FB Pixel no scriptUpscaling CCUS efforts might be the next step in China’s green tech push | KrASIA

Upscaling CCUS efforts might be the next step in China’s green tech push

Written by Jeff Chay Published on   3 mins read

Advances in CCUS technology are laying the groundwork for the mass sequestration of atmospheric carbon in China.

Carbon capture, utilization, and storage (CCUS) is a key strategy in the mitigation of global warming. It is a multifaceted approach that entails retrieving greenhouse gasses, particularly carbon dioxide, produced by human activity. Once captured, these gasses are either stored permanently underground or repurposed for various uses.

Since the initiation of its first megaton-scale CCUS project in 2021, China has made significant strides in developing CCUS. According to Norton Rose Fulbright, the country has issued about 80 national policies related to CCUS, while CCUS was included for the first time in China’s five-year plan for 2021–2025.

China already leads the world in patents related to CCUS, accounting for nearly half the global total, according to Nikkei Asia. Since 2015, the total number of patents in the field held by Chinese companies and research institutions has quadrupled to 10,191, far ahead of the US in second (3,574) and Japan in third (2,977).

Such patents fall under a range of fields pertaining to the utilization of CO2. These include advanced techniques for isolating CO2 from industrial emissions, and breakthroughs in converting CO2 into hydrocarbons, which are valuable raw materials for producing chemicals, fuels, and other industrial products.

For example, in January 2024, researchers at the Huazhong University of Science and Technology (HUST) in Wuhan announced a groundbreaking electrolysis system capable of converting carbon dioxide into formic acid, a valuable chemical used in industries such as agriculture and textiles, with an efficiency of more than 93%.

China also pioneered the world’s first full-process emissions capture tank for use aboard cargo ships earlier this month.

In most instances, the high costs of CCUS are offset through applications in enhanced oil recovery (EOR) projects. EOR involves injecting captured CO2 into underground oil fields, thereby boosting oil recovery while also removing carbon from the atmosphere. As oil is commercially lucrative, the revenues generated from such projects can help reduce overall costs.

However, oil and gas fields in China are largely concentrated in certain regions such as the northwest and the area surrounding the South China Sea. The expansion of CCUS-EOR is hence limited by the uneven distribution of oil reserves in China. On the other hand, rock formations containing poor quality water instead of hydrocarbons are more widely spread, but less viable financially.

Alternatively, captured CO2 may be transported and permanently stored underground in geological formations such as depleted oil and gas reservoirs or deep saline aquifers. According to a 2020 report by the Global CCS Institute, global geological storage reserves for CO2 are more than sufficient to meet global requirements for net zero emissions.

Despite this, the high cost of capturing, transporting, and storing CO2 fosters a reliance on government incentives which hinders the adoption of CCUS. Moreover, while China has recognized the importance of CCUS in its policies, the absence of a mandatory legal framework to support CCUS contributes to a lack of urgency in its deployment.

Hence, despite the country’s great potential for CCUS, the lack of a successful business model continues to dampen China’s prospects for scaling up implementation nationwide.

Upscaling CCUS would tie into China’s status as the world’s largest producer of solar panels and wind power equipment, which has cemented the country as a global green tech leader. Seeing as government subsidies have played a major role in spurring China’s solar panel manufacturing boom, a similar injection of public funding could potentially help drive CCUS to the forefront of China’s climate strategy.

In any case, CCUS alone cannot cut carbon emissions at the scale needed to reverse climate change. Its deployment must be accompanied by a steep decline in fossil fuel use and complemented with other mitigation efforts like carbon removal and renewable energy projects in order to meet the country’s climate targets.


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