Carbon capture needs to ramp up significantly by 2030

Associate Editor
Source: International Energy Agency, Net Zero Roadmap. • Planned for 2030 only includes projects with an announced operation date by 2030. Needed by 2030 refers to IEA's Net Zero Emissions scenario. Other includes manufacturing of fuels other than hydrogen, such as oil and gas extraction and refining, natural-gas processing and bio-based fuels.

Efforts to capture carbon dioxide emissions need to accelerate rapidly in the next seven years to get on track and help the world achieve net zero by mid-century, according to a new report.   

In its Net Zero Roadmap, first released in May 2021 and updated in September, the International Energy Agency incorporates policy, technology and financial developments to determine how to achieve net zero emissions from the energy sector by 2050.  

Large growths in solar power and electric cars help ensure the path to such a future is still possible, despite largely stalled progress on other technologies ranging from wind power to carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCUS), the report finds.  

Right now, CCUS mitigates just 0.1% of total annual energy sector emissions. As a result, the IEA reduced the role of CCUS in its updated roadmap, although it still predicts the technology will be responsible for roughly 8% of cumulative emission reductions by 2050.   

Bringing all announced carbon capture projects — including capturing CO2 directly from sources and from the ambient air — into operation by 2030 would increase capacity over eightfold. The increase, while significant, would still be just a third of what’s needed in that time.  

Shortening the period from planning to deployment for these projects, especially for CO2 storage, will be key to getting carbon capture capacity on track by 2030, the report finds. Right now, the lead time for CCUS projects averages about six years. Adopting best practices could compress that to just four years.  

The lack of progress comes as controversy around all kinds of carbon capture is growing. Some critics contend the technology is untested at scale and never going to work as promised or will remain prohibitively expensive. Others say carbon capture gives fossil fuel companies a pass to continue business as usual instead of pivoting away from oil, coal and natural gas as quickly as possible.  

Despite this tension, scientists generally agree such technology is essential to meeting 2050 climate goals.