The International Energy Agency (IEA) dates back to 1974 where it was originally set up to help countries collectively respond to oil supply disruptions. Since then, the agency’s mandate has grown extensively. It now works to ensure reliable, affordable and clean energy for its 29 member countries and beyond.

The Agency’s four main areas of focus include energy security, economic development, environmental awareness and worldwide engagement.

The IEA has a dedicated carbon capture and storage (CCS) Unit which conducts detailed analysis on CCS technology to support developments. The unit maintains a watching brief in terms of policies and regulatory issues related to CCS deployment, it advises its member governments’ on these issues and it looks at energy market projections and the consistency of climate ambitions.

gasworld spoke to the IEA’s CCS technologies and policies specialist, Samantha McCulloch, to gain a deeper insight into the Agency’s duties and its involvement in CCS development.

Prior to her current role, McCulloch worked for the Australian coal association and its coal 21 fund, which invests in CCS technologies and projects. Prior to that, McCulloch worked on a range of energy, coal and CCS related issues for the Australian government.

The IEA and its 29 member countries are part of the OECD (The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development), an intergovernmental economic organisation which was founded in 1961 to stimulate economic progress and world trade. Most OECD members are high-income economies with a very high Human Development Index (HDI) and are regarded as developed countries.

Around 18 months ago, the new Executive Director Dr. Fatih Birol took the helm of IEA. One of his main priorities for the agency was to focus more on global engagement.

“In recognising that many emerging economies such as China and India are very important in terms of the global energy sector, we felt it was important to increase our engagement more broadly, beyond the OECD. We’ve recently announced that India has become an associate member of the IEA. Other associate members include China, Indonesia and Thailand.”

On the 29th March, the IEA attended the CCS symposium held by the Global CCS Institute in Xi-an, celebrating China’s first large-scale carbon capture storage and utilisation (CCUS) facility entering construction.

McCulloch commented, “We work closely with the Global CCS Institute. I was in China recently for the event of the Yanchang project entering into constriction, which is very significant, not just for China, but globally, because it’s the first large-scale CCS project that’s moved into the construction phase since 2014.”

“Until now, the project pipeline has been somewhat frozen. However, there seems to be some renewed momentum lately. We’ve had a number of CCS projects come online. This indicates that CCS projects are starting to move forward again which is really important,” McCulloch enthused.

There are now 17 large-scale CCS projects in operation globally and five under construction. A further 16 are in earlier stages of development globally, with around half of those projects located in China.

“The next wave of projects that are coming through are very much being led by China. In order to deepen our engagement with the country, the IEA has recently established an office in Beijing. Prior to this, the agency had no offices outside of Paris. When we look at our projections we foresee quite a lot of CCS potential in China. This is because they have a very large coal fired power fleet and low cost CCS opportunities,” McCulloch explained.

“A CCS Roadmap produced by the Asia Development Bank for China highlighted that there are low cost opportunities to apply CCS technology to the country’s emission intensive, coal chemical plants - costing less than 2O US dollars per tonne of CO2. A recent IEA study also found that more than 300 GW of China’s existing coal-fired power fleet could be highly suitable for CCS retrofitting”

CCS projects currently operating globally cover a range of different applications for CCS, including coal fired power generation, steel production, oil sands, and natural gas processing. The most recent project, which came online this month in the US, was the first CCS project applied to a bioenergy facility.

There has also been a lot of progress with smaller scale projects that are providing a foundation for commercial deployment. These have encouraged technology advancements, including reduced capture costs and lower energy penalties.

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Greater emphasis on policies

The IEA calls for more serious commitment to CCS from governments. CCS has been recognised as an important technology for addressing climate change and more specifically, the only technology that’s able to reduce emissions for fossil fuel use. However, it hasn’t received the same level support as other low emission technologies.

“This is because it is still in the early deployment stage and costs are higher now than what we would expect them to be in the future. First of their kind projects are always more expensive to develop. More emphasis on policies is needed to support CCS in order to overcome these early deployment challenges.”

McCulloch continued, “There is policy support for CCS in areas like the US where they have implemented carbon dioxide (CO2) storage credits. With this scheme you receive payments related to every tonne of CO2 stored. In the UK, there was quite a comprehensive programme to support CCS but ultimately budget constraints meant that the programme had to be cancelled.”

McCulloch encourages governments to support investments in CCS technology by Identifying and developing CO2 storage resources.

“It can take several years to appropriately characterise a storage site, and having confidence in the availability of storage is a really important factor for investing in CO2 capture.”

Looking forward, McCulloch believes that initially CCS will be deployed more heavily in fossil fuel dependent countries and in areas where lower costs opportunities are available. One factor that will affect near term deployment will be opportunities for using the captured CO2 for enhanced oil recovery.

“A high proportion of the projects that are in operation are associated with enhanced oil recovery (EOR) because it provides a rare and important revenue stream for CO2 Interest in EOR opportunities is growing globally, including in China and the Middle East. Two large-scale CCS projects are now operating in Saudi Arabia and UAE, supplying CO2 for EOR purposes,” McCulloch concluded.