The introductory statement to the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) Energy Technology Perspectives 2020 Special Report on Carbon Capture Utilization and Storage: CCUS in clean energy transitions [i] states:

The story of CCUS has largely been one of unmet expectations: its potential to mitigate climate change has been recognized for decades, but deployment has been slow and so has had only a limited impact on global CO2 emissions. This slow progress is a major concern in view of the urgent need to reduce emissions across all regions and sectors in order to reach global net-zero emissions as quickly as possible. Yet there are clear signs that CCUS may be gaining traction in spite of the economic uncertainty created by the Covid-19 crisis, with more projects coming online, more plans to build new ones and increased policy ambition and action. The coming decade will be critical to scaling up investment in developing and deploying CCUS and realizing its significant potential to contribute to the achievement of net-zero emissions.(Page 18)

The report guides readers through the challenges faced in the energy sector and how large-scale carbon capture and storage (CCS/CCUS) not only must play a role in decarbonization, but also the volume of CCS that is needed to do so.

The recent burst of attention given to CCS relates to urgency around meeting climate targets and commitments to net-zero around midcentury. Providing a summary of this comprehensive report does not do it justice – every page contains critical information and should be read by anyone in either the CCS industry or those considering how to mitigate climate change. Readers are encouraged to visit the IEA’s website to download a free copy of the report. Nevertheless, offered below are some highlights to trigger interest; and related report page-numbers are indicated for ease of access. Chapters on costs, regional overviews, and policy considerations are not included in this summary, but are also available in the IEA’s report.


The global clean energy transition requires action at today’s power stations and industrial plants. The IEA points out that those assets could generate more than 600 billion tonnes of CO2 (almost two decades’ worth of annual emissions) if they were to continue to operate as they currently do until the end of their technical lives; and, with populations and economies around the world continuing to grow, tackling emissions from existing energy assets is necessary. (Page 21)

Today, there are 21 CCUS facilities around the world, the majority of which are in located in North America.(Page 26) From the 1970s to 2000s, capture was mainly on relatively low cost applications (about USD$15/t CO2), such as natural gas processing plants. 

Source: Fig. 1.2 Global CO2 capture capacity at large-scale facilities by source, pg 27, IEA (2020). All rights reserved.

Although there is a rise in projects in various sectors, it is well short of expectations. The IEA’s 2009 CCUS roadmap set a targeted 100 large-scale CCUS projects between 2010 and 2020 to meet global climate goals, storing around 300Mt CO2 per year. Actual capacity of capture facilities today falls far short of that at around 40Mt.(Page 28)

With 30 new integrated CCUS facilities having been announced since 2017, and presuming they are built, global CO2 capture capacity would more than triple to around 130 Mt/year.(Page 29)


The IEA makes it very clear that over time we need more CCUS. They have identified three phases over time to determine how much CCUS is required under their Sustainable Development Scenario.(Figure 2.3)  

Source: Fig. 2.3 Growth in global CO₂ capture by source and period in the Sustainable Development Scenario, pg.50  IEA (2020). All rights reserved.


The focus is on capturing emissions from existing power plants and factories and in so doing capture 840Mt. 85% of capture would come from retrofitted coal, cement, steel, chemical units (some gas); and low-cost hydrogen and bioethanol capture.(Page 49)

To 2030 the global path to net-zero requires CCS. The IEA says that “Without a sharp acceleration in CCUS innovation and deployment over the next few years, meeting net-zero emissions targets will be all but impossible” and that “Delays in investment and innovation in CCUS technologies would have a lasting impact on future emissions trajectories and affect the pace at which net-zero emissions can be achieved.”(Page 151, 154) It does not come without its challenges, with the amount of capture having to increase by a factor of 20 from around 40 Mt today to over 800 Mt by 2030 – which will require a large increase in investment in the near term to ensure deployment later in the decade.(Page 152) 

Source: Fig. 5.1 World CO2 capture capacity average annual additions to 2030 by sector in the Sustainable Development Scenario pg. 151, IEA (2020). All rights reserved.


Deployment of CCS in cement, steel and chemicals adding to 1/3rd of growth in capture. Power capture shifts focus to natural gas, and a 1/5th growth in capture from hydrogen production (primarily from natural gas). Bio-energy CCS (BECCS) expands during this timeframe.(Page 50)

When looking to have net-zero by 2050, the IEA’s Faster Innovation Case requires more CCS in the energy mix, and it increases the role of BECCS and DAC significantly. CCUS contributes around 1/4 of the additional emissions reductions in the Faster Innovation Case requiring over 8Gt required to be captures per year and storing 200 time more than we do today.(Page 54)

Source: Box 2.3 A faster transition requires more CCUS, pg 54, IEA (2020) All rights reserved.

The growth in CO2 being captured would have increased by 85% in this timeframe of the scenario, with 35% of emissions captured being from Bioenergy CCS (BECCS) and Direct Air Capture (DAC) by 2070. Capturing from a wide range of sectors and sources, the scenario requires 90% of CO2 to be permanently stored and only 8% used in other applications. (Page 53, Figure 2.5 at page 56)

Source: Fig. 2.6 Global CO2 emissions from existing fossil fueled power and industrial plants against the CO2 emissions trajectory of the Sustainable Development Scenario, 2019-70, pg 54, IEA (2020) All rights reserved.


Power Generation and CCS:
The Boundary Dam CCS Facility currently represents the only large-scale CCS facility operating on power generation since the suspension of CCS at Petra Nova. With the global coal fleet accounting for almost 1/3rd of emissions globally CCS is the only alternative to retiring existing facilities early – especially when 60% of the coal fleet could still be operating in 2050.(Page 21) In the power sector, CCS can contribute to energy security objectives by supporting greater diversity in generation options and the integration of growing shares of variable renewables with flexible dispatchable power.

Source: Box 2.2 How CCUS can contribute to stable, zero-emissions power systems, pg 52, IEA (2020) All rights reserved.

Hard to Abate Sectors:
As we are all aware, emissions have to be reduced in all sectors in order to meet climate change goals. Some of these sectors, like cement or natural gas processing “simply will not be able to achieve net-zero emissions without CCUS”.(Page 23) Other sectors like iron and steel rely with rely on CCUS as one of the few options for significant emissions reductions, and long distance transport (including aviation) will require CCUS for synthetic hydrocarbon fuel production. Heavy industry and long-distance transport combine to emit around 30% energy system emissions and will need to decline 90% in 2070 under the Sustainable Development Scenario – largely because of CCUS.(Page 63)

Source: Fig. 2.11 Global CO2 emissions reductions by abatement measure in heavy industry in the Sustainable Development Scenario relative to the Stated Policies Scenario pg 68, IEA (2020) All rights reserved.

Hydrogen and CCS:
CCUS can help decarbonize hydrogen production by reducing emissions from existing hydrogen plants (like Quest in Alberta is doing), and by providing a least cost pathway to scale up new hydrogen production (ie. blue hydrogen vs. green hydrogen).(Page 71) Low-carbon hydrogen plays a key role in decarbonizing transport, industry, buildings and power generation in the Sustainable Development Scenario, with global hydrogen demand increasing “seven-fold to 520 Mt by 2070” and leads to around 40Gt of the reductions to 2070.(Page 75) 

Source: Fig. 2.15 CCUS in hydrogen and synthetic fuel production for energy purposes in the Sustainable Development Scenario, 2070, pg 76, IEA (2020) All rights reserved.

Carbon Removal & Bioenergy CCS:
When we talk about net-zero commitments, negative emissions approaches become a big component of solutions to balance emissions from sectors like aviation, or commitments from major global companies. CO2 emissions captured and stored from BECCS or DAC provide negative emissions to balance out the emissions from transport, industry and buildings when achieving a net-zero emissions energy system.(Page 53) In fact, combined they can offer a quarter of all the captured CO2 to 2070.(Page 86)

BECCS is considered a mature carbon removal option because bioenergy and CCS are both proven technologies. By 2100, cumulative carbon removal potential by BECCS is 100-1170Gt.(Page 80) Taking CO2 directly out of the air, DAC has the benefit of being able to be located anywhere. Its 2100 carbon removal potential is 108-1100Gt.(Page 80) The IEA does note some limitations for BECCS and DAC: “The deployment of these carbon removal technologies is constrained by their cost-competitiveness with other mitigation measures and (potentially) access to suitable storage, with BECCS also constrained by the availability of sustainable bioenergy and DAC by the availability of low-cost electricity and heat.” (Page 53)

Source: Fig. 2.4 Global CO2 emissions and capture across the energy system in the Sustainable Development Scenario, 2019-70, pg 53, IEA (2020). All rights reserved.

Why has CCS fallen behind?
With the value and urgency of applying CCS/CCUS as a climate mitigation technology so clearly spelled out in IEA’s report, the question of why CCS continues to lag in development is an important question. IEA summarizes it this way:

There are several reasons CCUS has not advanced as fast as needed; many planned projects have not progressed due to commercial considerations and a lack of consistent policy support. In the absence of an incentive or emissions penalty, CCUS may simply not make any commercial sense, especially where the CO2 has no significant value as an industrial input. The high cost of installing the infrastructure and difficulties in integrating the different elements of the CO2 supply chain, technical risks associated with installing or scaling up CCUS facilities in some applications, difficulties in allocating commercial risk among project partners, and problems securing financing have also impeded investment. Public resistance to storage, particularly onshore storage, has also played a role in some cases, notably in Europe. CCUS is also often viewed as a fossil fuel technology that competes with renewable energy for public and private investment, although in practice it has substantial synergies with renewable. (Page 28)

[i] IEA (2020) Energy Technology Perspectives 2020 Special Report on Carbon Capture Utilization and Storage: CCUS in clean energy transition. All rights reserved.