At the leading edge of sustainability: technologies for CO2 capture, transportation, storage and utilisation, a need and an opportunity for Spain
Reducing greenhouse gas emissions has long ceased to be a mere subject of good intentions and turned into an urgent need if we are to assure our society’s sustainability. This reduction needs to be made moreover with the lowest possible impact on economic competitiveness and in such a way that society’s supply of energy and other goods and services whose production and procurement involve such emissions is not jeopardised and continues to be provided reliably and predictably.
Everyone knows there is no magic formula in the energy industry for reducing emissions to sustainable levels. Energy efficiency, greater process efficiency, nuclear power and renewable energies alone will not achieve this. Moreover the role of fossil fuels will remain vital over the next few decades, so they must be made compatible with the necessary reductions in emissions.
A more sustainable course is being taken not only by the energy sector but by industry in general, enhancing its processes by adopting better technologies as they become available. Even so and despite such technologies the need remains in many such processes to find a way to sharply reduce CO2 emissions. Other sectors such as transport are also adopting net emission reduction strategies considering the whole lifecycle of fuel use.
In this context, technologies for capturing, transporting, storing and using CO2 have become a vital technological pathway among the various possible measures. Our planet is estimated to have enough geological capacity to store all of the CO2 generated worldwide over at least the next 800 years. In Spain the current data on the existing potential also make this possibility seem viable. This is a viable alternative globally, though its industrial deployment is still very limited and requires a big effort in R&D and innovation and in demonstrating the first commercial projects.
As to uses of CO2 on the market, they are at present on a smaller scale than the global need for reductions in emissions. But the goal of using CO2 as a useful raw material and thereby helping reduce emissions is beyond question and must always be present in the technological strategies devised.
Spanish knowhow and business is currently in a strong position in CO2 capture, transportation, storage and utilisation technologies. Spain has one of the six experimental plants with €180m EU funding for CO2 capture, transportation and storage. And many Spanish firms are taking a leading role in technology development projects worldwide. All this work is monitored and integrated by the Spanish CO2 Technology Platform (PTECO2), supported by grants from the ministry of finance and competitiveness as well as by its members’ contributions. Our Platform now includes more than 100 Spanish firms with the joint aim of helping make Spain’s international commitments on greenhouse gases also an opportunity for technological development and the effective application of such technologies in our country.
Our position in this field is significant for two reasons. Developing these technologies in Spain will provide solutions allowing our international commitments on climate change not to greatly impair competitiveness. We should note in this respect that though capture, transportation and utilisation technologies will be developed either with or without us, it is absolutely vital – I would say imperative – for CO2 storage in Spain to be developed in an orderly way, compatible with the environment. With these techniques it will be possible to apply CSS solutions both in the energy sector and in other industries in which cutting emissions economically may be vital to their medium or long-term viability and survival.
Moreover and no less importantly our current position in certain key technologies now gives us a head start, or at least a level playing field, vis-à-vis the world around us in the race to achieve a leadership in them that will bring a commercial return for our country. The sector is expected to arrive fully on the market in the latter part of this decade, so we are well placed for planning and structuring our engagement with it: the decisions we take in the next few years will determine what role Spain is to play in this sphere internationally and whether this may be a differential feature in our offering in the wider economy allowing Spain to develop a new activity while improving its trade balance.
We are not so much at a crossroads at which to make a choice as well along the road in supporting and moreover enhancing the great efforts being made. On any other course we would risk losing what has been achieved so far. There is no point planting and watering a tree for years and then letting it dry up when it is ready to bear fruit. Our country can decide to carry on with the nationwide development of CO2 capture, transportation, storage and utilisation technologies with clearly defined lines of public and private funding for projects in the field or else miss the chance and wait for other countries to develop these technologies and let Spain’s knowhow and business fabric take a supporting role. The former option would make us trendsetters, boosting our industry’s competitiveness and our exports with the resulting returns for the economy. The latter would relegate us to the back of the field, forcing us to import technology developed by others. At the Spanish CO2 Technology Platform we firmly believe this is a boat we should not miss and we will continue our work of helping society understand the benefits that this field offers us and ensuring in so far as we can that the decisions taken are in our country’s best interest.