Near net zero emissions: What will it take?

carbon capture technology oil sands

The world is looking for ways to drastically reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and oil sands producers are among those who have made ambitious commitments to achieve net zero, or near net zero emissions by 2050 or earlier. That means reducing GHG emissions from human activity until the Earth maintains a natural climate balance again.

One of the most promising ways to achieve this goal is through Carbon Capture, Utilization and Storage (CCUS) technologies, which capture large quantities of carbon dioxide (CO2) from industrial activities, preventing them from being released in the atmosphere. The captured CO2  is then typically transported by pipeline to a place where it can be safely re-injected into the ground for storage. However, promising innovation is now also looking at how to convert captured CO2  into useful products.

Carbon capture and storage technologies have been used for decades around the world in a variety of industries, such as steel, cement and power generation. In Canada, the oil and gas industry has routinely captured CO2 and used it in a process called enhanced oil recovery (EOR), whereby liquified CO2  is pumped into depleted reservoirs to extract the last remaining oil or gas. The CO2 remains in the reservoir permanently, buried deep below the earth’s surface.

CCUS is receiving a lot of attention today because it offers a proven path to reduce GHG emissions. The International Energy Agency (IEA) predicts that carbon capture and storage technologies could reduce up to 13 percent of global GHG emissions (about one fifth of the total mitigation required) by 2050. And a recent BMO Capital Markets Report* emphasizes that CCUS must play a major role in addressing climate change if the world is to achieve zero or near net zero emissions.

Canada is a leader in CCUS technologies and home to nearly one fifth of the 22 large-scale carbon capture and storage facilities on the planet. The majority of this CO2  is permanently stored in deep saline aquifers and COSIA member Canadian Natural is a pioneer in this space. The company is the largest industry owner of carbon capture and storage capacity in the country. Its Quest carbon capture facility has stored more CO2 than any other industry facility anywhere in the world!

Quest achieved a milestone in 2019, capturing and storing four million tonnes of CO2 since it was launched in 2015, successfully reducing emissions from the company’s Scotford upgrader by about one third. That’s the equivalent of taking 1.2 million cars off the road for a year.

As for the carbon utilization part of CCUS, many companies are working hard to find ways to transform captured CO2into valuable products. A study commissioned by the University of Michigan’s Global CO2 Initiative and carried out by McKinsey in 2016 estimated that CO2 utilization could reduce global CO2 emissions by 15 per cent by 2030.

The NRG COSIA Carbon XPRIZE is enabling the work of 10 such innovators who are turning captured carbon into usable products – such as building materials, alternative fuels, and even spirits like Vodka. This initiative is raising the profile of carbon capture technologies worldwide and generating partnerships and investments that will continue to drive innovation in this area for years to come. 

COSIA works with some of Canada’s, and the world’s top scientists and engineers on innovation to reduce greenhouse gases and their impacts on air, water and land. We recognize it is possible to address climate change while also meeting growing global energy demand and supporting economic development. To date, COSIA members have developed 165 GHG technologies at a cost of $217 million. Many of these projects are applicable beyond the oil sands, potentially helping to reduce emissions in other parts of the world.

*BMO Capital Markets Report: The 400 Billion Barrel Opportunity for Friendly Oil, and Canada’s Evolving Role (March 2020)

Find out more about the NRG COSIA Carbon XPRIZE!

Interested in more stories like these? See:
•    GHG 101: Understanding Greenhouse Gases
•    Greening oil sands extraction
•    I spent my summer vacation at COSIA

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