When Elon Musk recently put up a US$100 million prize for the development of a carbon capture system, it made global headlines and brought home the importance of decarbonization to whole new audience.
For many in the mining and oil and gas sectors, developing carbon capture/decarbonization methods that will help clean up their production operations is seen as a key to their longevity.
The Musk-backed XPRIZE Carbon Removal competition is aimed at tackling what it says is the biggest threat facing humanity – fighting climate change and rebalancing Earth’s carbon cycle. Funded by Elon Musk and the Musk Foundation, this US$100 million competition is the largest incentive prize in history.
This four-year global competition invites innovators and teams from anywhere on the planet to create and demonstrate solutions that can pull carbon dioxide directly from the atmosphere or oceans and sequester it durably and sustainably. To win the grand prize, teams must demonstrate a working solution at a scale of at least 1,000 tonnes removed per year, model their costs at a scale of one million tonnes per year, and show a pathway to achieving a scale of gigatonnes per year in future.
New uses for carbon dioxide
Meanwhile, according to Lux Research, a global provider of tech-enabled research and advisory services, the global market size for CO2 utilization will reach a market value of US$70 billion by 2030, increasing to US$550 billion by 2040. In a recent report, “CO2 Capture & Utilization: The Emergence of a Carbon Economy,” Lux Research forecasts the adoption of CO2 utilization in the buildings, chemicals, materials, fuels, and food sectors.
Lux found that despite unprecedented action against climate change over the past decade, global emissions witnessed steady growth and only fell in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic. All projections have emissions returning to their upward trajectory unless drastic measures are taken across the entire energy system.
While CO2 is a significant contributor to climate change, interest in a potential carbon economy is growing from governments, industry, and the investment community. Carbon capture and utilization remains a crucial technology to not only remove but even recycle CO2 from the atmosphere.
CO2 can convert into six types of products: building materials, chemicals, carbon additives, fuels, polymers, and proteins. “The projected growth will be driven by the building materials sector. For example, CO2 can be used to produce aggregates to mix with cement or injected directly into wet concrete for curing,” says Runeel Daliah, analyst at Lux Research and the lead author of the report.
“Building materials will become the largest sector for CO2 utilization, capturing 86% of the total market value by 2040. Technologies for CO2 utilization in the building industry have low technical barriers – adoption will only be impeded by regulatory constraints.
“Fuels, chemicals, and carbon additives provide vast potential for CO2 utilization, but it will not be reached without extensive innovation or regulatory support for widespread adoption,” adds Daliah. “The polymers and protein sectors will remain niche applications of CO2 utilization despite the expected success of the technology in these sectors. Successful deployment for polymers remains small, while CO2 utilization for proteins is still in the development stage, with adoption driven by the rising demand for alternative proteins.”
Lux’s new report shows the vast promise CO2 capture and utilization holds for recycling CO2 emissions into valuable products.
‘Cutting emissions and creating jobs’
For the mining industry – and governments where the resource sector is a major contributor to the economy – the competition to reduce CO2 production is a competition they have been fighting for decades – and a competition they have to win.
There is already a clearly identified opportunity for early movers to create new industries, jobs, and significant incomes – as well as helping to clear up their CO2 issues.
The Australian government, for example, believes that new investments in carbon capture technologies are set to create thousands of jobs, support Australian industry and manufacturing into the future, and further drive down Australia’s emissions.
The government’s 2021-22 Budget will invest A$263.7 million to support the development of carbon capture technologies and hubs around the country.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison says the world is changing rapidly and Australia will need to be competitive in a new energy economy to support the jobs of Australians, especially in heavy industries and regional areas that depend on affordable and reliable energy.
“It is essential we position Australia to succeed by investing now in the technologies that will support our industries into the future, with lower emissions energy that can support Australian jobs,” the Mr Morrison said.
“There is a strong appetite from business for the new emissions reduction technologies that they know will be needed to run their operations and keep employing Australians and grow jobs for the future.
“World-leading projects like these are about cutting emissions and creating jobs.
“We want to make clean energy more affordable and reliable, while looking for ways our investments can get more people into work,” Mr Morrison added.
Startups leading corporates
Meanwhile, international resource sector data and analytics company, GlobalData, says that given the far-ranging environmental and health effects of greenhouse gases, achieving net-zero emissions (net-zero global economy by 2050) has emerged as the top agenda for countries and corporates.
Against that backdrop, decarbonatization startups are giving a new lease of life to corporates by enabling them to align with sustainable development goals (SDGs), GlobalData recently reported.
Kiran Raj, principal disruptive tech analyst at GlobalData, says that while the scale of the transition to achieve net-zero global economy by mid-century looks daunting, rapid decarbonization catches the attention of corporate boardrooms to embed SDGs into their business strategies.
“The idea that sells for a beginning is to quickly capitalize on the decarbonization technologies of startups for carbon assessment, capture, recycling, and trading.”
GlobalData’s newly launched sustainability solutions framework “Innovation Map in Environment” tracks innovations for global goals around climate change, pollution, biodiversity, and natural resources. The climate change segment focuses on new and innovative decarbonization solutions offered by startups.
“As the pressure to act on climate change builds, in addition to devising digital transformation strategies, the time has come for corporates to equally focus on sustainability practices like decarbonization,” Mr Raj said.
“Companies with better and transparent sustainability practices can get ahead of the curve to find themselves in a better position among customers, investors, regulators, and employees.”
With its broad and lengthy experience in the development of carbon capture technologies, the global mining sector should be well placed to be a winner in this critical clean energy competition.