CCU technologies are currently a focus of research and development across the globe. Such technologies allow us to capture and use carbon dioxide that would otherwise be emitted in industrial processes. Direct air capture of carbon dioxide is also possible. The captured CO2 can then be used as a substitute for the direct use of carbon from fossil resources. While many of these CCU applications are already technically feasible, the main barriers to their industrial upscaling are higher costs compared with conventional production paths and, in many cases, high requirements for energy from renewable resources, including green hydrogen.
In her study, IASS researcher Barbara Olfe-Kräutlein systematically examines all the SDGs and their possible relationships to the economic, ecological, and societal effects of CCU technologies. She identifies links in the case of eight of the seventeen SDGs. CCU has the greatest potential for SDG 7 “Affordable and Clean Energy”, thanks mainly to the energy storage options it offers and the development of innovative, decentralised energy solutions. However, beyond the possible effects of a single technology, it’s important to consider the energy system as a whole. This makes it easier to identify negative side effects, for example, the potential of CCU technologies to perpetuate fossil infrastructures.
Policymakers should support technology transfer to developing countries
Even in the case of the more socially-oriented goals – e.g. SDG 1, “End Poverty in All its Forms Everywhere” – CCU can make a positive contribution. But for that to happen, researchers and the CCU industry have to be willing to share their knowledge, and governments must support the technology transfer to developing countries. At present, CCU tends to be the preserve of industrial nations. With regard to the ecological goals (SDGs 6 and 12 to 15), it’s particularly important that decision-makers in governance, industry, and research develop and apply transparent assessment standards in order to ensure that CCU technologies really do contribute to the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
In recent times, particularly among European policymakers, CCU has been widely discussed as an opportunity for industrial transformation towards sustainability, and it is also mentioned in current IPCC reports as a means of reducing carbon dioxide emissions. However, as Olfe-Kräutlein emphasises, whether or not CCU technologies will benefit society is largely a question of governance: “The UN Sustainable Development Goals are a suitable basis for evaluating CCU technologies and guiding their development and application. They should be a key point of reference in policymaking processes and the design of funding mechanisms at national and European level, but also worldwide.” Assessing CCU technologies against the SDGs can also reveal the hidden potential of CCU technologies, for example, to enhance cooperation with less developed countries.
Olfe-Kräutlein, B. (2020) Advancing CCU Technologies Pursuant to the SDGs: A Challenge for Policy Making. Front. Energy Res. 8:198. doi: 10.3389/fenrg.2020.00198