Environment, ESG

It’s this or nine million trees

Sinopec launches China’s first large-scale carbon capture facility


Going carbon neutral by 2050

As a scorching heat wave sweeps across the Northern Hemisphere, China is asking its people to brace for another year of extreme weather conditions.

According to the National Climate Centre, the average temperatures for the first half of the year – roughly 1.2 degree Celsius above normal levels – were the highest in China since 1961. This is expected to bring 50% more rain in some areas than normal, leading to more floods similar to the disastrous one in Hubei last year (see WiC503).

More power outages are also expected as the grid struggles to cope with a surge in air conditioner usage. After Guangdong and Yunnan rationed electricity in May, provinces such as Guizhou and Shanxi are planning to follow suit. The landlocked province of Hunan is also looking to add 12 gigawatts of coal-fired power capacity by 2025 to meet surging electricity demand.

Striking a balance between climate change and economic growth has always been a struggle. But advances in technology relating to what is termed as CCUS, or ‘carbon capture, utilisation and storage’, are starting to take effect.

On July 5, Sinopec announced that it had started building China’s first ‘large-scale’ CCUS facility. This is part of the oil and gas giant’s plan to meet its carbon neutrality targets by 2050, or 10 years ahead of the national schedule (see WiC513).

The landmark project is located in Shandong province and is set to enter production by the end of this year. The facility is designed to cut carbon emissions by one million tonnes per year (the definition of ‘large scale’ is more 800,000 tonnes of savings).

Its backers say this is the equivalent of cumulatively planting nine million trees and removing 600,000 vehicles from the roads. The new project captures carbon dioxide (CO2) discharged from the processes used to produce hydrogen at Sinopec’s Qilu refinery. It works by trapping this gaseous byproduct and reconstituting it into a ‘supercritical’ condition (so that it is dense like a liquid but still has viscosity like a gas) and then by injecting it into 73 oil wells in Sinopec’s nearby Shengli oilfield.

A major goal of the recycling effort is to boost oil production. How so? Because when supercritical CO2 bonds with oil it can bring to the surface as much as 60% of the oil previously classed as unrecoverable (think of the process as scrubbing clean the existing channels). In the case of Sinopec’s new CCUS project, there is the prospect of 11 million tonnes of CO2 being sequestered over the next 15 years by this proces, while also yielding the energy major an additional three million tonnes of oil – making the whole scheme economically viable.

CCUS solutions are widely seen as a practical way to decarbonise the energy and industrial sectors. According to the International Energy Agency, the technology could potentially contribute to a 14% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2050 worldwide. That said, until recently the CCUS industry had made stuttering progress owing to high costs and few monetisation avenues beyond its use in enhancing oil recovery. That’s gradually changing: at a power plant in Datong, for instance, captured CO2 is being used to produce carbon nanotubes, a material for making the electrodes in lithium batteries.

At present there are 14 CCUS facilities in operation in China, mostly of modest size. Eight more ‘large-scale’ projects could be added by the end of 2025, reports the South China Morning Post, noting that the country’s carbon emissions trading scheme (ETS) – in which entities buy and sell the right to emit carbon – could provide both incentives and funding to support CCUS development in the long run.

China’s new ETS will initially include 2,200 companies in the power sector that account for half of the country’s and 14% of the world’s energy-related carbon emissions (see WiC530). Online trading started today and the first deal executed was worth Rmb7.9 million – with 160,000 tonnes of carbon traded at a price of Rmb52.8 per tonne (versus an opening auction price of Rmb48 per tonne).

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