How CCUS can clean up India’s transition plan

Developing CCUS ecosystems can strengthen India’s capabilities in innovation to develop commercially scaleable next-generation clean technologies in this sunrise industry with mutual cooperation
How CCUS can clean up India’s transition plan
How CCUS can clean up India’s transition plan

New Delhi: India’s growth story is intertwined with finding opportunities in the grand challenges of the century. Tremendous opportunities lie in clean technologies in areas such as solar, wind, green hydrogen, as well as in chalking out a roadmap for sustainable usage of fossil fuels. The twin objectives of meeting India’s energy and climate commitments (net zero by 2070) and putting in place a $10-trillion economy in a decade can be fulfilled by including Carbon Capture, Utilisation, and Storage (CCUS).

CCUS refers to a suite of technologies where CO2 is captured from large point sources of emissions or air and is utilised to produce a set of chemicals or other applications or stored in stable mineral forms or sequestered deep within different geological formations. As fossil fuels continue to be the energy mainstay, adding billions of tonnes of CO2 every year that accelerate global warming, experts consider CCUS as a non-negotiable, albeit a complex strategy, for rapid reduction in CO2 emissions.

CCUS: India’s pilots

Large point sources of emissions, such as power plants, petroleum refineries, fertilizers, cement, steel industries, etc (usually referred to as the ‘hard-to-abate’ sectors) are plentiful and widely distributed throughout the country. Effective identification and mapping of these industrial sources, formation of clusters, and scientific-technological impetus for deployment will be critical to India’s commitments to CO2 mitigation through CCUS. Setting up new industries with CCUS and possibly retrofitting the older ones that need optimal methodology are measures that are required for an uninterrupted supply of captured CO2 for utilisation and/or storage. NITI Aayog has taken cognisance of rapid developments in the domain of CCUS and has also launched a detailed report on the CCUS policy framework and its deployment mechanism in India.

NTPC’s Vindhyachal Super Thermal Power Station captures and converts 20 tonnes of CO2 to methanol on a daily basis

Based on a joint study by NTPC-NETRA, IIT Bombay, and Carbon Clean Solutions, NTPC’s Vindhyachal Super Thermal Power Station established a first-of-its-kind facility with Green Power International. This facility captures and converts 20 tonnes of CO2 to methanol on a daily basis. Through a similar suite of technologies, Tata Steel and Tuticorin Alkali Chemicals capture 5 TPD (tonnes per day) and 200 TPD of CO2, respectively, for different utilisation pathways.

Indian Oil Corporation (IOC) has implemented a detailed techno-economic feasibility study for a CCU project at their Koyali refinery in Gujarat. The project will capture nearly 0.7 Million Tonnes per Annum (MTPA) of CO2 from its Steam Methane Reforming (SMR) based hydrogen generation units at a competitive cost structure. The captured CO2 shall primarily be used for Enhanced Oil Recovery (EOR) at Oil and Natural Gas Corporation’s (ONGC) Gandhar oil field in Cambay Basin. ONGC has inked MoUs with Equinor and Shell to focus on joint studies and projects on CO2 storage, EOR studies, and potential pilot projects. IOC and Oil India Ltd (OIL) have also signed an MoU for collaborating on capturing CO2 from flue-gas stacks of hydrogen generation units and gas turbine power plants at Digboi Refinery, where CO2 will be sent for geological sequestration in Nahorkatiya and Dikom oil fields of OIL in Assam.

NTPC and Coal India Ltd (CIL) have initiated studies with IIT-Bombay on exploring the potential for geological sequestration of CO2 in their respective coalfields. Through various industry-academia partnerships, GAIL is engaged in studies on converting CO2 to methanol, dimethyl ether, polycarbonate diol, and syngas. BHEL is engaged in developing suitable membrane technology for CO2 capture and conversion to methanol. Coal India Ltd and BHEL are jointly exploring a high-ash coal (> 40 percent) based surface coal gasification project that will be technically amenable for CCUS, wherever gasification is done using pure oxygen. Steel Authority of India Ltd (SAIL) has initiated academia-industry partnerships for studies on CO2 capture, conversion, and potential sequestration in nearby coalfields. While India’s annual emission is less than 3 gigatons, its theoretical geological storage potential ranges between 395-614 gigatons across four storage pathways — deep saline aquifers, basalts, oil fields, and coalfields that need to be explored in greater detail.

India has joined the First Movers’ Coalition, a global initiative aimed at decarbonising the heavy industry and long-distance transport sectors, which may also prove beneficial for the long-distance transport of CO2. Dalmia Cement completed a detailed pre-feasibility study to capture CO2 and convert it into urea. It may be worthwhile to mention that several companies have announced their science-based net-zero targets, for example, Reliance Industries by 2035, GAIL, BPCL, and HPCL by 2040, Tata Steel by 2045, and IOC by 2046, among others.

As announced by X-Prize and Elon Musk Foundation at COP-26 in Glasgow, a student-led team from IIT-Bombay won a $250K grant for demonstrating a system that can remove CO2 from gaseous industrial effluents as well as from air directly and convert it into commercial chemicals

Research & Development

India’s Department of Science and Technology (DST) has initiated multiple project schemes such as the Mission Innovation challenge on CCUS and Accelerating CCS Technologies (ACT) for the development of indigenous RD&D capabilities, CCUS solutions, and trained human resources to meet the challenges in this sector. As a strategic initiative in CCUS, DST has established two National Centres of Excellence to deliver path-breaking outcomes in the domain, alongside mapping countrywide R&D and developing a network of stakeholders in academia, industry, and the government. As announced by X-Prize and Elon Musk Foundation at COP-26 in Glasgow, a student-led team from IIT-Bombay won a $250K grant for demonstrating a system that can remove CO2 from gaseous industrial effluents as well as from air directly and convert it into commercial chemicals. This is to be scaled up in-house to 3 TPD.

The office of Principal Scientific Advisor to the government has facilitated and released multiple calls in the domains of CCUS, aiming to fill the knowledge or technology gaps, and support potential commercially viable demonstrable facilities. The Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas, through a task force titled ‘Upstream for CCS/CCUS’ (UFCC), delivered the draft ‘2030 Roadmap for CCUS in Upstream Exploration and Production Companies’ to prepare a unified and practical strategy for development and implementation of CCUS technologies in the oil and gas sector in India.

The most recent ‘Net Zero emissions Bill’ introduced in December 2022 proposes to constitute the National Emission Reduction Fund, wherein support is envisaged for financing solutions in carbon capture and the creation of natural and artificial carbon sinks. Led by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, India launched its long-term low carbon development strategy at COP-27, which includes emphasis on R&D and building human and infrastructure capacity to evolve technologies and methodologies that address issues surrounding CCUS, leading to CCUS demonstration projects to assess the viability of the proposed solutions. The strategy acknowledges that by 2070, when emissions need to be net-zero, India will be heavily reliant on CCS and negative emissions technologies, particularly to offset emissions from challenging and hard-to-abate sectors.

Energy transition

After assuming the G-20 presidency, India has created working groups on energy transitions and environment and climate sustainability in the Sherpa Track. The essence of India’s presidency — “One Earth, One Family, One Future” — emphasises the country’s vision to lead the world towards a better tomorrow. Developing CCUS ecosystems can strengthen India’s capabilities in innovation to develop commercially scaleable next-generation clean technologies in this sunrise industry with mutual cooperation. As the world annually captures up to 45 million tonnes of CO2 through CCUS technologies, against over 35 billion tonnes of generated CO2, rapid upscaling of CCUS technologies is essential. And this is happening primarily in the developed nations with over 200 projects in the pipeline. Evidently, most of the captured CO2 will need to be sequestered to meet the climate goals, owing to the limited size of the projected markets for CO2-generated products.

The burgeoning CCUS sector will create significant employment opportunities for delivering cleaner industrial growth. However, an actionable CCUS development and deployment plan for each emitting sector, market assessment of products from captured CO2, development of a detailed geological storage atlas for India that can map the emitters with storage hubs, prioritising CO2-enhanced oil and gas recovery wherever applicable to partly offset the capture costs, CO2 transport networks, unified measurement-monitoring-accounting metrics, robust financing and policy mechanisms, transfer of technologies, effective communication and societal awareness, and strengthened public-private research and innovation partnership will be essential to accelerate the development of CCUS in India. Following the examples of the forerunners in CCUS and clean energy development, India is emerging as a global leader in climate change mitigation through rapid technical, economic and policy reforms. In light of India’s share in global CO2 emissions, these reforms shall lead the country towards a sustainable future, will enhance its energy security and aid economic growth where CCUS shall hold a significant share in the roadmap to a net-zero Atmanirbhar Bharat.

The author is the Convener of the DST-sponsored National Centre of Excellence in Carbon Capture and Utilisation at IIT Bombay.

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