Clean energy journalism for a cooler tomorrow

Chart: Carbon capture and removal projects hit a record high in 2022

But most new development is in the early stages, and only a fraction of projects are actually operational at this point.
By Maria Virginia Olano

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Canary Media’s chart of the week translates crucial data about the clean energy transition into a visual format.

Even before the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced plans to push fossil-fueled power plants toward carbon capture and storage (CCS), the technology was experiencing a renaissance. After activity fell off in the early 2010s, interest in carbon capture and removal is back in full force, with a record number of projects in the pipeline as of last year.

But most of the recent uptick in CCS comes from early-stage project development. Actual operational capacity has grown at a much slower pace in recent years: In 2022, there were only 30 facilities operating around the world, with a combined capacity of just over 42 million metric tons, according to the Global CCS Institute, about 31 percent more than five years earlier. That’s because between 2010 and 2017, numerous projects in the pipeline were shelved and never built due to failures and cost overruns.

The recent growth is driven in part by new U.S. policies incentivizing carbon capture and removal, moves significant enough that BloombergNEF estimates the country could host nearly half of all global CCS capacity by 2030. The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, passed in 2021, includes $3.5 billion in funding for direct-air-capture regional hubs, plus additional funding for other carbon-capture projects. And the landmark 2022 Inflation Reduction Act also includes incentives for carbon capture in the form of tax credits of up to $85 per metric ton of captured CO2. Experts say these new incentives will bring the costs down enough in the U.S. to make the tech workable, possibly solving one key barrier.

CCS” is an umbrella term for a set of technologies that captures CO2 emitted by a process and diverts it from entering the atmosphere, although this report also includes nascent carbon-removal technologies like direct air capture, which pull CO2 directly from the environment. Most operational CCS facilities are in fossil-gas processing, but new technologies and applications are currently in the works, including in hydrogen and fertilizer production, among other industrial applications.

As of September 2022, there were 164 commercial CCS projects in the development pipeline, with enough combined capacity to capture nearly 200 million metric tons of carbon dioxide annually. In terms of overall planned capacity, the pipeline in 2022 was more than seven times bigger than at its low point in 2017. The largest increase is in the number of projects in an advanced stage of development, which nearly doubled between 2021 and 2022.

But despite the new wave of interest, the Global CCS Institute and the International Energy Agency have both called current efforts on CCS insufficient. Under a net-zero scenario, global operational CCS capacity would need to scale up to over 1,200 million metric tons by 2030, per IEA projections — a tremendous amount of growth that, even if achieved, would still mitigate only a tiny sliver of global CO2 emissions.

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Maria Virginia Olano is editorial producer at Canary Media.