Following its assignment as G20 President ahead of the Leader’s Summit held in Riyadh back in late 2020, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has recognised further challenges and opportunities in the development of carbon capture and storage (CCS).

During the UKCCSRC virtual conference, ‘Delivering on COP26: CCS across the world’, Dr. Tidjani Niass, Research Science Consultant at Saudi Aramco and Senior Advisor to the Saudi Ministry of Energy, Industry and Mineral Resources, spoke about the developing CCS landscape in Saudi Arabia.

Setting the scene, Niass explained that despite the energy-abundant country having moderate carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions at around 600 million tonnes per year, its emissions per capita are still high compared to similar economies.

Dr. Tidjani Niass

Dr. Tidjani Niass

Source: Atlantic Council

Given the nature of its climate, the challenging environment of the country contributes to its CO2 emissions. Niass articulated the reasons behind this, saying, “Water desalination and air conditioning is a significant contributor to CO2 emissions.”

“So the food, water and energy nexus is central to any development plan in the Kingdom,” he added.

One approach that the country is taking to mitigate the effects of its CO2 emissions is detailed through the circular carbon economy framework promoted during its G20 presidency.

Using this ‘holistic’ framework, Niass explained that the Kingdom intends to use all existing and future emission solutions in addressing climate change.

“Having just a narrow focus on reducing the demand from fossil energy will not take us to where we have to be under the Paris Agreement,” he stated. Adding, “Because if you look at many economic sectors such as cement, most of the CO2 is not coming from the combustion of fossil fuel.”

He went on to say that 60% of CO2 emissions from cement facilities are actually directly linked to the process of decarbonising limestone into CO2, which releases the gas into the atmosphere.

To combat these unnecessary emissions, Niass links back to the circular carbon economy and how it is based upon the four R’s: reduce, reuse, recycle, and remove. He said, “If you look at how CCS fits into this framework, we can see that it contributes to all four ‘R’s’ of the carbon economy.”

By using CCS technologies to capture CO2, the country will be able to reduce emissions, reuse the CO2 in industries such as food and beverage, recycle it in the form of synthetic fuels or biofuels, resulting in a net removal of atmospheric CO2.

Aiming to apply this cycle to support industries such as low carbon cement, low carbon steel and low carbon hydrogen or blue hydrogen, there is also the potential for thousands of jobs to be created to contribute to the ongoing decarbonisation of industry.

To achieve this transformation in industry, Niass explained that the Saudi Government is focusing on its R&D capabilities, in addition to working with the UK Government with the Carbon Capture Innovation Challenge.

Uthmaniyah Project.

Uthmaniyah Project.

Source: Aramco.

A significant aspect of the country’s CCS projects is Saudi Aramco’s Uthmaniyah Project. Developed in 2015, it is one of first large scale CCS projects in the region.

“The project has the capacity to capture up to 800,000 tonnes of CO2 per year from a natural gas liquefaction plant in Hawiyah, which is in the Eastern province,” said Niass, adding, “And we have built an 85km pipeline to transport the CO2 from the capture facility to the Uthmaniyah Field, which is part of Ghawar, and Ghawar is the world’s largest onshore oil field.”

SABIC's CO2 - chemical manufacturing site.

SABIC’s CO2 - chemical manufacturing site.

Source: SABIC.

This oil field is where Saudi Aramco experiment with CO2 through its enhanced oil recovery project. By using its extensive sea water monitoring and surveillance programme with more than 1,000 seismic sensors to monitor the sequestered CO2 underground including its breakthrough speed and the oil saturation levels, Niass claimed that they have achieved more than the industry average with regards to sequestration numbers.

Another large-scale development in Saudi Arabia is the CO2 to chemical plant owned by Saudi Basic Industries Corporation (SABIC). About the project, Niass said, “The project captures up to half a million tonnes of CO2 per year from an Italian glycol plant and utilises it for the production of methanol, urea and liquid suitable for food and beverage.”

Given the country’s energy abundance, not only in oil and gas but also solar and wind, Saudi Arabia is set for further development in the evolution of its CCS landscape.