Online Exclusive: Integrating the climate change challenge with the circular carbon economy

Riyadh — At a gathering of energy leaders in early March, Saudi Arabia called on global cooperation for the rapid scale up of carbon capture utilization and storage (CCUS) to address climate change, and urged the adoption of the “circular carbon economy” concept as an inclusive path for addressing the dual challenge of meeting the world’s growing energy needs while delivering on climate commitments.

Ahead of a ministerial panel, which included ministers from Bahrain, the UAE, Singapore, and the secretary general of OPEC, Saudi Arabia Minister of Energy HRH Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud, reaffirmed the need to move faster on greenhouse gas emission reduction efforts globally.

He said it was vital for the world to undertake CCUS, and appealed for the removal of investment barriers, describing CCUS as a “tried and tested technology,” which can have a positive impact on emissions reduction, and ripe for large-scale deployment.

Saudi Aramco president and CEO Amin Nasser participated in a “Thought Leaders Views on the Climate” panel discussion moderated by CNN, which included the CEOs of ADNOC and Schlumberger, and the deputy secretary general of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Nasser echoed the call for global cooperation saying, “We need to work together and collaborate to find solutions to reduce emissions.”

Numbers speak for Saudi Aramco

Referring to Saudi Aramco’s emissions mitigation efforts, Nasser explained that years of implementing best-in-class technology and reservoir management practices was behind the company’s leadership in low carbon intensity, pointing to efficient management of produced water through inflow control devices as an example.

“You have to look at it from a full cycle basis, otherwise you cannot achieve the results that we have in terms of low methane and CO2 emissions,” he said.

Hydrocarbon research support

Nasser said that currently most government support globally was directed toward renewables, whereas hydrocarbons will remain a part of the energy mix for a long time, therefore, regulators should incentivize investments into CCUS technologies to help reduce emissions from hydrocarbon sources.

Adding that Saudi Aramco has been working with the auto industry to design more efficient engines, and to enable carbon capture on trucks, he said: “We have the responsibility to provide cost-effective energy in a world where nearly 3 billion people do not have access to clean cooking, a third of vaccines in Africa are wasted due to a lack of cooling, and half the people have never traveled on an airplane.” 

Circular carbon economy

In a world needing to decrease its greenhouse gases, there is a dual challenge globally to deliver more energy with fewer emissions.

More energy is needed for the nearly 1 billion people with no electricity access, plus growing energy demand from the world’s increasing population.

The conference emphasized the concept of the circular carbon economy, an approach designed to reduce, reuse, recycle, and remove carbon.

Conference chairman and Saudi Aramco chief technology officer Ahmad O. Al-Khowaiter explained a circular carbon economy model was a sustainable, pragmatic and cost-effective approach to achieve ambitious climate goals.

“We must adopt the principles of a circular carbon economy, emulating the balance of nature in its production, use and reuse of energy and materials,” said Al-Khowaiter. “This is in contrast to the linear economy concept, which results in a lot of waste and requires significantly greater resources.”

Technology is a key enabler to all four elements — reduce, reuse, recycle, and remove — of the circular carbon economy, with CCUS being the most mature and impactful technology.

CCUS $2.5 billion market

The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has advised that the global climate goals will not be achieved without CCUS playing a central role.

Great strides have been made with the cost and efficiency of CCUS, and the technology can also be applied to industries other than oil and gas.

CCUS is a proven technology with a $2.5 billion market, resulting in the capture of 32 million tons of CO2 per year.

More than 2,000 carbon capture plants are needed by 2040 to meet global emission reduction targets.

“The concept of the circular economy offers a new way of approaching climate goals that implicitly values all options and encourages all efforts to mitigate carbon accumulation in the atmosphere,” said Al-Khowaiter, adding that truly closing the emissions loop requires CCUS in addition to other technologies.

“To achieve the desired impact CCUS will need a 40% to 50% annual growth rate until 2030 to get to 1 billion tons of CO2 captured per year,” he said.

“We have done this before, with solar and wind energy. We can do it again, if we work together to create an environment of collaboration, cooperation, and a level playing field for all energy sources.”

Added benefit of hydrogen

Bashir M. Dabbousi, Saudi Aramco’s director of Technology Strategy and Planning, chaired a “Hydrogen and CCUS” panel, discussing how CCUS enables production of low carbon hydrogen at industrial scale.

“Hydrogen is the fuel of today, not the fuel of the future,” said Dabbousi, adding people easily understood that hydrogen is a clean fuel, “because when it burns it only produces water.”

Hydrogen is considered an ideal energy carrier for deep emissions reductions in hard-to-decarbonize sectors such as heavy-duty transport, heating, and industrial applications.

Also participating from Saudi Aramco on the conference stage was EXPEC ARC manager Ashraf M. Al-Tahini on a “Lessons from Large-Scale Demonstration Projects” panel, which was chaired by Environment Protection Department manager Omar Abdulhamid, Technology Strategy and Planning Department CCUS lead Tidjani Niass on a “CCUS Value for the Low Carbon Economy” panel, and Research and Development Center chief technologist for carbon management Aqil Jamal on a “Carbon Removal from Air” panel.

What is carbon capture utilization and storage?

Stopping excessive CO2 becoming a greenhouse gas.

Carbon capture utilization and storage (CCUS) is a collection of processes and technologies that seperate CO2 from other gases, then convert it into useful products such as chemicals, polymers, and materials or store it safely under ground.

The basis of the technology has been in the refining industry for decades — when you use natural gas for energy, the CO2 has been removed from the gas.

CCUS can be used to de-carbonize large parts of the world, and is widely regarded as a primary way to achieve long-term mitigation of greenhouse gases, as well as being a key enabler of the circular carbon economy.

Circular carbon economy

Continual use of resources rather than disposal

The “Circular Carbon Economy” model is a key enabler for achieving deep greenhouse gas emissions reductions in hard to decarbonize sectors such as heavy-duty transport, aviation, and industry.

Inspired by how our planet’s circle of life works — nature’s balanced and ongoing system of taking and giving back to the Earth — the circular carbon economy approach moves away from a linear economic model where materials are used then disposed, to a more circular model through the reduction, reuse, recycling, and removal of carbon dioxide, and other greenhouse gas emissions.

  • Reduce - amount of carbon entering the system
  • Reuse - utilizing CO2 in gaseous form
  • Recycle - putting CO2 in chemicals and materials
  • Remove - storing CO2 permanently underground, including nature based solutions

Greenhouse gases

The primary greenhouse gases in the Earth’s atmosphere are water vapor (H2O), carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), and ozone (O3).

What is CO2?

CO2 is a colorless gas essential for life, occurring naturally, or produced through combustion processes. All humans and animals exhale CO2 when they breathe, and plants absorb it during a process called photosynthesis.

Why is CO2 a problem?

Since the start of industrialization, CO2, along with CH4 and N2O, have increasingly entered the planet’s atmosphere from human activities, including industry, electricity production, transportation, and agriculture.

CO and CO2 difference

CO2 has one carbon atom and two oxygen atoms of oxygen, while CO has one carbon and one oxygen atom.

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