With the climate crisis rapidly deteriorating, it has become clear that slowing down greenhouse gas emissions alone is not going to cut it. Carbon removal technologies such as carbon capture and storage (CCS), carbon capture and utilisation (CCU) and carbon dioxide removal (CDR) have increasingly come into the focus of policymakers and companies because of their potential to reduce or bring about negative carbon emissions. Here’s what you need to know about carbon removal technologies: What are CCS, CCU and CDR? CCS refers to processes that directly capture carbon dioxide emissions from “point sources” such as fossil-fuel power plants or industrial facilities, with the carbon dioxide subsequently being stored for a long period. CCU refers to the process of utilising the captured carbon dioxide in secondary processes such as synthetic fuels, chemicals and materials. While CCS and CCU can reduce the addition of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, CDR refers to processes that capture carbon dioxide from the atmosphere instead of simply reducing its emissions, and storing it durably on land, in the ocean, in geological formations or in products where it can be stored like concrete. Often known as “negative emissions”, CDR also includes conventional methods such as afforestation and reforestation, and novel methods such as biochar, bioenergy carbon capture and storage (BECCS) and direct air carbon capture and storage (DACCS). Why are carbon removal technologies important? The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in a report last April highlighted 541 pathways to limit the global temperature rise to 1.5 or 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. All of them involve substantial levels of carbon dioxide removal, ranging from 450 to 1,100 billion tonnes between 2020 and 2100. This also needs to come alongside an immediate and deep reduction in carbon emissions, including those powered by CCS and CCU. According to the International Renewable Energy Agency (Irena), for the world to limit global warming by 1.5 degrees by mid-century, global carbon capture and storage rates must reach around 6 billion tonnes per annum (Gtpa) by 2040 and over 8 Gtpa by 2050, from 0.04 Gtpa in 2021. Irena’s estimates mean the volume of carbon dioxide that would need to be sequestered underground in 2050 is about 2.5 times the annual volume of oil extracted currently. How far has the world progressed on building CCS and CCU facilities? As of early 2021, there were 24 commercial fossil-fuel-based CCS and CCU facilities in operation globally with an installed capacity to capture around 0.04 Gtpa of energy- and process-related carbon dioxide emissions, according to Irena. Virtually all current CDR capacity, which equals to removing 2 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide per year, comes from conventional management of land, such as the creation of new forests and restoration of previously deserted areas. Novel CDR projects, such as DACCS and BECCS, only account for 0.1 per cent of all current CDR deployment, according to a report released this month by the University of Oxford’s Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment. What are the challenges holding back progress? The scaling up and commercialisation of carbon-capture technologies face challenges such as limited current deployment, limited infrastructure for carbon dioxide transport and storage, limited existing policies and regulations, and high and uncertain costs, according to Irena. All these factors need to be urgently addressed, it added. Ambitious action plans by governments can help catalyse the development of carbon capture technologies and keep the 1.5-degree goal in sight. For example, the United Nations’ Race-to-Zero Emissions Breakthroughs initiative calls for public commitments to be made to capture 100 million tonnes per annum (Mtpa) by 2030 using engineered solutions for carbon removal, with at least 75 Mtpa permanently stored in materials or geological formations. For public and private actors, the UN has called for investment decisions to be made by 2026 to set up more than 50 new CCS and CCU networks with a total capacity of 400 Mtpa in at least one heavy industry. How far has China progressed? Last August, Chinese oil giant Sinopec announced the completion of China’s largest carbon capture, utilisation and storage project, which can reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 1 million tonnes per year, equivalent to planting nearly 9 million trees, according to state media. China also accounted for over a third of all CDR patents globally over the last 15 years, according to the University of Oxford report. What is the outlook for CCU and CCS projects globally? As the energy transition quickens, global CCU and CCS projects are on track to pull more than 550 Mtpa of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere by 2030, according to research by Rystad Energy. This capacity growth represents a more than tenfold increase from the current 0.04 Gtpa capacity. Wood Mackenzie estimated that the final investment decisions on some 90 projects will be made this year, taking the potential carbon storage capacity entering development in 2023 to 102 Mpta. “With global carbon dioxide emissions rebounding to record highs post-Covid-19, the demand for CCUS projects is accelerating,” said Yvonne Lam, head of CCUS research at Rystad Energy.