The keys to CCUS success

The keys to CCUS success
03 May 2024

Writing in the May issue of 'International Cement Review' ahead of the IEEE-IAS PCA Cement Conference in Denver, USA, this week, Rick Bohan, senior vice president, sustainability, Portland Cement Association, set out five key challenges that need to be overcome if the US cement sector is going to successfully deploy carbon capture in time to meet the goal of carbon neutrality by 2050. He summarised these fundamental challenges as the ‘five Ps’, as follows:

Power –  CCUS systems consume the same amount of energy as the cement plant itself. Ensuring sufficient power generation capacity combined with a stable grid to service these power hungry CCUS systems.

Pipelines – to transport the captured CO2 to sequestration sites or points of utilisation.

Permitting – timely permitting to enable construction of energy generation infrastructure, pipelines and CCUS facilities themselves. This is considered the biggest challenge of all as currently permitting processes are costly, fraught with uncertainty, with complex emissions and monitoring requirements.

Permanence – some states will only issue carbon capture credits for CO2 that is considered permanently captured (ie >100 years), which disqualifies CO2 captured and used in the production of biofuels, a proven solution.

Public – installing the new transmission line and pipeline infrastructure will be disruptive, therefore bringing the public on board will be critical.

With 99 cement plants in the US operating 125Mta capacity, the scale of the challenge is considerable. According to the Department of Energy (DoE), US cement production facilities produce around 69Mta of carbon dioxide equivalents (CO2e), equal to five per cent of domestic industrial emissions.

What is not included in the list of challenges is CCUS technology itself, which is developing fast. The most viable systems with the highest technology readiness level (TRL) are the expensive liquid amine systems, but a number of alternative technologies, including cryogenic systems, are emerging that will drive down costs and will be available for deployment in the medium term.

But the biggest 'P' of all, however, is perhaps Price. The economics of decarbonisation is complex and changing, but without the right incentives in place, the cement sector cannot commit to the scale of investment that carbon capture will require. On the cost side, carbon capture has a high capex – approximately US$100/t – combined with significant opex. And that does not include storage or transportation, which add further, very significant costs.

In the US, following the enactment of the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 (IRA), the 45Q tax credits offer an important opportunity to advance CCUS and have been increased to US$85/t of CO2 stored. To benefit, construction on new CCUS projects must begin before 1 January 2026.

So far, in the US, there are just seven carbon capture projects announced with CEMEX, Heidelberg Materials and Holcim all involved in feasibility projects that have progressed to FEED stage, and one (pilot) facility under construction at Eagle Material’s Sugar Creek facility.

But for the industry to progress further, Rick Bohan’s five Ps will need to be prioritised. Above all, more action is needed to encourage industry to invest, including providing legal certainty that existing incentives will not be eliminated in future – something that is critical given the upcoming presidential elections.

Published under Cement News