There is a growing realisation that a net zero carbon economy won’t be achieved without deep decarbonisation of the power and industry sectors. During the recently concluded COP26 (26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties), India has pledged to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2070. The coal-reliant power sector, including hard-to-abate industry subsectors such as iron and steel, cement, fertilisers and petroleum refining, is highly emission intensive. India’s energy transition is primarily being driven through its renewable energy expansion programme. However, to achieve net zero carbon economy and related green energy transition targets, primarily for the industry segment, there is a need to focus on alternative technological options such as carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS).
For quite some time there has been a marginal interest in the domestic deployment of CCUS technology in India because of the concerns about the public’s reaction to underground carbon dioxide storage, poor geological carbon dioxide storage data, higher cost and technical uncertainties associated with carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies. Therefore, CCUS technology is relatively in a budding stage in the country. Due to increased focus on climate change aspects, there is certainly a mounting interest in the CCUS domain. Targeted research and development (R&D) initiatives are being undertaken to develop a better understanding and promote CCUS in the country. The Department of Science and Technology (DST), Government of India, took the lead, and in 2007, established the Indian Carbon Dioxide Sequestration Applied Research network. The National Action Plan on Climate Change, unveiled in 2008, also talked about CCS for reducing emissions from coal-fired power plants. The DST, in collaboration with the Department of Biotechnology, jointly launched “IC3 – the Carbon Capture Innovation Challenge”, in July 2018, for undertaking joint R&D with member countries of the Mission Innovation to identify and prioritise breakthrough technologies in the field of carbon dioxide capture, separation, storage and value addition. Under this initiative, 22 research, development and demonstration (RD&D) projects addressing various research areas related to CCUS have been recommended for support.
Under the Accelerating CCS Technologies (ACT) Initiative, for which India has committed 1 million euros to support Indian participants, the DST has also established a national programme on carbon dioxide storage research and intends to support CCUS RD&D projects. Currently, 13 countries, regions and provinces are working together in ACT to fund R&D that can lead to the development of safe and cost-effective CCUS technology.
The Government of India has also approved a policy framework to “Promote and Incentivise Enhanced Recovery Methods for Oil and Gas” to provide various fiscal incentives such as reduction in oil industry development cess and reduced royalties for oil and gas production through enhanced recovery. Leading academic institutions are also focusing on various facets of CCUS. The Institute of Reservoir Studies is carrying out carbon dioxide capture and enhanced oil recovery field studies in Gujarat. Similarly, the National Geological Research Institute, Hyderabad is testing the feasibility of storing carbon dioxide in basalt formations.
CCUS has also started gaining momentum across various industrial subsectors in the country. Some of the leading Indian industries that have initiated the process of setting up CCUS facilities are National Aluminium Company Limited (NALCO), the Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC), Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited and Andhra Pradesh Power Generation Corporation Limited. Reliance Industries Limited has also announced that it is developing CCS technology as part of its net-zero commitment. In September 2020, an “Industry Charter” for near-zero emissions by 2050 was agreed to by six Indian companies. The pledged companies will explore different decarbonisation measures, including carbon sequestration. The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), which has been at the forefront of assessing future pathways for India’s energy and industry transition, will serve as the secretariat of this industry coalition.
The Indian cement and steel industry sub-sectors are now proactively pursuing CCUS as part of their emission reduction goals. Dalmia Cement (Bharat) Limited has committed to becoming carbon negative by 2040 and carbon capture and utilisation (CCU) is among the options that will be deployed to meet this target. The company has announced building, in collaboration with Carbon Clean Solutions Limited (CCSL) UK, a large-scale 500,000 tonne per annum carbon capture facility at its cement plant in Tamil Nadu. India’s leading steel manufacturer, Tata Steel commissioned a 5 tonne per day (tpa) carbon capture plant at its Jamshedpur Works in September 2021, making it the country’s first steel company to adopt a carbon capture technology that will extract carbon dioxide directly from the blast furnace gas. The leading Indian oil and gas sector players, ONGC and Indian Oil Corporation Limited (IOCL) have also joined hands to implement CCUS projects in India. ONGC plans to establish a pilot plant in Gujarat to capture carbon dioxide from IOCL’s Koyali refinery. The captured carbon dioxide would be injected into a depleted onshore crude oil reservoir at the Gandhar field, where it would be recompressed and injected for enhanced recovery of crude oil.
The Indian chemical and fertiliser sector is also focusing on CCUS technologies. In 2016, Tuticorin Alkali Chemicals and Fertilisers Limited, Tamil Nadu, in partnership with CCSL, UK, initiated the first unsubsidised industrial-scale plant for CCU. The patented carbon stripping technology will lock up 60,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide per year from its own coal-powered boiler and utilise it to make soda ash, a base chemical used in glass manufacturing, paper production and detergents.
The energy conglomerate NTPC Limited is also engaged in various CCU projects. NETRA, the R&D wing of NTPC, is setting up a carbon dioxide to methanol demonstration plant at NTPC Vindhyachal, India. CCSL, along with Green Power International Private Limited, has been selected to design and build a carbon capture plant with a 20 tpa capacity at this demonstration plant. NALCO, Angul, Odisha has successfully commissioned a pilot-cum-demonstration carbon dioxide sequestration plant in its captive power plant.
To move ahead in fully utilising the potential of CCUS, it is vital to undertake R&D in this domain. Policymakers as well as industry leaders are trying to better understand the technology’s techno-economic feasibility and scalability. It is high time we carried out cluster-wise studies to identify the potential of CCU. New industrial zones may be planned in a way to maximise the CCU potential. Large industrial units should identify the potential sites for utilising captured carbon. The local administration as well as the respective industry associations can play an active role in this regard. However, commercial-scale penetration of CCS seems to be a challenging proposition for India. At present, the comprehensive geological assessment for carbon dioxide storage potential has not been studied. Precise information about the geo-sequestration potential and appropriate sites will play an important role in building confidence among stakeholders of CCS. Being a costly technological option, the uptake of CCS will require putting in place an enabling policy environment and appropriate financial incentives. It is also important to appropriately address the public concerns regarding groundwater contamination and possibilities of carbon dioxide leakage. To successfully address the challenges faced by CCUS in the country, there is a need to develop an ecosystem that focuses on key aspects of R&D, policy and finance.