Get Ready for the Carbon Capture Boom: 100 Projects, $56B In A Decade

ccs-process-ieaNo fewer than 100 large-scale carbon capture and storage projects within about a decade, at a cost of some $56 billion — that’s what International Energy Agency chief Nobuo Tanaka said the world needs in order to help address climate change, Reuters reports. And it’s only the beginning of his vision for a massive carbon capture drive. At the Carbon Sequestration Leadership Forum, a conference of energy ministers taking place this week in London, Tanaka called for 850 CCS projects by 2030 and 3,400 by 2050, with a total investment of more than $700 billion over the next three decades. Those are huge numbers for an experimental technology that has yet to be proven at industrial scale.

The next decade represents a “key ‘make or break’ period” for carbon capture and storage technology, according to a 52-page CCS “Technology Roadmap” out today from the International Energy Agency, and it could open significant opportunities for startups. While large established power companies will likely dominate industrial storage projects, startups with novel chemical conversion technologies like GreatPoint Energy, and startups that recycle the carbon, like algae fuel firms like Solazyme, will likely benefit from the intergovernmental agency’s call to arms.

Analyst Mark Bunger, who heads up Lux Research’s Biosciences division, says algae fuel developers in particular could gain new interest from investors and potential buyers who see the international CCS buildout as proof that there’s a market for recycling the carbon emissions from power plants. Many algae fuel developers have built part of their business case around the fact that they are carbon neutral or negative, said Bunger, and some of them may see direct government support as part of the carbon capture push. He added if startups offer a key technology for the CCS process itself, ” there are going to be buyers for that.”

Tanaka’s call today comes on the heels of Energy Secretary Steven Chu calling on forum attendees yesterday to adopt an “aggressive timeline” for rolling out carbon capture and storage technology, which is meant to capture greenhouse gas emissions from facilities such as coal and natural gas power plants, and then bury or “sequester,” the carbon, often underground. Chu urged the London gathering to “make it our goal to advance carbon capture and storage technology to the point where widespread, affordable deployment can begin in 8 to 10 years.”

However, many uncertainties remain for carbon capture, especially when it comes to safely storing the gas long term. As the IEA notes in its report: “The practices in respect to CO2 injection are well-known; however, more experience is needed to improve predictions of CO2 behavior at commercial scale,” and research is needed to locate and characterize suitable storage sites.

ccs-deployment-ieaGraphics courtesy of IEA