Carbon Capture & Storage: The Need, The Landscape, The Opportunity
by: Jessica Campbell | April 26, 2023
The scaling of Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) globally is now widely accepted as necessary (rather than desired) when it comes to achieving net-zero commitments and the targets set out in the Paris Agreement. McKinsey & Company estimated that we need to reach at least 4.2 gigatons of storage per annum (GTPA) by 2050, which represents a growth of 120 times current activity level . Estimates by other groups, including the International Energy Agency (IEA), place the volumetric need anywhere between 3 – 10 GTPA to get us 5 – 10% of the way to net-zero. The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has indicated that under ideal economic conditions, CCS has the potential to contribute between 15–55% of the cumulative mitigation efforts required to stay within 1.5 degrees. However, for this economic potential to be reached (i.e., to achieve economies of scale), “several hundreds of thousands of [carbon dioxide] CO2 capture systems would need to be installed over the coming century, each capturing some 1 – 5 MTCO2 per year” . This represents a deployment of projects and technology that is unprecedented in its rate and scale. All this to say, no matter which source you look at, the message is clear; we need tremendous amounts of geologic CO2 storage, and we need it at pace.
Despite the scientific consensus on the need for CCS, the path to implementing projects at scale comes with challenges. For one, the regulatory landscape of countries and jurisdictions to deploy CCS at scale are at varying readiness levels, with most falling in the ‘dismally unprepared’ category. Fortunately, there are many regions throughout Europe, the US, and Canada, where the regulatory frameworks are well developed due to decades-long oil and gas activity, including some dedicated geologic CO2 storage and its relative – Enhanced Oil Recovery (EOR). Even with more advanced regulatory frameworks, CCS projects still face a series of other challenges, including (but not limited to): 1. mineral rights ownership and disputes, 2. back-logs and long lead times for appropriate well permitting (i.e., Class VI in the US), 3. lack of CO2 transport and pipeline infrastructure, and 4. public opinion/acceptance.
The last one, ‘public opinion and acceptance’, often does not receive the attention it deserves as a potential disruptor and real threat to progress on scaling CCS. In just one example, an open letter to the US and Canadian governments was signed by over 500 groups in 2021, calling for a halt to all support for CCS projects . Due to the complex nature of our energy systems, how they interface with society, and an unfortunate history of ecosystem and environmental justice abuses, it should not come as a surprise that CCS is caught in the crosshairs given the size and the wide variety of potential applications for the projects, cross-sectoral and economy-wide. It will take a cohesive, patient, and relationship-based approach to help educate and repair some of the damage done. Unfortunately, it is a common misconception that CCS is a band-aid solution that will distract from the energy transition and investment in alternate fuels. The reality is that CCS will enable the energy transition, with the key word being transition. CCS will allow the production of lower-cost low-CI hydrogen and other alternate fuels needed to reduce emissions in hard-to-abate sectors. Short-term access to these fuels is critical to achieving emission reductions now and allows time for the supply of renewable fuels and energy sources to ramp up to meet the ever-growing demand.
Regarding environmental markets, CCS projects are considered an emissions avoidance rather than a removal since the CO2 never actually enters the atmosphere. Logically, the prevention emissions should be valued equally compared to removing them after the fact. Nevertheless, a false dichotomy occurs in the market, where removal-based credits are viewed as superior to (i.e., trading at 2–3 times the price) avoidance credits and activities. The value differential is a function of capital cost – direct air capture (DAC) and other carbon removal technologies and activities are currently more expensive to implement. Still, there is also a component associated with optics, which is unfortunate. Analogous to a bathtub full of water, the bath would never drain if one pulled the plug but kept the tap running. Removals are an exciting technology development associated with vital natural system restoration projects and activities. However, we are still too early in the energy transition to focus our attention too squarely on removals – we still need high-quality avoidance projects that have the potential to mitigate emissions on the gigaton scale, which includes CCS. As is a common theme throughout this blog, we need more of both, not either/or.
Despite the regulatory challenges and bumpy road ahead, hundreds of companies have either proposed CCS projects or are evaluating opportunities, including many of ClimeCo’s clients. In this valiant pursuit, ClimeCo has accepted the challenge and is working to support our clients through strategic advisory services and de-risking investment through partnerships and optimization of multiple potential revenue streams.
The recent changes to the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) and the opportunities it has created for CCS are generally understood – albeit in theory. Projects that plan to sequester CO2 in secure, geologic formations can receive up to $85 per tonne of CO2 injected under the 45Q tax credit. What is often less clear are the opportunities for additional revenue streams, specifically within the voluntary carbon market (VCM), and the rules around stacking the various available incentives. Opportunities for value creation outside of the VCM arise from low-carbon fuel markets and green premiums for low-carbon products. How these fit together within an optimized organizational strategy while achieving broader emission reduction goals can be challenging to navigate. Although ClimeCo takes a holistic approach to value creation via all channels, the paragraphs below will highlight the recent developments that will open pathways in the VCM.
Historically, North America’s only VCM methodologies for generating carbon credits from CO2 sequestration activities were specifically designed for and limited to EOR. The absence of a methodology for geologic storage was just a symptom of the economic realities of pure geological storage projects – most would just not pencil at previous incentives levels, even with stackable carbon credits. However, the new IRA is a game changer, placing hundreds of millions more tonnes per annum within the realm of potentially economical or marginal. The VCM is ramping up to help projects falling in the ‘uneconomic’ or ‘marginal’ categories to be economic and to de-risk the investments by diversifying the revenue streams. The cost of CCS projects varies widely by industry. Those in hard-to-abate sectors have a particularly high cost of capture to low purity and/or concentration of CO2 streams. Fortunately, there will be at least one, if not two, new VCM methodologies available in the near term that will allow for the creation of voluntary carbon credits from CCS. This opportunity will be particularly advantageous for those in hard-to-abate sectors where the $85 per tonne alone is not enough.
The American Carbon Registry (ACR) is in the process of finalizing its methodology that would allow for carbon credits created from the following activities: geologic storage, direct air capture (DAC), EOR, and bioenergy with CCS (BECCS). We expect the methodology to be available by the end of 2023.
Verra is working with the CCS+ Initiative to develop a series of modules for CCS projects for credit creation in the VCM. Verra has indicated that the first module will allow for crediting of the same activities as under the ACR methodology; however, it needs to be clarified as to whether any negative emissions (i.e., removals) associated with BECCS will be included in the first release.
For organizations at various stages in the CCS project development journey, it will be necessary to understand all the potential revenue streams associated with the project, including voluntary carbon credits as well as other value-creation opportunities in low-carbon fuel markets, compliance markets, and additional government grants and funding and the associated value, risks, challenges, and optimization opportunities. It is also important to understand how utilizing the VCM fits within the broader organizational strategy, emission reduction targets, and a product’s value in the market (i.e., green premiums).
 McKinsey & Company, Scaling the CCUS Industry to Achieve Net-Zero Emissions
 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Carbon Dioxide Capture and Storage
 Oil Change International, Open Letter to US and Canadian Governments
About the Author
Jessica Campbell, Director of Energy Innovations, leads ClimeCo’s CCS and Low Carbon Fuels Program. She is passionate about the power of utilizing environmental markets to expedite decarbonization goals and supporting our clients through the energy transition.