UAE to pump CO2 into rock as carbon sequestration debate rages

ADNOC carbon capture facility in Fujairah, United Arab Emirates – Copyright AFP Karim SAHIB

Hashem Oseiran

High in the remote mountains of the oil-rich United Arab Emirates, a new power plant will soon absorb atmospheric CO2 and pump it into rock – part of controversial attempts to target planet-warming emissions without giving up fossil fuels.

Using new technology developed by Omani start-up 44.01, the solar power plant will suck carbon dioxide from the air, dissolve it in seawater and pump it deep underground, where it will mineralize over months.

The new site in the Gulf of Oman is being financed by state oil giant ADNOC, whose CEO Sultan Al Jaber is president of the UN COP28 climate talks and chairman of Masdar, a renewable energy company.

The first injection of CO2 is expected during COP28, which begins on Thursday in nearby Dubai, where the hydrocarbons debate will be a key battle between activists and the oil lobby.

“We believe this volume of rock here in the UAE has the potential to store gigatonnes of CO2,” ADNOC chief technology officer Sophie Hildebrand told AFP during a tour of the facility this week.

“ADNOC has earmarked $15 billion for decarbonisation projects,” she added, citing how much was spent on the Fujairah power plant.

The United Arab Emirates is the world’s seventh largest oil producer and plans to invest $150 billion by 2027 to expand its oil and gas production capacity.

Oil producers are throwing their weight behind carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology as a solution to global warming despite criticism from climate experts who warn it is not enough to tackle the crisis.

With little investment and few projects in operation worldwide, the technology is currently nowhere near the scale needed to impact global emissions.

– “Not proven at scale” –

The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says existing fossil fuel infrastructure – without the use of carbon capture – will push the world beyond the required 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

At the factory in Fujairah, one of the UAE’s seven sheikhdoms, giant fans extract CO2 directly from the surrounding atmosphere.

Liquid CO2 is stored in vertical tanks, then turned into a gas and dissolved in seawater, which will be injected into a well one kilometer (0.6 miles) deep.

“It will take about eight months for the CO2 to be fully mineralized in the subsurface from the moment of injection,” said Talal Hasan, CEO of 44.01.

The company, one of the winners of the 2022 UK Earthshot Prize, has already carried out a test injection of around 1.2 tonnes of CO2 in Oman.

“This is a 10- to 15-fold magnification of the Oman pilot,” Hasan said.

“The target rate is one tonne of CO2 per day for an initial period of 10 days,” he added.

When asked about the price, he said the aim is to make it competitive with more conventional carbon storage techniques.

“Our goal is eventually to reach a price of about $15 per ton of sequestered CO2, not including the cost of actually capturing the CO2,” he said.

Jaber, COP28 president and head of ADNOC, said climate diplomacy should focus on gradually reducing oil and gas emissions – not necessarily on fossil fuels alone.

Climate activists have raised concerns about the influence of fossil fuel interests at COP28, where the benefits of carbon capture will be heavily pushed.

“When the negotiating parties talk about phasing out unabated fossil fuels, they are excluding those fuels whose emissions have been mitigated by carbon capture and storage,” said Karim Elgendy, a fellow at the British think tank Chatham House.

“The problem with carbon capture and storage technologies is that they are not proven at scale,” he said.

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