What will it take to evolve Australia's carbon capture and storage capabilities

What will it take to evolve Australia's carbon capture and storage capabilities

With vast reserves of natural resources and an abundance of land capable of generating solar and wind energy, Australia has all the means to lead as a global energy superpower.  The path to net zero requires a two-pronged approach, aimed at reducing emissions in existing operations in the short term, while simultaneously pursuing renewable energy in the longer term. So what will it take to get there?

At ABB, we believe in “net additions with less emissions” and carbon capture storage tech-nology will play a pivotal role in the energy transition.

Carbon capture’s role in the race to net zero

CCS involves capturing CO2 emissions from industrial processes and then transporting these from where it was produced to be stored underground, often in depleted oil and gas fields, deep aquifers or obsolete coal seams.

For countries to achieve their net-zero commitments, uptake by industry needs to grow 120-fold by 2050, according to a McKinsey analysis.1 If successful, CCS alone could be responsible for reducing carbon emissions generated by the industrial sector by 45 percent.

CCS can support countries in their energy transition by tackling emissions in hard-to-abate sectors. In Australia, industries like steel, cement, aviation, and agriculture contribute up to one fifth of greenhouse gas emissions.2 To meet our net zero targets, advanced modelling suggests that Australia needs to be capturing and storing at least 80 million tonnes of CO2 each year by 2035.3 Globally, that figure is much higher – 1.2 billion tonnes annually by 2030, and up to 6.2 billion tonnes by 2050.

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Carbon capture and storage in Australia 

There are between 18 and 27 CCS projects currently in development or operation in Australia.4,5 Earlier this year, work began on a major CCS hub off the coast off Darwin,6 while another set to be capturing and storing carbon from industry in the Gippsland Basin soon.

Most notable, of course, is the Gorgon Project in Western Australia. With a projected lifetime storage capacity of 120 million tonnes, it is the largest operational CCS project on the planet. But it could be dwarfed by South Australia’s long-mooted Moomba project, with a lifetime storage capacity of an estimated billion tonnes.8 

Gorgon Project, Western Australia
Gorgon Project, Western Australia
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While we’re progressing in the right direction, more needs to be done to ensure Australia doesn’t fall behind its global peers.

The number of CCS projects in the global pipeline doubled in 2023 to a total of more than 350, with the US, UK, Canada and China leading the way. More than 20% of those new projects were in the US alone.9

Scaling carbon capture and storage

Although CCS technology has been around for decades, it needs to be scaled exponentially to have a meaningful impact on combatting climate change. 

This, along with the incredibly broad natural variation in storage reservoirs, introduces the complexity that has long held CCS back from making a larger contribution.

Complexity creates uncertainty. Anything that can reduce this uncertainty – whether it is policy settings or technological advances – helps make CCS more feasible.

Nations that are leading the CCS charge are those receiving strong government support. In the US, for example, this means things like genergous tax creadits and research and development funding, courtesy of the Inflation Reduction Act.

Carbon capture technology 

The other key lever to accelerate CCS is technology.

The sheer complexity of these projects – especially when considered from source capture all the way through to storage – feeds the uncertainty that slows investment and implementation. This uncertainty is only multiplied by the lack of well-established operational practice, especially across the whole spectrum of operations.

There is no such thing as an off-the-shelf CCS project. The individual nature of each project necessitates large amounts of custom design.

This threatens to cloak the planning and design in uncertainty and risk, tamping down appetite for investment.

This is where ABB’s strategic partnership with Pace CCS, a global leader in engineering, can make a difference in helping reduce the complexity industrial operators face when planning CCS.

Together, we’re combining our respective expertise to make it easier for industrial companies to implement CCS infrastructure by lowering the CAPEX and operational investment required to enter this market.

An example of a hub cluster project for CCS
An example of a hub cluster project for CCS
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With advanced digital twin technology, we can deliver proof of concept across the entire CCS process. With a virtual replica of real facilities and environments, we can simulate a project’s end-to-end operation. This includes the mechanical, thermal, chemical and electrical aspects, as well as how they interact with each other. Simulating every aspect of a CCS operations cuts risks – and costs – by allowing different options and scenarios to be run, tested and optimised completely virtually, before any physical work has been done.

For these digital twins to be as effective as possible, they must cover all aspects – capture, transport and storage.

That’s why our recent partnership with CMG is also so powerful. As well as having 20 years of experience in carbon capture, CMG brings unparalleled expertise in subsurface modelling.

By creating digital twins that include subsurface modelling – whether its subsea or a below-ground aquifer – industry gets a vastly better understanding of the costs and risks associated with any plan.

The complexity and customisation of CCS projects also means that taking a technology-agnostic approach is crucial to achieving maximum flexibility and future-proofing.

It's why ABB is working with Captimise, a leading CCS engineering firm. Through our screening study methodology, ABB and Captimise partner with operators to understand their business and operating environment to comprehensively evaluate the most suitable CCS technologies and plant configurations.

Taking it to the next level

By mitigating uncertainty, the right partnerships help give industry what they need to increase investment and begin to scale the CCS market.  

Australia is on its way to becoming a global renewable energy superpower, harnessing our natural resources and land to generate solar and wind energy.

With a considered approach to both policy and technology, as well as partnership and collaboration across the industry, Australia can also become a global carbon storage superpower.

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References

  1. The world needs to capture, use, and store gigatons of CO2: Where and how? 2023 McKinsey & Company.
  2. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions in hard-to-abate industries, 2023, CSIRO.
  3. Net Zero Australia Final Results Summary, 2023. Net Zero Australia.
  4. Capturing global attention: Carbon capture, utilisation and storage, 2023. CSIRO.
  5. Why a giant outback carbon reservoir may be key to the future of gas, 2023. Australian Financial Review.
  6. Green light for Inpex to carry out site surveys and drilling activities for CCS project off Australia, 2024. Offshore Energy.
  7. The South East Australia Carbon Capture Hub, 2022. ExxonMobil.
  8. BP set to invest in Santos’ Moomba CCS project in Australia, 2020. NS Energy.
  9. Global Status of CCS 2023: Scaling up through 2030, 2023. Global CCS Institute.

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