In the push for decarbonisation, a paradigm shift is underway, urging industries to reconsider their practices. The circular economy model is taking centre stage, demanding a re-evaluation of sourcing and cross-sector partnerships.
In the gases industry, this shift impacts the interplay between biogas and CO2, the trajectory of low-carbon hydrogen, and global CCUS projects. As sustainability becomes imperative, embracing circular economies is not just a choice but a necessity for the future of industrial gases.
Having released its ‘We enable a carbon neutral world’ campaign last year, Nippon Gases has made sustainability a core focus of its business model. As part of this campaign, the company laid out its five pillars for carbon neutrality.
Speaking with gasworld during the Circular Economies webinar held today, 17th November, Paola Amore, Carbon Neutrality Manager at Nippon Gases Industrial, outlined each pillar and how they can combine to create a carbon neutral world.
Starting with ‘greening combustion’, she explained that this involves decarbonising combustion to reduce CO2 emissions by using green oxygen for oxy-combustion technology.
“The second pillar is hydrogen solutions, alternative solutions for hydrogen production and not only using fossil fuels,” she said. This involves enabling access to the most suitable methods of producing green and low-carbon hydrogen sustainably, using the right balance of the most appropriate technology, available feedstocks and renewable energy.
The third pillar represents the shift to a recovery solution, which involves using CO2 capture technology to allow its customers to reuse CO2 in different production processes or in other areas of the industry after purification.
The fourth pillar, circular economy, focuses on replacing or reshaping production processes into more sustainable ones by combining recovered CO2, scrap metal, waste heat, wastewater sludge, agricultural and urban waste into the right technology.
Amore explained, “For example, in the metal industry, we can use the scraps to be melted together with virgin metal for steel or for aluminium with our oxygen-based solution, so we can turn the scrap into value to produce an end product with a higher quality.”
Known as oxyfuel boosting, this technology involves the enrichment of combustion air with oxygen instead of using regular air. This approach improves combustion efficiency and reduces emissions in various industrial processes such as power generation and industrial heating.
The machinations of Nippon Gases’ circular economy is firmly rooted in the concept of waste-to-energy. The idea of turning scrap – or waste – into value is fundamental to the process of anaerobic digestion (AD), which produces biogas and biomethane.
In 2022, the company signed a strategic agreement to invest in alternative biofuel solutions developer Hysytech to advance its vision of a circular economy.
Last but not least, the fifth pillar revolves around digitalisation, which refers to the use of advanced technology to unlock a vast array of possibilities for process optimisation, automation and simplification, asset tracking and data management.
Carbon capture and utilisation (CCU)
In the pursuit of sustainable and circular economies, CCU offers a promising avenue to both reduce greenhouse gas emissions and foster a more environmentally responsible industrial landscape.
By integrating CCU into its carbon neutral strategy, Nippon Gases not only seeks to curtail the release of CO2 into the atmosphere but also to transform it into a valuable resource.
Emphasising the fact that the technology already exists for capturing large volumes of CO2 from hard-to-abate industries and low volumes from biogas plants, Amore revealed that Nippon Gases is developing additional technologies to reduce the CAPEX and OPEX and reduce chemical usage to make the process ‘even greener’.
Once captured, there are several methods of dealing with the CO2, although they bring with them their own unique challenges. Sequestering the CO2 underground is a solution that may be available in the medium term, according to Amore, but long term solutions could present themselves in mineralisation or the production of fuels such as methanol and sustainable aviation fuels (SAF).
Catalytic methanation is another promising technology in addition to the direct chemical conversion of CO2 into thermal chemicals and fuels. From an economic perspective, the catalysation of the final product could be difficult to place into the market due to the cost of recovering the CO2.
“We need to add the cost for the production of renewable hydrogen, especially for the big volumes that we consider into the market,” said Amore, who added that Nippon Gases is strongly focused on collaboration to achieve its carbon neutral goals.
“A partner of ours named Hysytech is an Italian company with a strong presence in the biogas and BioLNG market. They have already placed some demos for the catalytic methanation to produce methane from the captured CO2 and hydrogen from different sources, renewable or low-carbon.”
Challenges facing CCU
One of the main issues facing CCU relates to infrastructure. Nippon Gases currently has eight CO2 terminals and ships around 400 kilotonnes of CO2 per year. When compared with volumes that could be available to the market – once captured, recovered and liquefied from the heart of industries – this is a relatively small volume.
“It means that infrastructure should be adapted to the new potential volumes that we need to manage into the future,” explained Amore.
Another challenge centres on the economics of CCU – a suite of technologies that has been criticised by some as being too expensive to consider. There are multiple factors at play when it comes to costs for CCU, including – but not limited to – the cost of CO2 recovery and liquefaction.
There we need to combine the recovered CO2 with renewable hydrogen and that’s not currently economically sustainable.
“There is also the cost of the hydrogen because all of the potential CO2 utilisation is the use of the CO2 for the e-fuels for SAF,” said Amore. “There we need to combine the recovered CO2 with renewable hydrogen and that’s not currently economically sustainable.”
A third issue affecting the adoption of CCU is centred on policy. One primary challenge lies in the absence of comprehensive and consistent regulatory frameworks that incentivise and support CCU initiatives.
Policymakers play a crucial role in creating an environment where businesses are motivated to invest in CCU technologies. Ambiguous or inadequate policies can hinder the widespread adoption of CCU solutions, as companies may be uncertain about the long-term viability and economic feasibility of their investments.
According to Amore, current regulations also mean that sequestration is the only solution for CCU that allows for crediting of CO2 emissions. “We are waiting for the delegated acts to understand which are the additional technologies that they recognise as a solution for permanently binding the CO2 chemically to avoid the CO2 being released after a short period of time.”
Moreover, when it comes to carbon credits, the challenge lies in accurately quantifying and verifying the carbon reduction achieved through CCU processes. CCU is often considered the most verifiable and measurable due to the permanence and reliability associated with geological storage.
“At Nippon Gases, we push to develop ourselves and our partner solutions that can help to reduce CO2 emissions or to find a solution with CCU while trying to be close to our customers and working on the economics,” added Amore.