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19 Nov 2021, 13:15
Sören Amelang

German environment agency warns against using fossil CO2 in CCU

Carbon capture and utilisation (CCU) technologies will be required on a large scale in a climate-neutral economy, but these only make sense in combination with direct air capture, Germany's Federal Environment Agency (UBA) says in a report. The agency warned that "CCU with fossil carbon emissions - even those that are unavoidable in the future - is no substitute for greenhouse gas reduction at source." If fossil carbon is captured by CCU and used elsewhere, "it always ends up in the atmosphere at the end of the use chain, regardless of the number of subsequent uses." Hydrocarbons will be needed in the long term even in an efficient and greenhouse gas-neutral economy, whether in artificial paraffin or for plastics, but "the future carbon cycles can only be closed in the long term and permanently with additional carbon extraction from the atmosphere," UBA said.

"Technologies for carbon extraction from the atmosphere should be promoted today so that they are available on a sufficient scale later," UBA said. A prerequisite for a climate-friendly use of CCU technologies is a rapid development of a complete renewable electricity system - nationally, Europe-wide and globally - as the technology requires a lot of energy. CCU with direct air capture should only be used once renewables have reached a share of more than 80 percent of power supply, UBA said. "Anything else would endanger the short and medium-term climate targets."

In Germany, the debate on negative emissions is picking up, as all projections show there won’t be a way around them in 2045, when the country aims to be climate neutral. Many argue that it is high time countries start building up a new industry of CO2 removers, scale it up and drive down prices. Others warn that relying on removal methods only draws attention away from the task of avoiding emissions altogether.

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