Carbon Capture Technology in Developing Countries

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SEATTLE, Washington — Though the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals prescribe the need for clean and affordable energy, simultaneously realizing these aims has proven difficult in the developing world. Those that have yet to industrialize or are undergoing industrialization, still rely on fossil fuels, since they remain economically attractive and require less sophisticated technology to maximize energy production. The implementation of carbon capture technology in developing countries could have a positive impact on the health of the world’s poor and aims to aid in creating sustainable energy infrastructure.

Renewable Energy

India, which has invested some $42 billion in renewable energy over four years, cannot sate even a quarter of its energy needs through renewable resources.

U.S. businesses are lagging behind too. Its share of the solar panel market is 73 times smaller than that of its Chinese counterparts. Wind turbine manufacturing is similarly competitive: only one of the five major wind turbine producers is located not in Europe, but in the United States.

However, both parties benefit from carbon capture and utilization technology. The U.S. companies developing and distributing it will enjoy higher revenues while developing states are able to reduce greenhouse gas emissions without decelerating economic development and divesting funds from poverty alleviation to expensive renewable energy infrastructure.

What is Carbon Capture Technology?

Carbon capture technology is an umbrella term for mechanisms to uproot carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Upon capturing CO2, firms store it by either planting trees to generate oxygen through photosynthesis or injecting it into geological formations beneath the Earth’s surface. In turn, the latter facilitates additional oil extraction from underground oil repositories and could decrease the net carbon emissions per oil barrel by almost two-thirds.

Humanity is increasingly turning to renewable energy sources but eliminating fossil fuels entirely would either undermine the developing world’s economic development or take considerable time, by which the atmospheric CO2 levels would have risen even further. Herein, carbon capture and storage may safeguard a sustainable future, and the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) mentions these strategies in its blueprint to achieve negative emissions.

The United States is the Global Leader

The United States is home to more than 50% of the world’s operational large-scale CCS facilities, one of which runs on a fully carbon-neutral basis, meaning that it captures as much carbon dioxide as it emits. This proportion rises to circa 60% for projects currently under construction or being planned.

Furthermore, there are many firms specializing in its utilization by various means. Thus, Blue Planet and CarbonCure convert carbon dioxide into concrete, whereas Algenol Biofuels produces biofuel and Catalytic Innovations, ethanol and oxygen.

U.S. leadership in this field is explained by a profound history of institutional support for such technologies. In 2008, the U.S. Government adopted the 45Q tax credit to encourage the capture of greenhouse gases, offering $10 for each ton of carbon dioxide injected into oil reserves and $20 for each ton stored beneath the Earth’s crust. A decade later, the FUTURE Act (S. 1535) extended this provision’s application and expanded its purview to include carbon dioxide utilizers.

Potential Export Markets

The United States has plenty to provide for the developing economies seeking to transition to sustainability and reduce carbon dioxide emissions in a way that takes advantage of the existing technological infrastructure and recycles the former. Seeing as CCS initiatives have already sprung up in Algeria and India, there is considerable demand for carbon capture and storage.

One prospective venue for U.S. exports is South Africa. It constitutes one of the world’s most significant COemitters, with fossil fuel combustion consistently supplying more than 85% of its energy and resultantly exposing thousands of jobs to the risk of disappearance, should the country abandon its coal production immediately and comprehensively.

The South African authorities have themselves been undertaking steps toward implementing the aforementioned agenda. One government report, published in 2004, estimated that almost 60% of the nation’s annual CO2 emissions could be captured and stored before recycling. A more recent World Bank study corroborates these optimistic conclusions, suggesting that its storage capacities are affordable and that lower prices on carbon dioxide may render storage in Botswana, Namibia and Mozambique just as financially viable.

Similarly, Southeast Asia stands to benefit from importing U.S. carbon capture, utilization and storage practices. Because crude oil extraction continues to shore up economic growth in Indonesia and Vietnam, the U.S. is likely to discover potential avenues there. This option is particularly lucrative, considering that the latter is planning to increase its national power capacity by 48 gigawatts by 2025, whereas the former’s government-controlled oil and gas firm, Pertamina, has been contemplating the possibility of starting operations on the Sukowati oil field in the country’s East Java province and has solicited assistance from the Asian Development Bank.

The Future of Carbon Capture Technology

This technological know-how is certainly not without its weaknesses: it has been described as costly and risky and the successful adoption of carbon capture technology in developing countries cannot occur without appropriate regulatory mechanisms. However, its potential to help developing countries become more environmentally friendly and retain vital energy infrastructure, while positively impacting health, makes it promising for the world’s poor, whereas its prospective commercial rewards also make it attractive for the U.S. business sector.

Dan Mikhaylov
Photo:Photo: Flickr

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