According to a recent report by the International Energy Agency, these industries—cement, iron and steel, chemicals—account for about 20 percent of global CO2 emissions. Emissions from these industries are notoriously difficult to abate because, in addition to emissions associated with energy use, a significant portion of industrial emissions come from the process itself. For example, in the cement industry, about half the emissions come from the decomposition of limestone into lime and CO2. While a shift to zero-carbon energy sources such as solar or wind-powered electricity could lower CO2 emissions in the power sector, there are no easy substitutes for emissions-intensive industrial processes.
Enter industrial carbon capture and storage (CCS). This technology, which extracts point-source carbon emissions and sequesters them underground, has the potential to remove up to 90-99 percent of CO2 emissions from an industrial facility, including both energy-related and process emissions. And that begs the question: Might CCS alone enable hard-to-abate industries to continue to grow while eliminating nearly all of the CO2 emissions they generate from the atmosphere?
The answer is an unequivocal yes in a new study in the journal Applied Energy co-authored by researchers at the MIT Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change, MIT Energy Initiative and ExxonMobil.
Using an enhanced version of the MIT Economic Projection and Policy Analysis (EPPA) model that represents different industrial CCS technology choices—and assuming that CCS is the only greenhouse gas emissions mitigation option available to hard-to-abate industries—the study assesses the long-term economic and environmental impacts of CCS deployment under a climate policy aimed at capping the rise in average global surface temperature at 2°C above preindustrial levels.
The researchers find that absent industrial CCS deployment, the global costs of implementing the 2°C policy are higher by 12% in 2075 and 71% in 2100 relative to policy costs with CCS. They conclude that industrial CCS enables continued growth in the production and consumption of energy-intensive goods from hard-to-abate industries along with dramatic reductions in the CO2 emissions they generate. Their projections show that as industrial CCS gains traction mid-century, this growth occurs globally as well as within geographical regions (primarily in China, Europe and the United States) and the cement, iron and steel, and chemical sectors.