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CCUS in Power

Not on track

About this report

Only one commercial power plant equipped with CCUS remains in operation today, since the Petra Nova coal-fired power generation plant in the United States suspended CO2 capture operations in May 2020. Based on projects currently in early and advanced deployment, the potential capture capacity of all CCUS deployment in power is projected to reach ~60 Mt CO2 in 2030 – well short of the 430 Mt CO2 per year in the Net Zero Emissions by 2050 Scenario.

Momentum for CCUS has, however, grown substantially in recent years: plans for close to 30 new CCUS-equipped power plants (totalling a capture capacity of just over 30 Mt CO2 per year) were announced between January 2020 and August 2021, spurred primarily by new investment incentives in the United States. While there are currently plans to equip over 40 power plants with CCUS globally, it is unlikely they will all proceed without additional policy support.

Large-scale CO2 capture projects in power generation compared with the Net Zero Scenario, 2020-2030

Tracking progress

CCUS can support power system transformation in three important ways: by mitigating emissions from existing coal and gas assets through retrofitting; by enhancing flexibility by providing both firm and peak low-carbon power; and by generating negative emissions when combined with bioenergy. Although recent technological innovations and policy developments provide encouraging signs for the future of CCUS in power generation, deployment remains well off track for meeting Net Zero Emissions by 2050 Scenario levels.

The two commercial power plants that have been retrofitted with CCUS – the Petra Nova project in Texas, United States, and the Boundary Dam project in Saskatchewan, Canada – have provided important lessons for future projects.

The Petra Nova facility, which operated from January 2017 to May 2020, had the largest post-combustion carbon capture system installed on a coal-fired power plant. It could capture up to 1.4 Mt CO2 annually, and the captured CO2 was used in enhanced oil recovery, a process in which CO2 is injected to extract oil that is otherwise non-recoverable. However, low oil prices associated with Covid-‑19 economic impacts resulted in capture operations being suspended in May 2020.

The Boundary Dam CCUS project, the world’s first CCUS-equipped power plant, has been operating since 2014. It has a capture capacity of ~1 Mt CO2 per year. A feasibility study by the International CCS Knowledge Centre, based on Boundary Dam data and costs, suggests that a second-generation capture facility could be built with 67% lower capital costs, at a cost of USD 45/tCO2 captured and a CO2 capture rate of up to 95%.

Both projects are retrofits of existing coal-fired power plants. Being able to cost-competitively retrofit existing plants will be important to meet global climate and energy goals, as the average age of coal-fired power plants in Asia is only 13 years, and new plants continue to be built around the world, particularly in Asia (the average technical lifetime of a power plant is 50 years). Retrofitting these plants with CCUS could therefore address both economic and emissions challenges, allowing them to be operated while recovering investments and reducing their carbon footprint.

CO2 capture projects in power generation, operating and in advanced development