce.
Does Carbon Capture, Utilization, and Storage Actually Work?
Historically, CCUS projects have rarely worked like they were supposed to. Although the process is reasonably straightforward in theory, it’s expensive to install and complex to maintain.
The Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis studied the biggest CCUS projects. Combined, they account for over half of the globe’s carbon capture and storage capabilities, yet only three had acceptable performance overall. Of the 13 they looked at, three outright failed, five had a lifetime performance below 50%, and two didn’t even publicize their data.
That said, there are promising startups, some with widespread support. For example, one CCUS project has sequestered 800,000 tons of carbon dioxide annually for one Norwegian factory, with plans to ship and store 430,000 more tons per year from two Norwegian power plants as of May 2023.
CCUS works — you can capture, utilize and store carbon relatively easily. However, your definition of “work” probably involves its impact on the climate. In that case, it is still up for debate. While it shows significant promise, it often results in more emissions in practice.
Is CCUS Just Another Excuse?
CCUS may seem like an excuse to appease people concerned about the climate, but it’s a promising method. In fact, multiple experts know the world can only reach its sustainability goals with carbon capture, utilization and storage.
In 2022, the European Commissioner for Energy spoke about how the European Union will only reach its climate goal — limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celcius — with CCUS. Specifically, she said they’ll need to store up to 640 million tons of carbon dioxide by 2050.
Its drawbacks may make it seem unrealistic, but even top activists and leaders know it’s necessary to tackle climate change. Plus, it has various benefits with significant positive impacts.
Is CCUS the Answer to Climate Change?
With more oversight, CCUS could be the answer to climate change. Most of its problems stem from poor reporting and resource allocation, which aren’t fundamental to its operations. Plus, it will improve as more people invest in it, speeding up the fight against climate change.
Offsetting and reducing emissions helps, but those methods just slow the progression of climate change instead of stopping it. CCUS offers a genuine opportunity for a long-term solution. Even though it may seem far from ideal, it’s one of the best answers available.
Consider how big of a deal this would be — humanity could eliminate the most significant contributor to climate change. People don’t need to wait for some miracle technology. CCUS is an existing practice that could revolutionize how the world approaches climate-change solutions.
Carbon Capture, Utilization and Storage Is the Future
Most drawbacks of CCUS come from poor implementation — the practice itself is reliable, safe, and effective. If humanity will beat climate change and progress toward a sustainable future, it should capitalize on this method.