Chemical Industry Digest: Decarbonization: Where are we Headed?

Decarbonization: Where are we headed. Insights for petrochemical industry

Despite sustainability claims, industries are clearly contributing to the generation of enough carbon footprints to cause temperatures to rise. Even after countries and key industry players agreed to the famous Paris Agreement to limit temperature increases, global warming still remains a growing concern in the modern world. To keep the temperature under control, every industry, especially the oil and gas industry, must contribute to reducing CO2 emissions, as it has always been a heavy contributor to GHG emissions.

Despite the fact that the majority of key players are taking strict measures to reduce their carbon footprints, governments and regulatory bodies around the world are becoming more stringent and bringing in strict measures to curb emissions. For all CO2 emissions that exceed the permitted limit, businesses must incur a cost or charge known as carbon pricing. This carbon tax measures a company’s carbon footprint and the extent to which society bears the consequences. These businesses then have to sell their products at a premium price to increase their profit per product. This tax is not only inconvenient for the brand’s overall image because of harmful production practices, but it also has the potential to reduce market share due to increased prices.

So, to reduce the carbon footprint, is decarbonization the answer?

Decarbonization Trends

In the current market scenario, decarbonization can be a great way to achieve collective and individual sustainability goals. Decarbonization strategies must be developed in accordance with geography, regional policies, and other factors. The popular decarbonization trends have been interesting for the industry and show enough promise. These include:

– Eliminating methane leaks and flaring.

– Relying on renewable.

– Scaling up carbon capture usage and storage.

– Understanding GHG emissions across the cycle.

The key aspect of going greener and adopting decarbonization in the oil and gas industry has gained traction because of ongoing mergers and partnerships across the value chain. Players are collaborating, and the industry’s dynamics are changing at breakneck speed.

Methods of Decarbonization

Decarbonization of industry or processes will be critical to meet the net zero emission goal and companies are reducing carbon emissions in a variety of ways. The most promising decarbonization methods are:

Increased capacity for renewable energy: The power sector accounts for one-third of domestic emissions. The industry is dominated by thermal power, which contributes significantly to carbon emissions. Its carbon footprint can be reduced by using renewable energy sources for power generation. This would require an additional 50–70 GW capacity, contrary to ~12 GW current capacity addition per year. However, the transition would require trillions of dollars in investment while lowering the cost of power generation, which would directly benefit end users. Shifting to renewable energy sources has a dual benefit in terms of nature, i.e., a reduction in carbon emissions and a decrease in the rate of power generation.

Increased EV penetration: Widespread adoption of EVs can help reduce carbon emissions quite impressively. Currently, the transportation sector emits ~250 Mtpa (mega tons per year) of CO2 and electrification of mobility will likely reduce emissions. In 2022, EV penetration will be only 2%, but the industry is expected to grow by ~40%, and penetration will rise to 30-35%, reducing emissions to 150-180 Mtpa. However, the major barriers to mass adoption in India are the high cost of EVs and the scarcity of charging and swapping infrastructure.

Carbon Capture, Storage, and Utilization (CCSU): It is the most promising decarbonization technology. Due to the high capital and operating costs, the technology is currently being tested on a small scale (pilot projects). However, companies are working to improve the economic feasibility and commercialization of the technology. It is expected that the technology will help in reducing carbon emissions at a faster rate than other methods or techniques, particularly in the oil and gas industry.

Introduction of CCSU

CCSU involves the capture of CO2 from sources such as oil and gas plants, power generation units, industrial manufacturing facilities, and so on. The captured CO2 is compressed and transported by pipeline. This can then be used in a variety of applications, such as chemical production or injected into deep geological structures for long-term CO2 storage. In 2021, 44 Mt of CO2 was captured globally from 35 commercial CCU facilities around the world. With the recent announcements of more than 200 facilities, it is expected that CCU technology will be able to capture more than 220 Mt of CO2 per year by 2030.

In India, there is currently no dedicated commercial-scale CCSU project. However, a few pilot-scale projects are currently underway, such as IOCL R&D’s amine and biological enzyme-based carbon capture plant and Tata Steel Jamshedpur’s pilot-scale carbon capture plant for capturing 5 TPD CO2 from the blast furnace. The technology is expected to be used commercially in the near future.

Commercial-scale Technologies for CCSU

Because the technology is still in its infancy, a few commercially available carbon capture technologies include:

Solvent-based absorption: In this technique, CO2 is passed through the absorber unit and is absorbed using the solvent. The CO2-rich solvent is routed to the stripper, where CO2 is extracted and the lean solvent is regenerated for reuse. The CO2-rich steam is passed through the compressor, where it is compressed at an extremely high pressure (>75 bar) for pipeline transportation. Air Liquide Amine, Kansai Mitsubishi Carbon Dioxide Recovery (KM CDRTM’s) proprietary amine solvent, and Baker Hughes Chilled Ammonia Process (CAP) technology are a few examples of proven technologies for solvent-based absorption.

Solvent-based absorption can be done through two methods:

a.) Chemical solvent-based CCU: This method is preferred for low CO2 concentrations and partial The most popular chemical solvents for CCU are amine-based solvents such as ethanolamine, diglycolamine, diethanolamine, and ammonia.

b.) Physical solvent-based CCU: This method is preferred for streams with high CO2 concentrations and partial The physisorption technique is used primarily for absorption. Physical solvent regeneration occurs at low temperatures and pressures, resulting in high power consumption. Methanol, Dimethyl ether of polyethylene glycols (DEPG), and other common solvents are used for physical solvent- based absorption.

Adsorption: This technology is used to capture gas streams with moderate to high pressure and a medium CO2 concentration. In adsorption-based CO2, molecules selectively adhere to the surface of the adsorbent material and form a film, followed by the diffusion of other gases. The desorption of CO2 from the system can be accomplished in the final step by either decreasing pressure or increasing temperature. For commercial absorption-based CCSU, technologies such as Air Products Vacuum Swing Adsorption (VSA) and UOP PolybedTM PSA systems are used.

Cryogenic Separation: In this process, the CO2 stream is cooled to a low temperature (~ -50 C) at a high pressure, which makes the process very energy-intensive. The consumption is in the range of 600–700 Kwh/t CO2. A few commercial technologies available in the market are Air Liquide’s CryocapTM Technology, and UOP’s Ortloff Dual Refrigerant CO Fractionation (DRCF).

Research-phase Technologies for CCSU

Microalgae-based biotechnological CCSU

The novel technology is currently at the lab and pilot scales, and it is expected that the technology will be used for large-scale CCSU in the future. The major advantage of the technology is its low cost and sustainability. Microalgae have a unique ability to capture CO2 (10-50 times more than terrestrial plants) and utilize captured carbon as a nutrient. Researchers are working to develop a new strain of microalgae that has a much higher CO2 absorption capacity. The high carbon-absorbing microalgae can be integrated with the flue gas for CO2 absorption. These gases will then pass through a cleaning process in which metal traces and other harmful components are removed from them. After cleaning, the flue gases are passed through the microalgae, which will capture CO2 and use the captured carbon as a nutrient. Additionally, the researchers are working on the use of microalgae for the production of biofuels and other value-added products. However, the success of the technology will depend on various external factors such as climatic conditions, strains of microalgae, the nature of gas, and others.

How CCU will impact India?

At COP26 in 2021, India announced that it would achieve net zero emissions by 2070. Currently, India’s per capita CO2 emission is 1.8 tons per year, which is 40% less than the global average. India currently emits 2.9 Gtons of CO2 per year on average, making it the world’s third-largest emitter after China and the United States. Steel, power, automotive, aviation, cement, and agriculture account for 70% of domestic emissions.

With the development of the economy, it is anticipated that emissions will increase in the future. As a result, CCSU can play a critical role in helping with decarbonization and achieving net zero emissions by 2070. Integrating CCSU into each industry is neither technologically nor economically feasible. However, it is simple to incorporate into the oil and gas industry. The absorbed CO2 can be used as a feedstock for the production of specialty carbonates such as ethylene carbonate and propylene carbonate, as well as for food and beverage applications (carbonated drinks, dry ice, etc.) and the production of polymers (polycarbonate, carbon fiber, etc.).

The Challenges for CCSU Technology

– Change in processes in emitting industries: It has been observed that the industry is replacing fossil fuels with electricity or new energy sources, and anticipated that the trend will continue in the future. Currently, changing the source to other energy alternatives is much easier and has a relatively low cost as compared to setting up and operating a CCSU unit.

– Cost of capture: The significantly high CAPEX and cash costs of the commercial CCU are the major barriers to the mass adoption of this technology. The optimization of OPEX can be a route to reducing the cash cost of the process. Companies are working to reduce the through low-cost sources of heat/ steam for solvent regeneration and meet the electricity duty requirements of other carbon capture.

– Transportation safety: As part of the widespread adoption of technology, CO2 must be transported via However, pipeline-related accidents/ incidents can be a barrier to transportation. There have been no major failures or accidents associated with the CCSU, but as mass adoption grows, the CCSU may pose safety risks.

Way Forward

Moving forward, we may see a proper revenue stream/model from the CCSU as the stored chemicals can be used as a feedstock to produce relevant products to meet corporate goals. We can anticipate large-scale commercialization of carbon capture (across refineries and major chemical factories) by 2028 – 2030, as companies will have developed the process for better utilization of chemicals (produced from carbon capture) by that time. However, as of now, only a few licensors are commercializing the technologies.


This article was originally published in the July edition of Chemical Industry Digest, written by Vikash Kumar and Gaurav Singh.

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