Carbon Capture, Utilization, and Storage (CCUS) – India’s leap towards Green Energy

Globally, power and industry account for about 50 per cent of all greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Carbon Capture, Utilization, and Storage (CCUS) encompasses technologies to remove CO2 from the flue gas and from the atmosphere, followed by upcycling the CO2 for utilization and determining safe and permanent storage options, thereby reversing its negative impacts. Enabling circular carbon economy (CCE), the technology helps manufacturers capture carbon at the point of emission, i.e., chimneys, and trap carbon dioxide using a chemical oxidation process, for reuse in the production of fuels (methane and methanol), plastic components, fire extinguishers, pharma, soda ash, food and drinks, building materials and agriculture. Innovations in this area include artificial photosynthesis using bio-solar leaves and phytoplankton-based solutions that mimic the chemical process of photosynthesis. The carbon captured is stacked and stored deep inside geological formations such as exploited oil and gas wells.

CCUS technologies can play an important role in meeting net zero targets, and is one of the key pathways to reduce emissions while continuing to develop sustainably at an unprecedented pace. It also aligns with five of the seventeen sustainable development goals (SDGs), namely, climate action; clean energy, industry, innovation, and infrastructure; responsible consumption and production; and partnerships to achieve the goals. As a signatory to the Paris Agreement targets for restricting global warming to 2 degrees Celsius, and preferable to 1.5 degrees Celsius, over pre-industrial levels, Indian government over the past few years has introduced multiple policies and actions to support and facilitate CCUS initiatives by industries and PSUs. These efforts are deemed significant in propelling India towards a clean-tech enabled sustainable and green energy economy.

India's geological storage potential for carbon dioxide (CO2) in the range of 500 to 1,000 gigatons (GT) makes carbon capture and storage a feasible option, but a long-term strategy is needed to map and actualize this potential. India's Department of Science and Technology (DST) aims to nurture the area of Carbon Capture, Utilization, and Storage through emphasis on research and development and capacity building of both human resource and infrastructure, to evolve technologies and methodologies addressing issues related to high capital costs, safety, logistics and high auxiliary power consumption.

A recent move by Government of India to foster CCUS technologies is the establishment of two National Centres of Excellence in Carbon Capture and Utilization with support from the Department of Science & Technology. These two Centres are – (i) National Centre of Excellence in Carbon Capture and Utilization (NCoE-CCU) at Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Bombay, Mumbai and (ii) the National Centre in Carbon Capture and Utilization (NCCCU) at Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advanced Scientific Research (JNCASR), Bengaluru are being set up. These centres will facilitate capturing & mapping of current R&D and innovation activities in the domain and also develop networks of researchers, industries and stakeholders with coordination and synergy between partnering groups and organizations. The Centres will act as multi-disciplinary, long-term research, design development, collaborative and capacity-building hubs for state-of-the-art research and application-oriented initiatives in the field of CCU.

Another such measure is the Mission Innovation Challenge on CCUS. The objective and scope of the challenge is to enable near-zero CO2 emissions from power plants and carbon-intensive industries. Department of Science and Technology, in collaboration with Department of Biotechnology has established a national program on CO2 storage research which supports carbon capture research and develops pilots and projects. CCUS can achieve significant CO2 reductions from power plants (fuelled by coal, natural gas, and biomass) and industrial applications. The efforts for the same started in 2018 when the DST-DBT  jointly launched a Call on IC3 on CCUS to undertake joint Research & Development with 24 member MI countries to identify and prioritize breakthrough technologies in the field of CO2 capture, separation, storage and CO2 value addition. 20 Proposals have been recommended for support, 17 from DST and 3 from DBT.  

Another major step includes Accelerating CCS Technologies (ACT). This initiative aims to facilitate R&D and innovation that can lead to development of safe and cost-effective CO2 capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS) technologies. The intension is to facilitate the emergence of CCUS by accelerating and maturing CCUS technologies through targeted financing of innovative and research activities. The scope also envisages to address the challenges related to CCUS in technological, environmental, social and economic context of the country. India has joined forces with France, Germany, Greece, Norway, Romania, Switzerland, The Netherlands, Turkey, the United Kingdom, and the United States to achieve these objectives. The initiative has witnessed four successful ACT calls targeting research, development and innovation projects within CCUS.

Some of the challenges CCUS currently faces in India includes: a. development of sorbents that can effectively bind to the CO2 present in flue gas or the atmosphere, which is expensive, and b. the demand for CO2 is limited compared to the vast amount of CO2 that needs to be removed from the atmosphere, to reduce the detrimental environmental impacts of climate change. More importantly, a comprehensive CO2 storage capacity assessment for the country is needed. Deploying CCS on a large scale would require timely investment in infrastructure as well as devising some initial incentives. Nonetheless, promising national research collaborations and knowledge sharing efforts pose a great opportunity in terms of transforming energy generation and consumption in India as a bridging technique and a very feasible option for India in its decarbonization journey, given its potential to become economically viable in size and scale.

This has been co-authored by Ishita Sirsikar and Cherishi Maheshwari