There and back again: Navigating the climate impacts of CO₂ use

In dealing with the climate crisis, there is a growing interest in capturing carbon dioxide (CO2) to be reused in products or processes, otherwise called carbon capture and utilisation (CCU). The following brief aims to analyse CCU as a decarbonisation pathway and its validity. The valorisation of CO2 needs to be evaluated on a case by case basis to ensure it’s climate impact is properly accounted for, to avoid any unwarranted claims of its role in climate change mitigation.

Utilising CO2 comes in many forms, ranging from fuels to working fluids. Many of these CCU products are examples of delayed emissions, where the CO2 captured is released in a timespan of weeks, months or decades. While some products are short lived, others have a higher potential for keeping the CO2 away from the atmosphere for a longer period of time.

Growing interest for CCU is reflected in policy as the EU Commission looks to publish a delegated act on the EU ETS that focuses on CCU. This brief contextualises CCU products by evaluating the climate impact by assessing carbon and energy flows. The recommendations that conclude the brief highlight the key points that need to be considered when placing CCU into the climate change mitigation toolbox.

Key recommendations:
A full GHG lifecycle assessment for each CO2 utilisation is needed on a case-bycase basis. It needs to include the carbon source, energy requirements and end-of-life fate of the carbon to ensure that the full climate impact of the product is accounted for.

Fuels, chemicals and non-permanent CCU require renewable energy and atmospheric carbon
for their production.
Given the significant energy requirements, their application must be targeted.

Permanent CCU products aiming to store CO2 for centuries require robust monitoring
and verification to be recognised as permanent.
Products must be used with the explicit aim to permanently store the carbon used in their production process. To not surrender allowances, producers must provide evidence of long-term storage (i.e., centuries at minimum) and risk assessments for potential reversals, particularly at the end-of-life of a product.

The renewable energy used to produce CCU products should be additional to the renewable energy deployed to contribute to the energy transition. The production of CCU products should not hinder more efficient decarbonisation pathways that provide rapid and significant emissions reductions at scale, such as direct electrification where possible.

Read our Policy Brief below:

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