How Saudi Arabia could become a leader in carbon capture on the road to net-zero emissions

  • Carbon capture can achieve 14 percent of the global greenhouse gas emissions reductions needed by 2050
  • The Kingdom has set the bar high, with a carbon capture target of 44 million tons annually by 2035

As nations step up their efforts to achieve net-zero carbon emission goals and mitigate the effects of climate change, oil and gas-producing countries in particular are under tremendous pressure to make a swift transition to green energy sources and leave their petroleum assets underground.

This is no small challenge. Carbon-capture technologies could therefore prove be a vital lifeline for the energy industries of these countries, and Saudi Arabia is well-placed to emerge as a global leader in the carbon-capture sector.

Carbon capture utilization and storage, or CCUS, technologies have been in use for decades to remove and sequester carbon dioxide emissions, and improve the quality of natural gas. Carbon capture achieves several goals, simultaneously reducing emission levels while also ensuring fossil fuels meet the world’s pressing energy needs and providing a mechanism to help meet net-zero goals by 2050.

According to Bloomberg, global investment in carbon capture and storage projects will reach $6.4 billion this year.

The most natural method of carbon capture is as old as time itself: Photosynthesis, the process through which trees and plants absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and transform it into oxygen and energy.

Saudi authorities have launched a number of afforestation initiatives, including the Saudi Green and the Middle East Green initiatives, with the aim of planting 50 billion trees in the Kingdom and the wider region by 2030. Still, this alone is not enough and other methods are desperately needed to reduce carbon emissions as efficiently possible.

According to the International Energy Agency, effective CCUS technologies capture emissions at source or directly from the air. The carbon dioxide collected in this way can then be stored deep underground or processed to convert it into valuable products.

The IEA is aware of more than 300 carbon-capture facilities being developed worldwide, including the Gorgon Carbon Dioxide Injection Project in Australia; two capture facilities linked to the Alberta Carbon Trunk Line in Canada; the first large-scale bioenergy and carbon-capture project in Japan; capture facilities at the Sinopec chemical plant and at the Guohua Jinjie coal-fired power plant in China; and Saudi Aramco’s Uthmaniyah project and Hawiyah gas plant.

Saudi Arabia has set the bar high in its efforts to cut emissions, announcing a carbon-capture target of 44 million tons a year by 2035. Aramco is working with the Kingdom’s Ministry of Energy to establish a hub in Jubail with a storage capacity of up to 9 million tons a year by 2027.

In mid-January, meanwhile, the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company teamed up with the Fujairah Natural Resources Corporation, UAE-based clean energy company Masdar, and Emirati decarbonization company 44.01 for a project to remove carbon dioxide from the air by “mineralizing” it into rock formations in Fujairah emirate.

According to Vikas Dhole, general manager for Sustainability Solution Strategy and Enablement with AspenTech, a provider of software and services for process industries, the Middle East as a whole is in an ideal position to take the lead in carbon-mitigation efforts, thanks to its vast subsurface formations, which have the capacity to store a highly significant proportion of the world’s target for carbon removal.

“These two initiatives from Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi will have a big impact, regionally and globally,” he told Arab News. “The Middle East can pair that with the region’s ideal geography to generate massive solar power. These together allow carbon removal powered by green energy.”

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