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Aug-2021

CCUS challenges and opportunities in Chile

For Chile, carbon capture use and storage presents a potential opportunity to go beyond carbon neutrality and provide a source of ‘negative emissions’.

Jose Barriga Cabezón
ENAP

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Article Summary

Chile has considerable solar, geothermal, wind, mini-hydro, ocean and biomass/biogas resources, yet they currently (2019) make up just 9% of the total energy production. A national effort is underway to raise the Renewable Portfolio Standard of energy from renewable energy sources from the expected 20% by 2025 to 40% by 2030.

Renewable energy is at the heart of Chile’s transition to net zero, but with flexible power stations still required to ensure the stability of the power grid, the decarbonisation of our gas-fired power plants and fossil fuel industrial facilities also has a significant role to play in reducing emissions.

The transition to a net-zero sustainable energy regime in any country is not just an engineering question but an economic, social and cultural issue. So Chile, like several other countries participating in the Paris Agreement, has set decarbonisation targets within its nationally determined contribution (NDC) proposal for 2050 in line with a strategy that favours the replacement of fossil fuels with renewable fuels but relying heavily on forest carbon capture to achieve carbon neutrality (see Figure 1).

Consequently, among the proposed alternatives for emissions reduction, carbon capture use and storage (CCUS) has not been considered as one of the technologies indicated in the planned strategy by the Ministries of Environment and Energy to achieve these goals (see Figure 2).

This is possibly due to a preference for the natural advantages of CO2 capture in Chile’s extensive forest area, plus a lack of knowledge of the technological elements, advantages and costs associated with the utilisation of CCUS. Possible prejudices could also relate to the technology’s reliability, safety and control, and the length of time the captured carbon is stored in the subsoil.
It is a similar story in many other Latin American countries, where the use of CCUS is relatively unknown, except for Brazil. The Santos Basin CO2-EOR plant, located off the coast of Rio de Janeiro, has captured and injected some 10 million tonnes of CO2 into the Lula, Sapinhoá and Lapa oil fields since 2013. By 2025, its cumulative goal is to process a total of 40 million tonnes.
The other exception is Mexico, where the Ministry of Energy developed a Technology Roadmap on CCUS, updated in 2018. This proposed a national strategy and inventory, and the creation of a centre for technological research and development, with an exploratory stage that included a CO2 capture demonstration project. However, the government abandoned these plans due to an apparent lack of funds.

Emissions
Chile is responsible for 0.25% of global emissions from burning fossil fuels for energy purposes, with an average per capita of 4.45 MtCO2eq. (2019) slightly below the world average. The energy sector is the main greenhouse gas (GHG) national emitter, 77% of the total GHG emissions in 2018, with a total accounted for 87.1 MtCO2eq., which represents an increase since 2013 of 17%. The leading cause for this growth is the country’s energy consumption, including the consumption of natural gas for power generation and liquid fuels for land transportation, mainly diesel and gasoline. Within the Fuel Combustion Activities classification, the Electricity Generation subclass is the most important with 32%, followed by 21% of Land Transportation, 14% of Manufacturing Industries and Construction, and 7% of Residential activities (see Figure 3).

Chile is responsible for 0.25% of global emissions from burning fossil fuels for energy purposes, with an average per capita of 4.45 MtCO2eq. (2019) slightly below the world average. The energy sector is the main greenhouse gas (GHG) national emitter, 77% of the total GHG emissions in 2018, with a total accounted for 87.1 MtCO2eq., which represents an increase since 2013 of 17%. The leading cause for this growth is the country’s energy consumption, including the consumption of natural gas for power generation and liquid fuels for land transportation, mainly diesel and gasoline. Within the Fuel Combustion Activities classification, the Electricity Generation subclass is the most important with 32%, followed by 21% of Land Transportation, 14% of Manufacturing Industries and Construction, and 7% of Residential activities (see Figure 3).

Total GHG emissions were dominated by CO2, which accounted for 78%, followed by CH4 with 13% and N2O with 6%. Fluorinated gases collectively account for 3% of the country’s total GHG emissions as of 2018.

Antofagasta, Valparaíso-Metropolitan and Biobío Regions represent the main emission concentration zones, where 73% of the energy sector’s total emissions are generated (see Figure 4).
Challenges

Chile will heavily rely on negative emissions by forests to reach its net-zero target, expecting carbon sinks to contribute as much as 50% to the emissions reduction required to reach the 2050 neutrality goal.

This can pose a significant risk, given the high chances of carbon loss through deforestation, natural disturbance, forest wildfires and eventual competition for land. There is no ‘assured target’. Trees that store away CO2 for 20 or 30 years before being burned in a wildfire provide a fundamentally different service to a tonne of the gas buried deep underground for thousands of years. Climate change is a problem of cumulative amounts of GHGs in the atmosphere, and many experts argue that the longer a tonne of CO2 can be stored away, the more valuable it should be. So reliance on forest CO2 capture would not be incompatible with the use of CCUS.

CCUS is considered a mature technology and infrastructure already existent (+40 years on), and has been the subject of much discussion and considerable research, but little in the way of real-world impact. This reveals an important point: the deployment of CCUS technologies is almost exclusively motivated by the need to significantly reduce GHG emissions, so their large-scale adoption depends on explicit efforts to control such emissions. However, as the early achievement of net-zero ambitions ramps up, that could change dramatically.

The current economics of CCUS is such that the cost of emitting CO2 from coal- or gas-fired power plants or industrial facilities is still less than the cost of implementing CCUS almost anywhere in the world today. However, excluding CCUS from the suite of technologies used to meet emissions reduction targets will increase these costs.


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