Decarbonizing heavy industries through carbon capture & utilization
CO₂ removal from the atmosphere at industrial scale, or like everyone likes to say TONS of it, is a major challenge that needs to be addressed now, urgently. While technology solutions for capturing carbon have been known for quite some time, commercially deployment & scaling has been a massive challenge because of cost, logistics and sometimes acceptance. Often the challenge was seen as carbon capture in one step and then storage or sequestration of carbon as a second step. In many cases, there was the option of utilization of the captured carbon as an alternative to sequestration.
According to the US EPA, 21% of total CO2 emissions come from industries and this does not include the emissions from power plants producing electricity for those industries. Heavy industries account for about 70% of the industry sector emissions. According to the IEA, chemicals, steel and cement sectors account for about 6 Gt CO2e per year between the three sectors. And get this, less than 1% of industrial emissions are captured today. However investing in Rushnu, we have a startup that is combining the capture and utilization of the captured carbon from heavy industries in one continuous flow, that changes the whole economics of carbon capture from a cost center to a profit center. At scale, we believe that Rushnu can remove large quantities of carbon and make good margins on the chemicals they will produce. This technology can be a true game changer for the heavy industry sector and the steel industry in particular.
Over the past 30 years, many industry experts predicted carbon capture, utilization, and storage (CCUS) technologies would be required to decarbonize industries such as energy, chemicals, cement, and steel production, yet the CCUS industry has struggled to find its footing. Today, however, the nationally determined contributions (NDC) of governments and corresponding industry commitments, technological innovations, and demand for green consumer products have made scaling CCUS not only possible but necessary. The 1987 Montreal Protocol in dealing with the ozone layer is an excellent example of 197 countries working together, making it one of the most successful international environmental agreements in history. CO2 reduction & removal will require similar action.
According to McKinsey analysis, CCUS uptake needs to grow 120 times by 2050 for countries to achieve their net-zero commitments, reaching at least 4.2 gigatons per annum (GTPA) of CO₂ captured, with some estimates ranging from 6.0 to 10.0 GTPA. This could lead to CCUS decarbonizing 45 percent of remaining emissions in the industry sector. Most CCUS business cases assume captured CO₂ will be transported to a local site and sequestered, meaning the CCUS industry is effectively a waste-disposal business. This is an expensive process that involves complex infrastructure and ongoing measuring, monitoring, and management. The utilization of CO₂ and its sale as a product offer a revenue source to offset the cost of capture. Although sequestration will be part of the equation when and if CCUS scales, incumbent players and entrepreneurial start-ups alike are increasingly seeking productive uses of CO₂.
One of the primary uses of CO₂ today is enhanced oil recovery, for which the CO₂ is employed as a working fluid to extract additional oil from reservoirs while storing some CO₂ underground. Other uses are also gaining momentum. For example, there are several commercial offerings of CO₂-based polymers, particularly polyurethane foams and polycarbonates, although the overall volume of polymers produced is small compared with the required volumes of CO₂. Cement and aggregates could potentially permanently store a high volume of CO₂ by forming a reaction between the CO₂ and minerals in the mix of cement and aggregates, and many start-ups have demonstrations in the works to gain the confidence of a conservative construction industry. Despite these historical challenges, there is good reason to believe that the current push will be different. The major driver for change is when carbon is valued as a feedstock for chemicals. This can change the economics of the CCU business and help address some of the challenges outlined earlier.
Rushnu’s technology can be applied to carbon streams with 15 -80% CO₂. Rushnu has modeled their process based on thermodynamic data available for the individual processes. In traditional post-combustion carbon capture (PCC), CO₂ is separated from the flue gas, or the gases one sees coming out of a smokestack. Post-combustion CO₂ capture (PCC) is the most commercially available carbon capture technology. Currently, >96% of industrial CO₂ is captured through PCC processes because of their industrial scale viability. PCC is a more advanced and cost-competitive option for dramatically cutting industrial CO₂ emission. Also, post-combustion CO₂ capture processes can retrofit to existing facilities and are more cost-effective than alternative technologies that require building new capacity with alternative technologies.
Stabilizing and reducing CO₂ levels in the atmosphere is the goal and this needs decarbonization of current operations and carbon dioxide removal from the atmosphere. As per McKinsey in the chart above, with further acceleration, annual investments in CCUS will go from $26 Billion in 2021 to $150 Billion beyond 2035. They are expected to peak around 2045 over $150 Billion a year and then decline because of stabilizing growth rates for cement and increasing use of green hydrogen for iron and steel. According to McKinsey research, more than 25,000 global industrial CO₂ emitters across 11 industrial sectors could be decarbonized through CCUS. These facilities are distributed all over the world, with China, Europe, India, and the United States accounting for more than 60 percent of industrial-point-source emissions. The highly distributed nature of emissions means that these challenges will be solved not through the formation of a small number of decarbonization hubs but by deploying capital at scale across a large number of projects around the world.
The heavy industries targeted by Rushnu address about 10 GTCO2 per year. CCUS at that magnitude corresponds to an annual market of $1 Trillion at $100 per ton of carbon. Rushnu’s process is capable of utilizing CO2 and salt mix and converting them to essential chemicals with applications across industrial sectors that are among the largest emitters of CO2, that includes the production of plastics, textiles, pesticides, pharmaceuticals, and other chemicals. For instance, it plays a significant role in a key polymer production, accounting for 50% of the raw material used in the process. The global market size for this was valued at over USD 40 billion in 2020. Another notable application is in the pickling process of steel manufacturing, where large steel mills can consume several thousand gallons per day. Their other focus is in minerals that is used in various industries such as plastics, paints and coatings, adhesives and sealants, and building and construction. Additionally, the construction industry relies on this mineral as a building material and as an ingredient in cement, mortar, and stucco. The market size for this product was USD 32.5 billion in 2020 and is projected to reach USD 44.6 billion by 2028.
Apart from forests and farms that have been used for many years and may be seeing a declining capacity, post combustion capture (PCC) is the most commercially available carbon capture technology. Currently, >96% of industrial CO₂ is captured through PCC processes because of their industrial scale viability. Rushnu’s post-combustion capture technology offers an energy-efficient capture and utilization of CO2 from point sources in one step, thereby turning decarbonization into a profit center. This results in a scalable, cost/energy-competitive, and industrially viable solution that can capture CO2 from diluted flue gas streams. Additionally, Rushnu’s technology produces value-added chemicals, generating profit for the customer instead of adding to their operating costs.
So can this team execute it successfully? Its still early days for this team, however under the leadership of Dr. Matin, we believe they will.
Dr. Matin Hanifzadeh — Founder and CEO. PhD in Chemical Engineering from University of Toledo with 10+ years of multidisciplinary green-tech commercialization. Process Development leadership experience at Cemvita Factory supporting the transition from R&D to commercialization phase of the bio-based carbon transformation platform.