The idea of capturing CO2 emissions before they hit the atmosphere may seem like a futuristic solution, but the technology exists and continues to mature.
ExxonMobil knows quite a bit about carbon capture and storage (CCS). It was the first company to capture more than 120 million metric tons of CO2 through CCS, which is equivalent to removing the annual emissions of more than 25 million cars.
The company’s scientists and engineers are working with outside collaborators to scale CCS to help capture CO2 from the natural gas used to power heavy industrial sites. Only 4% of the exhaust from natural gas turbines is made up of CO2, meaning it’s incredibly difficult to capture. Some have compared it to finding a needle in a haystack.
ExxonMobil’s work is vital because CCS is one of the few proven technologies that can help decarbonize energy-intensive industries and lower emissions to levels required to meet the world’s climate targets in the Paris Agreement. While renewables will also play a role, they are considered intermittent energy sources and may not be able to always keep up with the high energy demand required to manufacture products like concrete or steel.
ExxonMobil is also conducting early-stage research on two additional CCS technologies. One is using a fuel cell to capture emissions before they are released from a natural gas-fired power plant or an industrial facility. The other, known as direct air capture, aims to capture CO2 emissions directly from the atmosphere.
At scale, CCS could help reduce emissions from hard-to-decarbonize industries like manufacturing and power generation. Combined, these two sectors account for approximately two-thirds of the world’s energy-related emissions.
Once captured, the next step is to transport the CO2 underground, and store it safely, securely and permanently.
Storing CO2 is a complex undertaking that requires some of the same expertise ExxonMobil deploys to produce and supply the world with energy – in particular, the understanding of geologic formations. In the case of CCS, the company’s geologists identify underground sites in which to store the captured CO2 molecules.
CO2 can be safely stored in underground natural, porous rock formations. Early findings from a research study by the Singapore Energy Centre research estimates there are nearly 300 billion tonnes of storage capacity in Southeast Asia alone.
One way to enable cost-effective, world-scale capture, transportation and storage of industrial CO2 emissions is by creating a multiuser CCS hub in places like Asia to connect industry to world-scale storage. Such a network, with the potential for many users and CO2 transport via pipeline and ship, could have a significant impact on regional emissions and be a model for other parts of the world.
Capturing and then safely storing the world’s industrial CO2 emissions is an ambitious endeavor, but it’s critical in helping to address the impact of climate change. ExxonMobil will continue doing its part to advance CCS and other emission-reduction technologies that could put the world on the right path toward a lower-emissions energy future.