CCS in China: in the “Net-Zero” and Blue Hydrogen Context

China’s CCS attempt may face a new context. The country has looked into Carbon Capture Utilization and Storage (CCUS/CCS) technology as a potential solution to decarbonize its massive fossil fuel sectors for more than ten years. 

The new national target—to peak carbon emission by 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality by 2060—has brought a new context for the application of CCS. The frontier technology could seek a more significant role in decarbonizing the petrochemical, iron&steel, and new energy sectors. 

Several energy companies recently show interest in bringing in CCS pilot projects in the next ten years. This new trend is amidst China’s growing enthusiasm in fostering its hydrogen and fuel cell technology sectors, where the CCS-based blue hydrogen supply is considered the mid-term solution. 

China CCS Demonstrations and Policymaking

China has launched more CCUS demonstration projects than anywhere else in the world in the past decade. But compared to its massive fossil fuel sectors and the high-emission heavy industries, progress is still slow. 

Most of the existing CCUS projects are in coal-fired power plants. Some are installed in coal-to-chemical and oilfields for enhanced oil recovery process. 

Those pilot efforts were initiated by a handful of power developers, coal & petrochemical producers.

The industry used to consider enhanced oil recovery (EOR) as the most promising market for CCUS. [ADB’s 2015 report for the Chinese government is an example. ]

Despite the various demos and research efforts, policy support for CCUS in China remains limited. Since 2006, Beijing has issued over 20 policies where CCUS is mentioned or encouraged one way or another. Nevertheless, there is no specific policy or financial designs to commercialize the frontier technology.   

New Efforts to Promote CCUS in China 

As Beijing promise to reach net-zero by 2060, questions arise whether the carbon neutrality ambition will provide new momentum for the country to embrace CCS more quickly. 

Another question is whether CCS/CCUS is a must for the country to secure its goal. 

Our observation is that Beijing has placed much higher pressure on the heavy industries to decarbonize in the 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-2025) period. The mounting decarbonization pressure may set a new stage for CCS in China. 

Already, several new projects embracing CCS have surfaced in the iron & steel and the cement industries, signalling some new investment interest. 

For instance, Sinoma Energy Conservation—a subsidiary of China National Materials Group (Sinoma)—has reached a cooperation deal with International CCS Knowledge Center. The Canadian organization—a key player in developing the Boundary Dam 3 project—would provide design support to the Chinese firm. 

Moreover, China is soon to launch the national emission trading market and an emission fund. Carbon trading could offer some financial incentive to the frontier technology.

The top energy regulator NDRC also revealed earlier this year that it plans to set up policies to support low-carbon technology like CCS, hydrogen and utility-scale energy storage. Shortly after the expression, several National People’s Congress representatives also submitted legislative advisories urging for supporting policy. 

Nevertheless, when would such policymaking promises become a reality remains to be seen. And whether Beijing would provide concrete financial incentive is highly uncertain.  

CCS in China’s Blue Hydrogen Transition

Meanwhile, China’s heated hydrogen investment trend is another opportunity where CCS could find new momentum. 

China is the largest hydrogen producer and consumer globally. 

Nevertheless, given the sufficient supply of coal in the country, grey hydrogen takes up over 60% of the supply. Meanwhile, the petrochemical industry and industrial by-product gas is another critical hydrogen source.

The grey hydrogen supply, by itself, did not fit into China’s net-zero path for long. Naturally, grey hydrogen plus CCS/CCUS technology, which turns the grey gas into blue hydrogen, has attracted more attention.   

Recently, new investment and local policy efforts have already emerged related to CCS in hydrogen production. 

Chinese CCS and Hydrogen Players

Some of the energy players in China with investment in CCS/CCUS are also active in the current hydrogen investment hype. 

  • China Huaneng:Huaneng is a pioneer in kick-starting CCUS in China, setting up three demos since 2008. The second-largest power utility in China is also active in promoting green hydrogen development. Meanwhile, Huaneng’s Clean Energy Research Institute, on the other hand, is leading in several hydrogen and fuel cell R&Ds. 
  • China Energy Investment Corp (CEIC): as the world’s largest power utility, CEIC comes into being upon the merger of China Guodian and coal-mining giant Shenhua—the latter has tested CCS in its coal-to-chemical projects. Meanwhile, CEIC is now poised to invest heavily in the whole fuel cell value chain. 
  • State Power Investment Corp (SPIC): Like China Huaneng, SPIC has involved in both CCS pilot projects and is now active in hydrogen investment. 
  • Sinopec: the national oil major has embarked on CCUS in its oil field for enhanced oil recovery. Sinopec is now adopting an aggressive strategy investing in hydrogen infrastructure (refuelling stations) and eyeing fuel cell technology investment. 

The overlapping interests may help to bring the application of CCS in the hydrogen sector. 

[ READ MORE: information on these power utilities and their roles in hydrogen. ]

China’s CCS CCUS Demo Projects 

China Huaneng: 3,000 t/a CO2 Capture in Beijing Thermal Power Plant

With its proprietary technology, China Huaneng has designed and constructed the first post-combustion CO2 capture pilot plant in July 2008. In the PCC system, CO2 capture capacity is 3,000–5,000 tons per year. 

The Beijing pilot is in the Huaneng Beijing thermal power plant. This power plant was an 845 MW coal-fired cogeneration and configured with SCR, ESPs, and WFGD to remove NOx, particles and SOx. The capture plant was set up after WFGD and got a bypass flue gas. A refining system was deployed after capture to purify the CO2 further to get the food-grade production.

Some performance parameters represent as follows: 

  • CO2 recovery ≥85 %, 
  • Purity has reached 99.99%
  • Steam consumption ≤ 3.5 GJ/t CO2, 
  • Electricity consumption ≤ 90 kWh/t CO2. 

China Huaneng: 120,000 t/a CO2 Capture in Shanghai Shidongkou No.2 Power Plant

In 2009, encouraged by the first pilot plant’s success, Huaneng started a new CO2 capture project at the Shidongkou No.2 Power Plant in Shanghai. With completion before the end of 2009, this project captures as many as 120,000 tons of CO2 annually with a purity of 99.9%+. 

Part of the captured CO2 is used in the food processing industry after refining, and the rest is used in industrial production. This capture device was the world’s largest at the time when it started operation.

Huaneng: GreenGen 400MW IGCC Power Plant in Tianjin

In 2011, Huaneng initiated the GreenGen project to design, develop and operate a 400MW coal-fired Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle (IGCC) power plant near Tianjin, south-east of Beijing. 

GreenGen was launched in 2005 to demonstrate integrated coal gasification, and hydrogen production and power generation together with CCS, and ultimately, achieving high-efficiency power generation with near-zero emissions.

This project has been installed in a 250MW IGCC power plant in 2011.

CEIC: Shenhua Ordos CCS Demonstration Project

In 2010, Shenhua’s 100,000 tons CO2/a CCS demonstration project was put in operation in Ordos City, Inner Mongolia. Shenhua’s CCS demo is currently China’s first pilot project for deep salt/saline aquifer storage, as well as China’s first entirely coal-based CCS demonstration project.

The project captures CO2 from the tail gas of a coal-to-liquids process. After purification and liquefaction, the CO2 is transported by tanker to the storage site and injected into saline aquifers (1000-3000 meters deep). 

Comprehensive evaluations have been carried out by building, running, tracking, and monitoring the demonstration project, which in turn have led to a comprehensive package for CO2 capture, transport, storage, and supervision techniques.

As a key science and technology project in the country’s 12th Five-Year Plan, Shenhua’s CCS demo project has now completed the total injection target of 300,000 tons of CO2 and captured nearly 356,000 tons of tail gas.

SPIC: CO2 Capture in Chongqing Shuanghuai Thermal Power Plant

SPIC’s Chongqing Shuanghuai Thermal Power Plant has a carbon-capture pilot based on two 300 MW units. Located at Shanghai Town in Chongqing City, this project was built in September 2008 and put into operation in January 2010. It has an annual capacity of treating 50 million standard cubic meters of flue gas and 10,000 t/a of industrial-grade CO2. The carbon capture rate was greater than 95%, with a CO2 concentration over 99.5%. 

Based on this project, CPIG further completed the 150,000 t/a carbon capture device’s research and engineering design and carried out the pre-feasibility study of the CCS full-process program. Currently, the CO2 captured by this device is mainly used in welding protection and hydrogen cooling replacement of power plant generators.

Sinopec: CCS Demonstration Project in Shengli Oilfield

The company has successfully constructed the 40,000 t/a CO2 capture pilot project based in China’s second-largest oil field—Shengli Oilfield (in Shandong Province)— with a purity reaching 99.5%+.

China Resources Power: Haifeng Carbon Capture Testing Platform

China Resources Power (CRP) Haifeng Carbon Capture Testing Platform (HCCT) is based on the coal-fired units of the CRP Group Haifeng Plant in Guangdong Province. The CRP Haifeng Plant is a coal-fired power plant with a planned maximal capacity of 8×1000MW. 

The HCCT, based on the plant’s 2×1000MW ultra-supercritical coal-fired generating units, is Asia’s first carbon capture technology test centre and the first of its kind built in an ultra-supercritical coal-fired power generating unit.

The project aims to test multi carbon capture technologies in parallel using real flue gas from the power plant and to provide an open-access facility for piloting, scale-up and verification and optimization of different CO2 capture technologies. 

Any CO2 captured from the power plant would be injected in a CO2 storage site in a deep saline formation in the South China Sea for permanent storage or for CO2 enhanced hydrocarbon recovery in fields operated by the China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC). 

In May 2019, the plant achieved the capacity to capture 20,000 t/a of CO2 and utilization hours of 5500h annually.