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Novel carbon capture
and utilisation technologies

Group of Chief Scientific Advisors
Scientific Opinion 4/2018 (Supported by SAPEA Evidence Review Report No 3)
Brussels, 23 May 2018

The  European  Union  has  committed  to  achieve  an  economy-wide  domestic target of at least 40% greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reductions for 2030 and at least 80% GHG reductions by 2050. This should allow the EU to contribute to keep  global  warming  well  below  2°C  as  agreed  by  the  almost  200  signatory parties to the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement.
 
Achieving those reduction targets requires the deployment of new and efficient technologies,   appropriate   legislative   and   policy   initiatives,   as   well   as investments  in  research  and  innovation  ('R&I')  and  an  appropriate  financial framework  to  facilitate  the  demonstration  and  deployment  of  technologies  in the higher range of TRLs (Technology Readiness Level). Among the techniques that  can  mitigate  CO2 emissions  are  those  that  are  referred  to  as  Carbon Capture   and   Utilisation   that   included   capture,   conversion   and   hydrogen generating technologies.
 
The Group of Chief Scientific Advisors was asked by the European Commission to advise on  the  climate  mitigation  potential  of  Carbon  Capture  and  Utilisation (CCU) technologies in  view  of future  policy decisions  in  this  field,  including on financial support by the European Union. The   decisions   should support technologies  that  are  environmentally sound and  provide genuine climate benefits.
 

The main questions put to the Group of Chief Scientific Advisors were:

-Under  what  circumstances  Carbon  Capture  and  Utilisation  for  production  of fuels, chemicals and materials can deliver climate benefits and what are their total climate mitigation potential in the mid-and long-run?

-How can the climate mitigation potential of CO2 incorporated in products such as  fuels,  chemicals  and  materials  be  accounted  for  considering  that  the  CO2 will  remain  bound  for  different  periods  of  time  and  then  may  be  released  in the atmosphere?

  
This Scientific Opinion provides evidence based answers drawn from a literature review,   a   scientific   expert   workshop   and   stakeholder   consultation. Its conclusions can be divided into the following five sections.

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Novel
Carbon Capture

and Utilisation
technologies


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Novel carbon capture and
utilisation technologies

Research and climate aspects
SAPEA Evidence Review Report No. 2
Informs the European Commission Group of Chief Scientific Advisors Scientific Opinion No. 4/2018
 
This report aims, within the framework provided by the SAM/HLG Scoping Paper, to assess the climate mitigation potential of Carbon Capture and Utilisation (CCU), which is defined as “those technologies that use CO2 as a feedstock and convert it into value-added products such as fuels, chemicals or building materials”.
 
From a system perspective, CCU involves a number of steps, from capture of CO2 to its conversion into usable C-rich products, from the use of such products to their disposal as C-rich waste, and ultimately, CO2 re-emission – which may happen shortly after CO2 conversion (e.g. for synthetic fuels), or much later (e.g. for polymers). To power the  CO2 capture and transformation processes and – in most cases – the synthesis of  green-hydrogen  as  a  co-reactant,  C-free  energy  is  needed.  These  processes consist of building blocks that also belong to other technology chains of interest for climate mitigation.  As a consequence, CCU’s climate mitigation potential needs to be assessed from a systems perspective, and with regards to how it can provide societal services.  These are defined here as (i) power generation and distribution through the grid, (ii) fuels (and power) for transport and mobility, (iii) long-term storage and long-range transport of intermittent renewable energies; and (iv) manufacturing of industrial products.
The report offers a simplified system analysis of service delivery, which highlights a few key features. 1) Using C-rich synthetic fuels requires the use of large amounts of Renewable Energy Sources (RES) and other carbon-free energies – much larger than what is required when RES electricity or green-hydrogen is used directly for consumption.  2) Such a decrease in efficiency in the use of RES may be acceptable in the provision of: a) C-rich synthetic fuels to power long-range aircraft and long-haul ships; and/or b) long-term storage and long-range transport of defossilised energy to compensate for the intermittency of RES. 3) For such uses, CCU-based solutions should be assessed in comparison with other alternative technologies that are beyond the scope of this report.
To consider the potential opportunities offered by CCU to European industries in supporting (i) climate change objectives, (ii) a circular economy, (iii) energy security and deployment of RES; and (iv) the evolution of CO2 capture systems, the report has defined an assessment framework.  Such a framework identifies nine technology chains with respect to the generation and use of C-rich fuels and classifies them (according  to  a  few  first-order  simplifying  assumptions),  based  on  whether  they generate positive, net-zero, or negative CO2 emissions.

From the analysis of these technology chains, some key conclusions can be drawn: CCU may be part of a circular economy scheme where carbon atoms are recycled and re-used indefinitely over a long time scale. However, it is neither an indispensable element, nor is it sufficient, for a circular economy.  True circular schemes are enabled only when the CO2 generated from burning recycled synthetic (defossilised) fuel in centralised plants or in distributed facilities is again captured from the flue gas (post-combustion capture) or from the ambient atmosphere (direct air capture).  CCU is not part of any negative emission technology chain, whereas CO2 capture is; the pros and cons of using biomass instead of fossil-C or of converted CO2 can be highlighted in the context of this analysis. Such analysis can also offer clear guidelines for a methodology that enables the assessment of the opportunities ((i) to (iv) above) emerging from the introduction of a set of new technology solutions, and which should be preliminary to a full Life-Cycle Assessment (LCA).

The report identifies a need for innovation in at least three domains. Firstly, from a policy perspective: measures, regulations and incentives should examine the energy system  –  including  CCU  –  in  a  holistic,  integrated,  coordinated  and  transparent manner.
Secondly, from a systemic perspective: such an approach is required when evaluating  the  energy  system  and  its  CCU  sub-systems;  further  development  is needed here, both in terms of stakeholder awareness and of consistent definitions of system boundaries and of reference datasets. 

Finally, from a technology perspective: key technical challenges must be tackled in the areas of: collection and purification of CO2 from different sources, synthesis of green-hydrogen via water splitting powered by RES, and catalytic technologies for reductive activation for CO2 conversion to fuels and chemicals. The report concludes by providing a few recommendations for action, inspired by the analysis and considerations above.

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Novel
Carbon Capture
and Utilisation
technologies

DOWNLOAD REPORT