Carbon capture projects: growth trends towards 2030

Carbon capture is set to play a key role in decarbonizing industrial sites across the world. But how far have we gotten and where are we headed? To understand the pace and scale of growth in different segments and regions, you’ll have to stay on top of carbon capture project development. 

With an overwhelming and growing amount of data available, staying on top is easier said than done. This data-driven overview presents the state of carbon capture in spring of 2024. We base our overview on data available in CaptureMap, and have deliberately added as little interpretation as possible on top of the data to stay close to the facts. We prefer to leave the interpretation to you. 

This article is the third and last of a three-part blog series, where we will tackle the following topics: 

  1. New projects – read here
  2. Capture capacity across segments – read here
  3. Projects timeline, transport and storage – this article. 

PS: We recommend reading the appendix to be clear on what we mean when we refer to different terms.

Many projects should start operations towards 2030, but not all may get that far

The two figures below show the cumulative build of capture projects and their capture capacity over time. We base this on the announced startup year of the capture project as well as their current engineering status – both taken from the most recent information sources we have on each site, up to spring 2024. The figure looks easy to read, but it’s actually quite dense the closer you look, so let’s break it down a little:

  • For every given year, we sum up all the capture projects that have an announced start-up year less than or equal to that given year. That means for the 2024 column, all projects with an announced start-up year of 2024 or before will be included – roughly 200 in total. 
  • What’s more, we also categorize them into their current engineering status, and by current we mean based on any announced project updates, up to the spring of 2024. Returning to 2024 as an example, nearly 100 projects are currently in operation, 20 currently in EPC, and 80 currently in feasibility.

Now, in an ideal world, based on their announced timeline, all the projects shown in 2024 should be in operation by the end of 2024. But alas, this is not an ideal world. What gives? Simply that projects get delayed or canceled. 

About half of the capture projects in CaptureMap have announced their target year for the start of capture operations. Of those, almost all of them target operation before or by 2030, with a gradual build-up over the years. This means that if all these projects mature into operations and stay on track in terms of timeline, there will be more than 450 capture plants operating in 2030. Note that this figure does not take into account the projects that have not disclosed an expected year of operation. 

Inflated or conservative forecast? Good question. On the one hand, this is an inflated perspective because far from all projects in feasibility will actually make it into operation. Furthermore, it’s not uncommon that projects get delayed. On the other hand, it’s also a conservative perspective given there are many projects without announced timelines, and that therefore aren’t included in the figure. What’s more, there are hopefully many projects leading up to 2030 that are not yet announced. In sum, it’s hard to tell how these factors balance out. Let’s have this conversation again in 2030.  

Carbon capture projects pipeline
Note: the overview above is based only on capture plants with available data on expected startup year. This represents data for nearly 500 capture projects out of more than 1000 projects in CaptureMap. 

About ⅔ of all the projects with an announced target year of operation also disclose expected capture capacity. That’s about 320 capture projects out of more than a 1000 in our database. With this data we can distribute capacity build-out with time. If all 320 projects are realized based on their announced timeline, the cumulative capture capacity in place in 2030 could reach 266 million tonnes CO2. This figure is lower than what other organizations report, but we also think it is a more representative and verifiable figure. The reason for that is that we base our analysis on publicly available data only, and that we only include projects that are tied to a specific facility, not clusters/hubs nor storage capacities.

Carbon capture projects pipeline
Note: the overview above is based only on capture plants with available data on expected startup year and capture capacity. This represents data for around 320 capture projects out of more than 1000 projects in CaptureMap. 

Most projects plan on transporting the CO2 through pipeline

Once captured, what will happen to the CO2? For that, we get into the topic of CO2 transport. The figures below give an overview of transport mode across different regions, both in terms of number of projects as well as capture capacity. You’ll notice that in many cases, the main transport mode is not disclosed. In fact, roughly ⅔ of all the capture projects don’t disclose transport mode. In early phases, many projects don’t actually know because it’s part of the studies that they’re doing. And it’s also less often mentioned when projects make public announcements. 

Pipeline is the most common transport solution for capture projects disclosing that information, in particular in the USA where virtually all projects rely on pipeline transport. Safe to say that many of the projects that haven’t disclosed transport will still use pipelines. In Europe, shipping will also play an important role for transporting the CO2 to storage sites (often in the North Sea), sometimes in combination with pipeline onshore. That makes it much more difficult to hypothesize about which transport mode (or modes) they will employ. 

Multimodal transport is key for regions like Europe, where storage projects are to be located across land and sea. A few projects consider using rail and/or road for some of the transportation steps, and these may have a role in a transition phase, until more established, high capacity, transport networks are implemented. An example of such transport is the Poland – EU CCS interconnector project, which plans on implementing a combination of roads, railways, pipelines and ships.

Transport mode for captured CO2
Transport mode for captured CO2
Note: the figure above is only based on capture projects with available data on capture capacities, representing about half of the capture projects in CaptureMap.

Most CO2 is expected to go to geological storage

Once transported, what’s next? The fate of the captured CO2 is also of great interest. Although significant volumes of CO2 have historically been used for Enhanced Oil Recovery in North America, Asia-Pacific and Middle-East, geological storage is the planned main fate for the captured CO2 for projects that disclose that information. Utilization is also an up and coming topic, in particular in Europe where CO2 is and will be used for diverse purposes: as enrichment gas in greenhouses, green chemicals with biogenic CO2 such as e-fuels, and use in the food industry.

An aspect that caught us by surprise are the hybrid projects that envision multi-modal fates of their CO2, for example some to geological storage and some to utilization. Rarely will the capture projects announce  the split in capture capacity between fates of CO2, hence we created the grouped categories. It could also be that this split will vary over time, perhaps starting off with utilization of the CO2 while awaiting options for transport infrastructure to be developed. 

It’s interesting that there is far more information published on the CO2 fate, than how it will actually get there. More concretely, we globally have 205 mtpa of capture capacity where the transport mode is undisclosed, versus only 47 mtpa where the fate of the CO2 is undisclosed. Is that because everyone thinks pipelines are a no-brainer in North America, and hence don’t even mention it? We leave it to you to come up with your own theories. 

Fate of CO2 for capture projects
Fate of CO2 for capture projects
Note: the figure above is only based on capture projects with available data on capture capacities, representing about half of the capture projects in CaptureMap.

Conclusion: Keeping it real

We’re probably more excited than most about CCUS projects making it to final investment decisions and go into operation. It’s when we transition from presentations to real-life that we start making a meaningful impact to the CO2 emissions. 

This last blog in the 3-part series took a closer look at capacity build-up, transport and fate of CO2. We’ve also dived deeper into the challenges with making such timelines, where we deliberately choose to base our numbers on public sources to stay as close to known facts as possible. Some projects are particularly skilled at keeping the public up to speed with developments, while others are keeping their cards close to their chest. It means that making these overviews is far from straight forward.

Going forward, we think the industry as a whole will be better served with more disclosure on the status of their capture projects. Primarily because stakeholders need to understand whether what we’re doing is sufficient to reach our net zero targets. And better data will lead to better decarbonization decisions.  

Appendix – Where does our carbon capture project data come from and what does it contain?

Our ambition with CaptureMap is to be the world’s most accurate overview of large CO2 emitters and their associated carbon capture projects. We can’t do that without laser focus on data quality. And it’s this elusive chase of data perfection that drives us and that makes our users come to us. We’re the first to tell you that our dataset is still not perfect. Yet, from our users we also hear that we collectively know more than anyone else, and that our advantage is growing.   

Historic CO2 data in CaptureMap is made from a combination of different public databases that we clean, harmonize and consolidate. It’s already quite challenging, but doable. See a blog here about one of the databases that makes us smile and also pull our hair out.  

For capture projects we needed a different approach. That’s in part because the landscape changes so quickly, but also because the publicly available databases lack the granularity and update frequency we’re looking for. Therefore, we decided to develop an in-house database of capture projects using Python sprinkled with a bit of artificial intelligence (AI). We won’t divulge all the secrets of our recipe, but in short, it’s a tech stack that cuts about 90% of the processing time compared to manual approaches. And it scales incredibly well. 

Our main data source for capture projects are press releases and news articles about the projects, all available in the public domain. This means that confidential projects are not included. We tie information about every capture project back to a specific facility, existing or future, on the map. This means that we do not include projects for clusters or hubs of emitters when the exact facilities are not specified. This strict mapping framework allows us to avoid double-counting, and makes it possible to tie our precise CO2 emission data and activity segments to capture projects.  

In CaptureMap and in this document, a capture project consists of a capture unit being developed or already operating at a specific industrial facility. We focus on the capture of CO2 from combustion, process or fermentation emissions, and the database does not include Direct Air Capture (DAC). 

We tag each capture project with relevant data about its engineering stage, the planned capture capacity, companies involved in the project, the transport mode and fate of CO2, and other relevant fields. 

In terms of engineering stages, projects are categorized within:

  • Feasibility: from early concept through FEED studies, until the final investment decision
  • EPC: engineering, procurement and construction, from the final investment decision to the commissioning
  • Operation: when the plant is operational
  • Hold: for projects that are temporarily set on hold but not abandoned
  • Inactive: for decommissioned facilities or abandoned projects.

When an industrial facility has several different projects for several capture units in different phases, we distinguish between each of these phases, and each one will be counted as a project. We’ve come across facilities that have one capture unit in operation, building the next one and a third one in feasibility, so the distinction is more relevant than you’d think.  

We chose deliberately to include pilot and demonstration capture projects in our database, as they tend to be an indicator that the industrial actor hosting those is seriously considering CCUS as a decarbonisation solution. These projects represent about 13% of all the projects in the database at the time of this writing, and we’ll also make a separate post about these soon. 

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