China starts CCUS focus

China starts CCUS focus
14 July 2023

This week China announced the launch of its largest carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS) project for the cement sector to date. The China United Qingzhou Co Ltd's 200,000tpa "Carbon Dioxide Full Oxygen Combustion Enrichment and Purification Demonstration Project" can be considered one of China's early pioneering trials for CCUS.

As the largest producer of cement in the world, China is not expected to achieve peak CO2 emissions until 2027. However, with China's leading engineering institutes now fully focussed on providing trial CCUS technology, there is a clear intention to decarbonise its heavy industries by 2060. This is supported not just by Tianjin Cement Industry Design & Research institute and Shanghai Triumph Energy Conservation Engineering Co Ltd's involvement in the China United CCUS project. China Building Materials Academy (CBMA) is also collaborating with CCS Knowledge to build a pilot project for CCUS at Lehigh Cement's Edmonton plant, Canada, announced in 2021. CBMA plans to adapt and scale up the technology to enable parent company CNBM, the world's largest cement producer, to install CCUS throughout its portfolio of Chinese cement plants.

Anhui Conch
CNBM competitor Anhui Conch has had mixed results in its initial attempt to deploy CCUS. Although the company's US$10m investment into a 50,000tpa CCUS facility at its Baimashan cement plant was described as "a loss-maker" in 2019, progress has been made by the company to decarbonise. By limiting coal and electricity consumption per tonne of cement produced and by boosting overall operating efficiency, gains have been achieved. Anhui Conch also now uses biomass fuel and waste heat to generate electricity. The company's CO2 emission density fell to 829kg/t clinker in 2021 from 855kg/t clinker in 2017 and 790kg/t clinker has been targeted for 2025. 

Anhui Conch Group still recognises that carbon capture is essential for total decarbonisation in China. The company stated: "Even if we replace with 100 per cent green electricity and green fuels, only 40 per cent of the CO2 can be cut, the rest (60 per cent) might only be reduced through CCUS, carbon conversion technology, etc."

Existing infrastructure
China has the potential for excellent infrastructure to support a transition to CCUS. Cement production in the north, northeast and northwest will have biomass and solid waste available as fuels, along with CCUS. This will help develop clean production based on hydrogen or green electricity, although these are some of the more expensive solutions for reaching net zero emissions.

The location of Chinese cement plants will have important implications for their potential to start carbon capture programmes. Southwestern and central Chinese cement facilities have access to biomass and solid waste as fuels, with the additional resources of hydropower for green hydrogen or green electricity and saline aquifers for CO2 sequestration. The southeast and south-central China may need to depend more heavily to biomass and wind energy, while using natural gas pipelines for long-distance CO2 transportation, storing CO2 offshore or using it locally, according to RMI and China Cement Association (CCA). 

China's swift catch-up
China may currently be lagging the West in its project implementation for CCUS, but it is expected to soon catch up. CCUS capacity in China is forecast to grow rapidly and by 2030 could amount to 0.4Gt or about half the total captured carbon in the world, rising to more than 2Gt of CO2 by 2070, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA). The role of bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) and direct air capture will become more important over time, accounting for one-third of the total captured CO2 in China by 2070, states the IEA. In 2019 China's cement sector was responsible for 1210Mta of CO2 emissions from approximately 800 cement plants, says the IEA. A year later, the cement sector accounted for 28 per cent of the country's total CO2 emissions. Not surprisingly, the government has started to relocate heavy industry from coastal areas to less-populated regions, reducing pollution in the urban zones of Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei circle and the Yangtze River Delta Basin.

Potential obstacles to faster CO2 capture
Carbon pricing will play an important role in accelerating the industry's transition to making zero-carbon cement. It is notable that the China Building Materials Federation (CBMF), along with the Climate Change Department of the Ministry of Ecology and Environment, held talks with representatives of the leading domestic cement producers to research the incorporation of the building materials industry into the national carbon emission trading market in June 2023. The CBMF detailed its research into CCUS in China's cement sector and ideas regarding the allocation scheme of CO2 emission quotas, verification and historical data. The aim is to lay the foundation for accelerating research into incorporating the building materials industry into the national carbon market.

Another obstacle for China's decarbonisation is that the cost of CCUS cement is only expected to reach parity with the cost of traditional cement if a proper carbon pricing mechanism is achieved. Moreover, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says only when the cost of CCUS falls to US$25-30/t CO2, it will be rolled out on a large scale. The IEA also points to China's lack of legal policy framework, limited market stimulus and inadequate subsidies as reasons for the country's current slower uptake in CCUS. 

China will need to be a leading player in decarbonisation if the world is to avert the most severe effects of climate change and to prevent temperature levels rising above 1.5˚C in the 21st century. To date China has about 30 CCUS projects underway, of which 67 per cent are for enhanced oil recovery (CO2-EOR), claims INE. By September 2022 there were just 13 projects for China’s power and cement plants, which totalled carbon capture of 856,000tpa, according to Guizhen Liu, Bofeng Cai, Qi Li , Xian Zhang and Ta Ouyang’ in their joint paper 'China's pathways of CO2 capture, utilisation and storage under carbon neutrality vision 2060'. China's cement sector still has a long way to go.

Published under Cement News