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CERAWeek: Carbon capture feasible in India but needs long-term strategy

08 March 2021 Bernadette Lee

India's geological storage potential for carbon dioxide (CO2) in the range of 500 to 1,000 gigatons (GT) makes carbon capture and storage a feasible option, but the country needs to develop a long-term strategy and define its potential, said Amitabh Kant, chief executive of the National Institution for Transforming India (NITI Aayog).

Speaking during a panel discussion on the future trajectory of India's energy mix at the CERAWeek by IHS Markit conference on 4 March, Kant said carbon capture is still in its infancy in India, and even at the global level, there are only 26 operational facilities capturing around 36 million metric tons (mt) to 40 million mt of carbon per year.

"While carbon capture storage has gained momentum around the world, the high cost of storage, transportation, and deployment are important considerations. This might explain why the pace of developing [carbon capture and storage (CCS)] is slow despite the crucial role it plays," he told the virtual audience.

Large-scale CCS needs infrastructure investment, incentives

India's Department of Science and Technology has established a national program on CO2 storage research which supports carbon capture research and develops pilots and projects. Industry specialists such as steel and fertilizer manufacturers have begun proactively pursuing CCS as part of their emission reduction strategy, Kant said.

The power sector also presents massive opportunities for implementing CCS, which Kant described as a bridging technique and a very feasible option for India in its decarbonization journey, given its potential to become economically viable in size and scale.

But deploying CCS on a large scale would require timely investment in infrastructure as well as devising some initial incentives, Kant cautioned.

"We need national research collaborations and knowledge sharing in transport and technology in this area. More importantly we need to have a reliable CO2 storage capacity assessment for the country," he said.

Mapping out the CO2 storage resource space

In response to a question from moderator Rashika Gupta, IHS Markit director of power, gas, coal & renewables, the head of the International Energy Agency's energy supply and investment outlooks division, Tim Gould, said carbon capture could benefit India, but a good amount of ground work was required first.

"In our view, a very important step is to map out the CO2 storage resource space in India. At the moment, studies based on existing data suggests areas with the highest potential may be in states in the southeast like Gujarat or Rajasthan," he said.

The big new industrial facilities that have been built were constructed without necessarily considering their proximity to good CO2 resources, Gould added.

"And in our view that's an important option to have in the portfolio of choices, but [for] India [it] may be in the future," he said.

The 15% gas goal

India has reoriented its energy roadmap into a more diversified and cleaner energy mix, and several measures have been undertaken to decarbonize energy production using the least polluting fossil fuels to complement the shift to cleaner resources, Kant said. Natural gas, the cleanest of the fossil fuels, will play a key role in the energy transition, he added.

Gas is an area where India can expand rapidly, notwithstanding the commodity's current share of 6.5% of the country's energy mix, which compares to a global average of 24%, Kant said.

"I do believe that India can meet the target of 15% share of natural gas in its energy mix by 2030. In fact, one of our states, Punjab, has even achieved a gas energy mix of 25%, higher than the global average of 24%. At the national level, this is very much achievable with the right set of policies. We are consistently adopting policy reforms and building infrastructure toward making India a gas-based economy," he said.

Infrastructure supporting the use of gas is well underway, with over 16,800 km of pipeline network laid across the country, and an additional 14,700 km at different stages of construction. Investment in infrastructure building over the next five years will be significant, and this includes construction of gas pipelines, distribution networks in cities and LNG regasification terminals, according to Kant.

"These are all potential areas of growth, with vast investment opportunities for international players," he said.

While agreeing with Kant, Gould said the role of gas in India needs to be considered more broadly rather than restricting it to fossil fuel gas.

"… because in our view, there is considerable potential to use sustainable feedstocks from crop produce and other municipal waste and so on for the production of biogases, which in our view can contribute substantially as a domestic source of bio compressed natural gas (CNG) for transport and for other uses. There is an opportunity there which has an important energy security component and the rural development component that is worth bearing in mind," he said.

Posted 08 March 2021 by Bernadette Lee, Principal Journalist, Climate and Sustainability, OPIS, IHS Markit

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