The aim of having a greenhouse gas emissions neutral economy in 2050, as some superficial broadcasters claim, is not a happy arcade without polluting gases. It is absolutely impossible to reach this scenario, because it is one thing to switch to less polluting production processes – different paths, and quite another to eliminate some of these emissions.
The reason for this is simply because they are indispensable, and that is how they are enlisted by experts in energy transition. For example, emissions from critical industries such as lime or cement for which it is impossible to obtain clinker without treating soils that emit carbon dioxide, have such a classification. Similar is the case with biogas obtained in organic waste management plants. Combustion of biogas inevitably generates greenhouse gas emissions, even if its production is of non-fossil origin and is fully aligned with the circular economy model; A model that aims to reduce waste.
For all these inevitable emissions, only so-called carbon separation technologies remain, most of which are still far from reaching market maturity or a condition that would guarantee them a competitive price. The economic opportunities that exist in the sequestration, storage, transport and above all, reuse of sequestered carbon are very promising, but there is a perception that Spain is going into the slipstream of other countries with projects already underway.
One of the main uses of sequestered carbon is its use for the manufacture of synthetic fuels. For this to be possible, the use of hydrogen is needed and even here international commitments – Spain and the European Union – are limited to so-called green hydrogen as opposed to gray (derived from fossil fuels). There is already a whole PERTE here that focuses on hydrogen and in which Iberdrola has a clear lead with the development of the Puertollano plant (Ciudad Real). The PERTE is one of the Spanish Government’s Jargon Recovery, Transformation and Resilience Plans with the ambitious full name of PERTE for Renewable Energy, Renewable Hydrogen and Storage. However, on a global scale, German companies are probably ahead by developing plants in a variety of countries. One of them is the German corporation GIZ in collaboration with the Chilean government.
There are those who view these technologies from a narrow political perspective that places them on the political spectrum of the Left. This is the same error that would have occurred if, by replacing gas or kerosene lights for electric lighting, those who installed the light bulbs sold by Edison would have been politically listed. It is another mistake to view business movements towards a circular economy from the same narrow and political point of view. It is wrong to think that using manure to feed turkey casings or to produce biogas is not a profitable economic activity; You just need to check the electricity bills of the companies that use your biogas to see what they have saved since the electricity price skyrocketed last year.
As we wrote in the beginning, there are polluting emissions that are never going to stop production—some because they are strictly natural and beyond human control—there are also economic sectors that are very difficult to reduce; Simply because their activity is not favorable. These sectors include air and sea transport. Over long distances, batteries are not a viable solution at the moment, but appear to be synthetic fuels produced with green hydrogen and sequestered carbon. The Galician company Forrestal del Atlántico is probably one of the few who know how to read these opportunities very well. There is room for more. We will see how quickly these opportunities develop.
Jose Manuel Casino He is Professor of Applied Economics at the University of Seville and an academic at the Autonomous University of Chile.
business of separating carbon