Santos, CSIRO aim to suck greenhouse gases from the Australian sky

Energy giant Santos has struck a deal with the CSIRO to trial technology aiming to suck carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and pump it underground, as governments and industry explore new ways to neutralise emissions and stop the planet from overheating.

The collaboration will seek to develop a so-called “direct air capture” project – the first of its kind in Australia – and connect it to Santos’s $220 million Moomba carbon capture and storage (CCS) project, which the Santos board agreed to finance earlier this week.

Pods for storing carbon dioxide underground at the world’s largest commercial direct air-capture plant in Iceland.Credit:Bloomberg

Direct-air capture has long been criticised as too costly and an impractical solution to arrest global warming. But the fledgling technology is attracting a growing level of interest from governments and investors worldwide as scientists warn of the need to remove more carbon from the atmosphere this century than tree-planting programs are capable of absorbing.

Santos managing director Kevin Gallagher, who has travelled to Glasgow for the COP26 climate summit, said the partnership with CSIRO came at an important time for the global community as the world “struggles to find a credible pathway to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050”.

“This technology literally has the potential to negate emissions elsewhere in the economy, especially in hard-to-abate sectors that Australia still needs to manufacture essential everyday products,” he said.

There are some direct air-capture plants operating around the world, the biggest being Climeworks’ Orca plant in Iceland, which uses dozens of huge fans to draw air into its ducts and filter out the carbon dioxide.

Australian National University Climate Change Institute’s Mark Howden said the process remained highly energy-intensive and prohibitively expensive.

“We are talking several hundreds of dollars a tonne,” Professor Howden said last week.

“It’s much cheaper to reduce your emissions in the first place, and you can do it much cheaper than hundreds of dollars a tonne.”

Carbon-capture and storage has also become a hugely divisive area of climate policy in Australia. Supporters of CCS argue it is a necessary and unavoidable component of the world’s decarbonisation goals to avoid the worst and most immediate impacts of global warming. The International Energy Agency says carbon capture projects are needed now to start reducing the pollution from difficult-to-abate industrial processes like cement production.

Santos has given the financial go-ahead to a major new carbon storage project near its gas plant at Moomba, SA.Credit:Kelly Barnes

However, CCS is strongly opposed by the Greens and environmentalists who argue it is diverting focus and funding from the massive research and development push needed to switch to clean fuel sources, and fear it could be used to prolong the existence of fossil fuels in the economy.

There are also fresh questions about the technology’s prospects of functioning at scale after Chevron’s giant Gorgon CCS project in Western Australia this year failed to meet a crucial target of capturing and burying at least 80 per cent of the carbon dioxide released from its gas reservoirs, despite several years of work and spending more than $3 billion.

Santos’s proposed Moomba CCS project would have the capacity to store 1.7 million tonnes of carbon dioxide a year from 2024, making it one of the biggest projects in the world with the lowest unit costs. The company said it could eventually have the capacity to stash as much as 20 million tonnes of carbon dioxide a year.

CSIRO energy director Marita Niemelae said the agency believed carbon-capture technologies would play a vital role in the transition to net-zero emissions.

“By collaborating with industry, we can demonstrate key technologies at scale, ensuring superior performance and economics,” Dr Niemelae said.

The Business Briefing newsletter delivers major stories, exclusive coverage and expert opinion. Sign up to get it every weekday morning.

Most Viewed in Business

From our partners

Source: Read Full Article