The development of CCS and CCU has been much slower than promised: while more than 120 CCUS facilities were in construction or in planning in 2011, the total number of worldwide commercial CCUS facilities in operation by 2020 barely reached 26, double what they were 10 years earlier, with the majority of the planned facilities abandoned over the years (Global CCS Institute 2020). This situation can be explained by the technical challenges, the high cost of the technology, long-term storage liabilities and a direct or indirect carbon price that has remained largely below expected values.
In terms of carbon capture, these commercial facilities are mainly dominated by natural gas processing, where the CO2 separated from the methane is captured and sold. This is followed by other industrial processes associated with chemical production, including fertilizers, ethanol and hydrogen. While CO2 captured from power plants, such as coal power generation, has attracted considerable interest over the years, it is still minute today.
The net-zero horizon set by a number of countries is creating better conditions for these technologies, facilitating investments and risk-taking as economic models become more credible. This explains why, after a lull in 2017, the number of projects in development has been increasing even though it is still significantly below what it was 10 years ago.
All but 5 of the 26 carbon capture facilities currently in operation finance part of their operation with CCU based on enhanced oil recovery, which is the main utilization pathway at present. This is also the case for the three sites currently in construction. While this strategy clearly limits exposure to low carbon pricing, it greatly reduces the beneficial impact of carbon capture from a life-cycle perspective since carbon nevertheless ends up in the atmosphere.