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Partner profile: ‘Industrial symbiosis’ will open up promising regions to CCUS

By Virginia Marsh

For CIMPOR, Portugal’s biggest producer of cement, the motivation for its involvement in STRATEGY CCUS is crystal clear: it firmly believes that carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS) will play a critical role in helping its sector reduce greenhouse gas emissions while addressing Europe’s Green Deal objectives.

“The climate challenge will involve the adoption of a large portfolio of technologies and we will pursue the reduction of our carbon footprint by means of those already existing. However, for an industry like ours with almost 70% of unavoidable carbon dioxide (CO2) process-related emissions, CCUS is a required technology,” says Paulo Rocha, CIMPOR’s Innovation & Sustainability Director.

Further development of utilisation and storage solutions is particularly important, he notes.

“CO2 capture projects are meaningless if we cannot find solutions for conversion of CO2 into value-added products, such as fuels and chemicals, or, for the CO2 we cannot use, for its offshore or onshore storage.”

CIMPOR is one of 17 partners in STRATEGY CCUS, a three-year EU-funded project to support low-carbon energy and industry in southern and eastern Europe by accelerating CCUS technology.

In 2017, the International Energy Agency warned that CCUS technologies were not developing fast enough to meet the Paris Agreement’s emissions reduction targets. STRATEGY CCUS aims to meet this challenge by producing local development plans and business models in eight regions identified as promising for CCUS.

The project will also define CO2 transport corridors between local CCUS clusters of industry, which connect either to local CO2 users or reservoirs, or even with North Sea CCUS infrastructure. This will help to reduce costs and contribute to a Europe-wide infrastructure. It is also looking into issues around the acceptance of CCUS.

“This is an endeavour that goes well beyond a single company or a single sector’s initiative. It requires looking at synergies between different industrial sectors and the development, pooling and sharing of important infrastructures. We have to bring into this discussion many stakeholders, governments and society to identify and fund the required investments,” says Mr Rocha.

The involvement of big industrial companies, such as CIMPOR, is pivotal: CCUS can reduce the release of CO2 from large emission sources into the atmosphere effectively because it is designed to work at scale. Cement, a key component of concrete, one of the world’s most widely used materials, contributes almost 7% of global CO2 emissions, according to a report by Chatham House, the UK think tank.

Since 1990, CIMPOR has reduced its specific net CO2 emissions per tonne of cementitious product by almost 18% and aims to reach more than 30% by 2030, by deploying at a larger scale already existing technologies. It is from 2030 onwards that it expects CCUS to play its part and allow radical reductions higher than 80%. It hopes to introduce oxy-fuel or post-combustion technologies in some of its rotary kilns to enable CCUS to take place. It is also looking to integrate the CO2 captured in Power-to-Gas-to-Power/Energy Storage networks should these technologies be deployed in the future.

“For this approach to be possible, the end result must be a technically and economically viable system for our industry and, crucially, it must be safe for the storage, transport and use of CO2,” says Mr Rocha. “This kind of evaluation can be supported by STRATEGY CCUS.”

He adds: “It is clear the European gas pipeline network has the potential to offer part of the solution but that has to be studied in more detail. Several studies have examined the feasibility of using it as a means of storage and transport of CO2, H2 and O2.”

Within STRATEGY CCUS, CIMPOR is involved in four of the six work packages. It is mapping the technical potential of promising start-up areas in Portugal (WP2); furthering social acceptance through stakeholder mapping and engagement (WP3); helping develop methods of mapping environmental and economic drivers (WP4); and preparing detailed plans for CCUS in Portugal, including technical and economic evaluation and at a local scale (WP5).

The project complements CIMPOR’s other CCUS initiatives and involvement in European funded projects. It is an active member of the European Cement Association (CEMBUREAU), whose low carbon roadmap (2013/2018) committed its members to globally reducing emissions by 32% by 2050 through existing technologies and by up to 80% if technologies, such as CCUS, can be commercialised. It envisaged more than half of cement plants across the EU being equipped with CCS technology by 2050. This roadmap is being updated in light of December’s European Green Deal, as is CIMPOR’s own 2020-2050 carbon neutrality masterplan, says Mr Rocha.

Closer to home, CIMPOR is a founder member of C5Lab, a new laboratory for the Portuguese cement sector, which brings together industry members and scientists. Carbon capture and use is one of its key research areas.  

“We can bring to STRATEGY CCUS our expertise and data from other projects and also bring other players from the cement industry with their own expertise to make the case for CCUS in our industry,” says Mr Rocha.

“We also want to build a bridge with sectors with complementary knowledge and solutions and learn by sharing. It is important to look for industrial symbioses for the take-off of these rather ‘unknown’ technologies.”

STRATEGY CCUS is an important stepping stone to achieving this vision. Other similar projects for mapping energy and industrial infrastructure in support of climate-neutral industry should follow in the future.

“We hope this project will foster the development of new local R&D projects for identification and geological characterisation of storage sites, and of clusters for CO2 conversion in these promising start-up regions,” he says. “We hope to open the way in these regions for CO2 storage pilots and the industrial scaling-up of new uses for captured CO2.”

Photos: Left, Paulo Rocha (no credit); right, Ricardo Gomez Angel on Unsplash