India’s clean energy transition is largely driven by renewable capacity expansion. While the large capacity addition of renewables is a welcome development, it may not be sufficient to help further the energy transition agenda in India. Given the rapidly rising energy demand and infirmity of renewable power, India’s power sector still relies heavily on its coal assets. Further, the industrial processes of hard-to-abate sectors such as cement, iron and steel, chemicals and fertilisers, and petroleum refining result in heavy emissions. Thus, there is a need for more supportive measures to curb emissions, especially since India is the third largest emitter of carbon dioxide in the world, just behind China and the US. One of the solutions in this regard is carbon capture technology, which can help the country move forward on the clean energy path.
Carbon capture and geological sequestration is the process of capturing waste carbon dioxide from large point sources and transporting it to a storage site, which is typically an underground geological formation. Carbon sequestration projects are expensive and, therefore, are not implemented in isolation in India. The high cost of storage, transportation and deployment is responsible for the slow uptake of carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS) across the world, including India.
Current scenario and scope
Although carbon capture technology is nascent in the Indian context with only a few implemented small-scale projects, there is an emerging interest around the technology. One of the proposed applications of CCUS or carbon capture storage (CCS) is coal-based power plants. However, there are more viable solutions available for transitioning from coal.
As per a recent study on coal-based carbon capture storage undertaken by the Center for Sustainability, Policy and Technology Management and Germany-based Wuppertal Institute, the levellised cost assessment deemed that coal-CCS is too expensive as significant cost reductions are needed to compete in the Indian power market. The study further drew attention to the enormous volume of water resources consumed by coal-CCS in comparison to conventional coal plants and renewables. While CCS technologies can significantly reduce emissions from conventional coal-based power plants by up to 74 per cent, renewables hold an advantage in terms of cost and resource footprint.
Although not a feasible option for coal-based plants in the near future, there are more conducive sectors for carbon capture technology to be put in use. In 2021, the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) submitted the Third Biennial Update Report to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which included a segment on “carbon capture, storage/utilisation”. As per the MoEFCC’s report, some industries that have initiated the process of setting up CCS facilities include the National Aluminium Company, ONGC, Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited and the Andhra Pradesh Power Generation Corporation. Further, carbon capture initiatives are being taken in key industrial sectors such as chemicals and refineries, cement and steel.
There is significant scope for carbon capture technologies in the chemicals and refinery industries. In fact, this is where the technology was first deployed in India. Since October 2016, Carbon Clean Solutions Limited (CCSL) in partnership with Tuticorin Alkali Chemicals and Fertilisers Limited has been operating India’s first industrial-scale carbon capture and utilisation (CCU) plant. At this plant, the captured carbon dioxide is converted into soda ash (sodium carbonate), which is an ingredient used in household products, glass manufacturing and paper production. NTPC Limited, a power utility, is also engaged in various CCU projects. Recently, NTPC selected renewable energy developers Green Power International and CCSL to design and build a carbon capture plant with a capacity to capture 20 tonnes of carbon dioxide daily at the carbon dioxide-to-methanol demonstration plant of NTPC Vindhyachal, which is being set up by NETRA, the R&D wing of NTPC. The carbon capture solution will be installed in the flue gas stack to capture the emissions from the coal-fired boiler. Through ongoing feasibility studies, IOCL is evaluating the implementation of carbon capture technology at the Koyali refinery.
The cement industry, contributing to nearly 8 per cent of global emissions, is one of the sectors where emissions are hardest to abate. The emissions are produced by the calcination of limestone, which is required to produce cement, a crucial building material. It is important to curb the emissions at source. Carbon capture could prove to be a viable solution in this context. One of the major developments in the space include Dalmia Cement’s announcement in 2019. The cement manufacturer announced the setting up of a large-scale unit with a capacity of 500,000 tonnes per year of carbon capture in order to become carbon-neutral by 2040. The facility will be installed at one of its plants in Tamil Nadu in collaboration with the UK-based CCSL. Dalmia Cement and CCSL plan to explore multiple utilisation streams for the captured carbon, including direct sale for use in other industries, and manufacture of chemicals.
India is globally the second largest steel maker, contributing 6 per cent to the overall global steel output. This can be equated to a commensurate level of emissions. The Indian steel industry has a dominance of blast furnaces. The best way to decarbonise existing steel plants is to use CCUS on the blast furnace, making it essential to adopt carbon capture technologies for substantially reducing emissions.
However, the commercial viability of this technology is still far off and will require significant modifications in the existing infrastructure. Tata Steel Limited and the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) signed an MoU in 2020 to accelerate the development and deployment of CCUS technologies in the steel industry. CSIR has also initiated steps to set up a national facility on CCUS at the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute, Nagpur, with Tata Steel as a founder partner. In September 2021, Tata Steel commissioned a 5 tonne per day carbon capture plant at its Jamshedpur Works.
Research and development
In India, the Department of Science and Technology (DST) under the Ministry of Science and Technology, has been working towards creating a facilitative environment for CCUS through R&D as well as capacity building. This is expected to aid the development of technologies and methodologies that address issues related to high capital costs, safety, logistics and high auxiliary power consumption. To this end, DST initiated a “National Programme on CO2 Sequestration Research”. In addition, it has been involved in two other notable initiatives in this area – the Mission Innovation Challenge on CCUS and Accelerating CCS Technologies (ACT).
The Mission Innovation carbon capture challenge aims to achieve near-zero carbon dioxide emissions from power plants and carbon-intensive industries. DST, in collaboration with the Department of Biotechnology (DBT), jointly launched IC3 – the Carbon Capture Innovation Challenge, in July 2018 for undertaking joint R&D with member countries of Mission Innovation to identify and prioritise breakthrough technologies in the field of carbon dioxide capture, separation, storage and value addition. Under this initiative, 20 proposals have been recommended for support, 17 from DST and three from DBT.
DST has participated in the multilateral ACT initiative aimed at accelerating and maturing CCUS technology through transnational funding of projects. Till date, there have been three ACT calls for proposals. Following the success of ACT’s first and second calls, DST jointly launched the ACT-3 Call (in 2020) along with other partners – the Canadian province of Alberta, Denmark, Italy and Europe’s Nordic Countries via Nordic Energy Research, joining forces with France, Germany, Greece, Norway, Romania, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Turkey, the UK, and the US. Under ACT’s third call, India was allocated a total funding of Euro 1 million for four projects, each being restricted to Euro 0.25 million. This funding will be divided into two equal parts to support CCU and CCS project proposals.
Moving ahead, there is a need for innovation in CCUS in order to make it technically feasible, robust, scalable, safe and cost-effective. The uptake of carbon capture would require more R&D support, a supportive policy framework as well as economic incentives. There are also a variety of uses of captured carbon, which can be explored to improve its viability. Some of its uses are carbon mineralisation, algae cultivation, conversion of carbon dioxide into methanol and ethanol, and urea yield boosting. There is also a need to identify the geological storage potential across the country and map the viable carbon dioxide storage spaces. It will be beneficial to plan future facilities in proximity to good storage resources. Going forward, the country needs to develop a long-term strategy to reap the benefits of CCU, storage and and become a green economy.
By Meghaa Gangahar