Introducing ACCSESS: Addressing drastic CO2 emissions cuts and removal in four key industries

In this two-part blog series, we explore the main motivations of the ACCSESS project and how it aims to contribute to achieving a climate-neutral Europe by 2050.

If we are to achieve carbon neutrality, we need to remove the carbon dioxide currently in the atmosphere in addition to drastically cutting future emissions. ACCSESS is a project that seeks to decarbonise four industrial sectors and facilitate the implementation of carbon dioxide removal technology.

Author: Rubén M. Montañés (SINTEF Energy Research)

Current climate actions are not enough

In 2015, the Paris Agreement set the goal of limiting the increase in global temperatures to under 1.5˚C compared to pre-industrial levels. Since then, multiple climate change mitigation actions have been taken in an attempt to achieve this goal. However, according to the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), these actions are so far not enough:

Unless there are immediate and deep emissions reductions, 1.5˚C is beyond reach.

IPCC Sixth Assessment Report: Mitigation of Climate Change press conference presentation, slide 6

Meeting this goal will require unprecedented and significant emissions cuts. In the European context, the EU Green Deal proposes to drastically cut emissions by 55% by 2030 in order to achieve net zero by 2050. However, the latest IPCC report reminds us again that we will also need to remove sufficient carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from the atmosphere to compensate for sectors where complete decarbonisation is challenging. In order to meet this demand, solutions for CO2 emissions cuts and removals, including carbon capture and storage (CCS), must be deployed at a large scale.

This is exactly what ACCSESS aims to address.

What does “carbon dioxide removal” mean?

Carbon dioxide removal (CDR) generally describes ways to remove greenhouse gases (GHG) from the atmosphere. One way of doing this is through the capture of biogenic CO2 emissions to be permanently and safely stored. This method is often called “bioenergy with carbon capture and storage” (BECCS).

“Biogenic CO2 emissions” refers to CO2 emissions that have been produced by burning plant-based material, also known as biomass. When biomass is burned, it releases the CO2 that the plant absorbed during its lifetime through photosynthesis.

In principle, if biogenic CO2 emissions are captured and permanently removed from the atmosphere, we will have achieved “carbon-negative” emissions (in other words, we will have taken out more CO2 from the atmosphere than we put in). In order to claim that carbon dioxide removals are achieved, it is essential that the CO2 is stored in a manner intended to be permanent and that the GHG emissions associated with the removal and storage processes are included in the estimation, including the biomass origin, energy use and gas fate.

Using liquid solvents to capture CO2

A range of CO2 capture technologies are currently available, each at different technological maturity levels. One of them, arguably the most mature one, is “post-combustion CO2 capture based on liquid chemical solvents” (absorption), which refers to the use of liquid solvents to capture CO2 from flue gases.

Several types of solvent technologies or chemical solvents can be used in absorption, with different performance characteristics, quantities and quality of energy required for capturing the CO2. ACCSESS will address systematic and innovative ways of integrating several solvents in four energy-intensive industrial sectors that each use varying amounts of biomass in their fuel or feedstock. By tackling the most relevant challenges and opportunities for capture process integration in the four sectors, ACCSESS aims to integrate cost-efficient CO2 capture and use in industrial installations, to enable permanent CDR.

ACCSESS will focus on four energy-intensive sectors

The extent to which CCS is effective can vary depending on the characteristics of each industrial sector, specific site conditions, etc. With this in mind, ACCSESS will target four energy-intensive sectors in Europe with the potential to implement CDR: pulp and paper, cement, waste-to-energy, and biorefineries.

Pulp and paper: In the Nordic countries, a kraft pulp mill mainly relies on biomass for its energy supply, and therefore a large share of the CO2 emissions captured from this sector are biogenic (approx. 75-100%). Therefore, the permanent geological storage of these emissions could significantly contribute to CDR. ACCSESS is the first large CO2 capture project to include this sector.

Waste-to-energy (WtE): The type of fuel in the WtE sector will naturally vary but can typically be around 50% biogenic, and therefore, the captured CO2 emissions from this sector can be estimated to be around 50% biogenic. Currently, around 500 WtE plants in Europe play an important role in waste management and often also in energy supply. WtE with CCS could add an additional role for WtE plants as carbon-negative emissions providers, making them a potential contributor to CDR.

Cement: When burning biofuels or waste-derived fuels in a cement kiln, only up to 1/3 of the CO2 in the flue gases can be biogenic, since roughly 2/3 of the CO2 emitted from cement production comes from the calcination of limestone. In other words, only as much as 30% of the captured CO2 can contribute to CDR. The cement sector is responsible for 6-7% of all global, man-made CO2 emissions.

Biorefineries: In addition to biofuel, biorefineries typically also produce CO2 and other by-products. The CO2 produced from processing biomass is normally vented to atmosphere. However, if it were captured and securely stored in geological formations, the produced biofuel could be characterised by net negative emissions due to the biogenic nature of the CO2. Captured CO2 can be up to 50% biogenic in retrofitted biorefineries, and up to 100% in newer biorefineries.

The ability of the industrial sectors covered by ACCSESS to contribute to CDR, assuming a 90% CO2 capture rate.

The potential for drastic emissions cuts and CDR

These four sectors have the potential to not only drastically cut their own emissions and contribute to CDR, but also contribute to reducing Europe’s CO2 emissions, provided that the financial, legal and regulatory contexts are in place. The CO2 captured from the industrial installations in these sectors must generally be stored underground, but minor CO2 streams can be used to create other products.

While the challenges and opportunities for CCS deployment in the four different sectors are largely industry specific, ACCSESS aims to boost cross-sectional learnings among its partners on CCS aspects related to CO2 capture and its integration, roll out of CCS chains in the pan-European zone and societal integration of CCS.

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