Carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS) is a bridge technology meant to help the transition from fossil fuels to a green energy future, while help achieving the climate targets. CCUS can help decarbonise not only the energy production sector but also other emission-intensive industries such as cement and iron and steel production, chemical industry and others. For these industrial sectors, it may be the single solution to reach carbon neutrality, together with other pollution mitigation measures.
In order to achieve ambitious emission reduction targets for limiting global warming to a maximum of 1.5 degrees Celsius, large scale deployment of CCUS is needed now. CCUS is the only technology available at the moment that can help achieve the desired drastic cut on industrial emissions and therefore an important instrument to reduce global warming and fight climate change. The large-scale implementation of CCUS would give us time to develop renewable energy systems that would support the entire energy grid and that would cover our growing energy demand and give us time to develop low-carbon technologies for the other industrial sectors.
The implementation of the technology attracted unfortunately public and environmental activists’ opposition in some countries, this being a major impediment for CC(U)S together with the lack of strong policies and incentives. There are two main reasons for this public opposition. The first reason is that CCUS was perceived as a solution to extend the life of fossil fuels. And the second one is related to the risks associated with the technology, especially on the transport and storage side.
Although it may appear at a first glance that the technology will extend the life of fossil fuels, this is not the case. The life of fossil fuels cannot be ended now, suddenly, since we are not currently prepared for this. Whether we like it or not, we are still depending on fossil fuels, especially on energy production. Renewable energy systems are not able at this moment to support the entire energy grid and there is still a need to find better renewable energy storage solutions to avoid introducing gaps in the grid. Dependence on fossil fuel will not end overnight, not for energy production and certainly not for other industries. It will last a few more decades, but time to act for stopping the CO2 industrial emissions is now since we need to reduce the rise of global average temperature.
Regarding the risks associated with CCUS technology, at present, they are considered to be low. It is important to mention that the implementation of any technology is associated with some risks. People are concerned related to CCUS especially that the CO2 will leak on the transport section and/or from the storage reservoir, inducing severe adverse effects on the environment and human health. Sleipner project, the first CCS project in Europe, operating from 1996, demonstrated that CO2 can be safely stored underground. There is simply no evidence of leakage on this project or any other CC(U)S project worldwide. Regulations in place, as well as industry experience, are reducing the risks associated with the technology to a minimum.
No CO2 storage permit will be granted unless the storage operator demonstrates that CO2 will be maintained in the storage reservoir and that no “significant irregularities” (as defined for Directive 31/2009 for CO2 geological storage) will occur. In the less probable case of leakage, storage permit will be withdrawn and the operator will be forced to implement remediation measures. It is also prohibited to store CO2 in environmentally protected areas or in depressions where CO2 can accumulate (in case of leakage) in high concentrations and pose a threat to the environment and human health. CO2 plume will be monitored closely and we have a lot of technologies to do that. CO2, as a substance, gas, is far less dangerous than other gases, such as methane or hydrogen sulphite and only very high CO2 concentrations of CO2 lead to adverse effects. It is worth mentioning that natural CO2 emissions occur worldwide, some with very high concentrations, mostly associated with volcanic activity. People are living close to these and even use them as dry spas, considering that limited exposure to concentrated volcanic gases (moffettes) has some health benefits.
Although CC(U)S technology has not attracted public opposition in Romania yet, no CC(U)S project is under development in our country. This is due mainly to the lack of governmental support and lack of interest from potential storage operators. Lack of governmental support led to the cancellation in 2012 of the single Romanian demonstration project competing for NER 300 funds, GETICA CCS. Until recently, the only interested party seemed to be the emitters, concerned about the rising price of emission certificates and the need to become carbon neutral for their clients.
On the research part, GeoEcoMar team has been investigating storage opportunities in Romania for two decades. The team also coordinated the storage part of the feasibility study for GETICA CCS, identifying two storage solutions for the carbon dioxide to be captured from Turceni power plant, one of the top three major CO2 industrial emitters in the country. There are many good opportunities to store CO2 in Romania, both onshore and offshore (Western Black Sea Basin). We only need strong policies to encourage the implementation of the technology and incentives for the companies, as there are more than enough knowledge and competency resources, both on academia/research and industrial stakeholders. One solid argument for the last statement is our history of more than 150 years of hydrocarbon exploitation and more than 50 years of storing natural gas.