by Zewei Yu, Senior Advisor, Asia Relations
International CCS Knowledge Centre
China’s President Xi recently announced, at the UN General Assembly, that China aims “to have carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions peak before 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality before 2060".1
CCUS a part of China’s Decarbonization
With China’s commitment, the goals of the Paris Agreement, which would otherwise appear too remote to reach, become closer to being achievable. With the largest production capacity in major heavy industry sectors to meet the international and domestic market demand as the world’s largest energy consumer and producer, China released the equivalent of about 10 billion tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere in 2018, according to the Global Carbon Project that tracks emissions worldwide.2
China’s pledge of carbon peaking and neutrality is ambitious and inspiring. In order to meet such a large commitment, all low-carbon solutions will be required. China has an opportunity to deploy carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCUS) as a priority for its energy sustainability, while it boosts other strategic sectors, such as hydrogen, transportation electrification, smart grid corridors, and carbon sinks of forestation. Across all low-carbon energy solutions, CCUS will play a critical and evolving role for China’s energy transition as a competitive companion to renewable energy.
Large-scale CCUS is currently the only solution available to significantly, and directly, reduce or avoid some of the most hard-to-abate emissions from existing key heavy industrial facilities in the next decade and into the foreseeable future. As China continues to grow, a greater number of manufacturing processes will need to be decarbonized. Business models and experiences of full-chain, large-scale CCUS deployment and commercial operations from proven iterations can aid in decarbonizing the flue-gas emissions from the production processes of cement, iron & steel production, chemicals, refineries, and power generation. China may have to rely on an energy mix including decarbonized fossil fuel-based energy with low- to no-carbon emissions during its energy transition.
Progress in China on CCUS
For over a decade, China has had the highest number of CCUS piloting projects in the world. Initial attention was given towards retrofitting existing fossil fuel-based power and industrial plants to understand how the capture technology system operated at small scale. These pilot-scale applications span a variety of available capture technologies such as post-/pre-combustion and oxyfuel combustion capture, as well as capture from hydrogen production with coal chemical processes to EOR and saline formation storage.3
In the power sector, 60% of China’s coal-fired power fleet is considered young (approximately 10 years old).4 As such, their useful life spans decades, beyond 2030, and are suitable candidates for CCUS retrofits. Among them, over 100 gigawatts of installed capacity are 660-1000 megawatt ultra-supercritical units - meaning they are exceptionally efficient.5 By 2030, coal-fired power generation efficiency is expected to increase even more, up to 50%, and 20-100% will have the flexibility for peaking load requirement to be integrated with variable energy sources.6
For heavy industry, post-combustion capture from a steel plant has been piloted in an intensive steel production region surrounding Beijing.7 The emerging trends include CCUS for industrial use with the first pilot of post-combustion capture on a clinker kiln, while mineralized storage and cement carbon cure is under development.8 Recently methanol conversion using hydrogen and CO2 from coking process emission has broken ground by an automobile company, representing captured CO2 use for production of portable fuel with reforming potential for fuel cell engines.9
Renewables policy approach appropriate for CCUS deployment
The most remarkable success in energy technology in China has been the domestic deployment of wind and solar power, and their global spillover effects. Chinese government policy incentives include subsidized rates for renewable power while the baseload systems provide backup services. This encourages the market to drive growth in the renewable energy sector at an accelerated rate, which has significantly increased competitiveness in the last two decades.10
China is well positioned to be able to accomplish its newly announced goals by prioritizing large-scale CCUS deployment as a tool towards meeting its emissions peaking challenge in this decade. To do so it may consider repeating, in CCUS development, its successful experiences in renewable energy development. China is currently applying the same approach to incentivize market and infrastructure to drive the growth in electric vehicles as part of transport electrification and hydrogen public transit demonstration.11
High-level priorities for governments and industry to fast-track CCUS project development within this next decade, across industry sectors, requires incentive policy parity. This is required so that CCUS sees the same momentum gained by renewable power, to break the pilot scale bottle neck, and to usher in large-scale CCUS in China. China must prioritize developing the market and infrastructure for captured CO2 transportation, use and storage, including pipeline and oilfield infrastructure for enhanced oil recovery and geological storage, as a driver for upscaled CCUS demonstration and optimization. It is imperative to develop a full chain CCUS cluster in key regions near both sinks and sources on the fringes of the basins, and infrastructure that will allow multiple sources of captured CO2 to share at low cost. Prioritized CO2-EOR /storage is like a consumer market rewarding early mover deployment projects of both strategic energy security and climate benefits.
Collaboration to Accelerate CCUS deployment in China
CCUS deployment does not happen overnight, and China has made headway with its pilot projects and international collaboration efforts. But this progress has not yet led to a large-scale CCUS project being developed. Learning from large-scale CCUS demonstration projects, specifically from the Boundary Dam 3 CCS Facility across sectors in the next 5 years will provide China with the opportunity to be a CCUS leader, suppling a competitive low-carbon technology solution to the Asia Pacific region and beyond. Internationally available learnings could be transferrable to facilitate CCUS deployment in China from the full chain cluster of large-scale CCUS projects in operation that has proven successful and viable.12
With these commitments in China, we are seeing a distant light at the end of the tunnel for carbon neutrality - we have to go through the next decade of CCUS demonstration and deployment to experience that light ahead of us.
 CBC. “China, top global emitter, aims to go carbon-neutral by 2060” (September 23, 2020), https://www.cbc.ca/news/technology/china-carbon-neutral-1.5735172
 Global Carbon Project. “Global Energy Growth is Outpacing Decarbonization” (September 2019), https://www.globalcarbonproject.org/global/pdf/GCP_2019_Global%20energy%20growth%20outpace%20decarbonization_UN%20Climate%20Summit_HR.pdf
 Global CCS Institute. “CO2RE Facilities Database” https://co2re.co/FacilityData
 Global Energy Monitor. ”Coal Plants in China (Units)” (July 2020), https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1nG84N4AFOzxFgX8X1iM70tOND2w7hwQ_4aAUPyJLXMk/edit#gid=0
 Global Energy Monitor. “Newly Operating Coal Plants in China by Year (MW)” (July 2020), https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1CKsjpMg1dUaQyAszkAocVKMYJWIB1c8dAPUtLCmylAo/edit#gid=1379479471
 Government of China, National Energy Administration. “Response to the Proposal on Further Clean and Efficient Use of Coal” (October 11, 2019) https://www.sohu.com/a/346240626_120209489
 Global CCS Institute. “Applying carbon capture and storage to a Chinese steel plant” (August 2015), https://www.globalccsinstitute.com/archive/hub/publications/195933/Applying%20carbon%20capture%20and%20storage%20to%20a%20Chinese%20steel%20plant.pdf
 Reuters. “Concrete steps? For China cement giants, monster carbon footprint smothers climate goals” (September 12, 2019), https://ca.reuters.com/article/idUSKCN1VX0QQ
 Bioenergy International. “CRI seals deal for first CO2-to-methanol plant in China” (May 29, 2019), https://bioenergyinternational.com/technology-suppliers/cri-seals-deal-for-first-co2-to-methanol-plant-in-china
 Center for Strategic & International Studies. “The East is Green: China’s Global Leadership in Renewable Energy” (October 6, 2017), https://csis-website-prod.s3.amazonaws.com/s3fs-public/171011_chiu_china_Solar.pdf?i70f0uep_pGOS3iWhvwUlBNigJMcYJvX
 China Daily. “Hydrogen to drive clean energy moves” (August 27, 2020), http://www.china.org.cn/business/2020-08/27/content_76642107.htm
 International CCS Knowledge Centre. “The Cost Reduction Potential for CCUS at Coal-Fired Power Plants” (2019), https://ccsknowledge.com/pub/Publications/CIAB_CCUS_Coal_CHINESE_Nov2019.pdf [Chinese version]