Carbon Capture, Utilization, and Storage: Game-Changing Technology for Africa
By NJ Ayuk*
It would be difficult to exaggerate the value that carbon capture, utilization, and storage (CCUS) technology offers Africa’s oil and gas industry.
With oil and gas-producing countries facing tremendous pressure to transition to green energy sources and leave their petroleum assets in the ground, CCUS can act as a lifeline for their energy industries. The technology offers African states a way to continue attracting international oil companies (IOCs) and to prosper from their vast hydrocarbon wealth while simultaneously meeting global emissions-reduction goals and setting an example for responsible fossil fuel extraction and use.
The African Energy Chamber (AEC) discussed this topic in-depth last July when we, in collaboration with the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative (OGCI), hosted a webinar on CCUS technology and the key role it will fulfill for Africa’s oil and gas industry in the years to come. We will make CCUS a key point at African Energy Week and our advocacy work with African governments and also the energy industry. We should not shy away from taking the lead on this.
During the webinar, Jean-Patrice Bellier, an associate partner in the energy and ESG practices at consulting company Bain & Company, spoke bluntly about the need for African CCUS adoption as soon as possible.
“Limiting the global temperature rise in line with the Paris agreement is impossible without carbon removal, forcing countries and firms to consider CCUS,” Bellier said.
But CCUS is not a burden, it’s an opportunity. As AEC advisory board member Rolake Akinkugbe pointed out, CCUS is a significant draw for investors.
“You need to incentivize companies to be willing to invest, so you need to get the public companies on your side,” said Akinkugbe-Filani, who also is the chief commercial officer at real estate company Mixtra Africa. “Before large-scale oil and gas projects reach final investment decisions, they need to include CCUS and I see huge opportunities in this regard.”
Absolutely. And I believe CCUS is within our reach in Africa. Yes, establishing CCUS facilities or retrofitting the technology to existing operations across the continent will require cross-border, intergovernmental cooperation and substantial financial support, but the rewards from these admittedly complicated endeavors will prove invaluable.
Wide Applications, Huge Benefits
CCUS technology manages to capture the carbon dioxide produced from burning fossil fuels or as a byproduct of the industrial manufacturing processes behind products such as cement and steel. Pipelines or ships then transport the compressed carbon dioxide for storage within deep underground rock formations like saline aquifers or depleted oil and gas reservoirs.
The CCUS process prevents carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere and contributing to climate change. The same forces that hold oil and gas within the Earth’s crust for millions of years can trap the captured carbon permanently, or other industries can make use of it in the production of synthetic hydrocarbon fuels, alcohol, or long-lasting plastics and adhesives.
The benefits of CCUS implementation are cyclical in nature as well. For the oil industry, injecting captured carbon into oil reservoirs pressurizes the remaining oil and can help to boost production. Captured carbon can also aid in stimulating strategic, large-scale algae growth, which can then, in turn, absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere at a faster rate than any other natural biomass. Renewable resources can also power the electrical process employed to scrub the carbon dioxide at its source.
Captured carbon may even see future use in the production of graphene — the promising new nanomaterial that boasts a strength 100 times that of steel and has the potential to initiate massive innovation in fields as varied and wide-ranging as electronics, architecture, textiles, solar power, water filtration, and even mosquito defense.
A Sustainable Future for Africa
Incorporating CCUS technology into the game plan for the future of Africa’s oil and gas industry offers multi-faceted benefits. While the expansion of hydrocarbon operations in Africa faces much opposition from environmental activists and Western powers, CCUS provides an alternate path allowing African oil and gas production to continue. CCUS integration with natural gas-fueled power generation can also bolster our efforts to eradicate energy poverty and foster socioeconomic growth across the continent — and do it sustainably.
As I’ve said more than once, there is no doubt that the world will see an eventual shift from fossil fuels to renewable resources. The African Energy Chamber simply fights to ensure that this transition will be just. We agree that a zero-carbon future is a sensible end goal, but not before Africa has had its chance to profit from its energy resources just as other continents have prospered from theirs.
Even U.S. President Joe Biden of the United States — whose campaign platform included famously bold promises of an end to all fossil fuel use — conceded in his recent State of the Union address that the world will still “need oil for at least another decade… and beyond that.”
That certainly is true for Africa. The continent’s surging population growth, paired with the alarming spread of energy poverty, should be a call to action for the international energy industry. African energy poverty has increased by 25 million people since its pre-COVID-19 level. We must address this disparity now by working to develop our energy sector, expand employment opportunities, and meet the energy needs of the African people. CCUS implementation will allow Africa to do just that.
CCUS projects like the kinds underway in South Africa (which will begin capturing carbon dioxide from coal-fired power plants this year) and the project in Egypt’s Meleiha Field, supported by the Italian energy company Eni, are promising beginnings to what we hope will evolve into an extensive network of CCUS facilities across Africa.
The key to keeping this positive momentum going lies in proactive, collaborative efforts like those taken up by the International Energy Agency (IEA) and the government of Nigeria to prepare for CCUS projects and incentivize investment in them.
We are confident that CCUS integration will be vital to attracting foreign investors concerned with meeting sustainability goals and crucial to reversing the negative impacts brought about by climate change. For Africa’s future, we should make every effort to distribute this groundbreaking technology across our continent.
*NJ Ayuk is Chairman, African Energy Chamber