Electrofuel or E-fuel is an up-and-coming alternative fuel that combines hydrogen and carbon dioxide. However, unlike conventional fuels, both hydrogen and carbon molecules are derived in a green and renewable way, thus touting it as a ‘green alternative fuel’. These are expected to impact various transportation sectors in the future, particularly aviation and shipping. As a replacement fuel, e-fuels hold the potential to make the zero-emission pledge a reality. But, the technology for producing e-fuels needs further research and development to reach commercial viability. One of the most efficient ways of making e-fuels is through Carbon Capture. Countries in the Nordic Region are building infrastructure to develop carbon capture storage facilities by which CO2 can be captured from the atmosphere and then further processed to make e-fuels. India is no alien to this technology and has published the 2030 Roadmap for Carbon Capture, Utilisation and Storage (CCUS). The development of CCUS could be immensely beneficial to India and help accelerate India’s clean energy goals. Therefore, it is crucial for India to ensure that the R&D required for CCUS is not obstructed by uncertain investments, incomplete infrastructure, or half-baked policies.
Quite a stir was created whenPorsche announced a $75 Million investment in HIF Global LLC, an e-fuel Production Company. Porsche aims to initially use e-fuel for the motorsport flagship projects; however, the bigger plan is to eventually use e-fuels in the Company’s vehicles with combustion engines. In view of the climate crises that the world is facing collectively, the attention to fossil fuel alternatives has substantially increased. E-fuels or Synthetic fuels have the potential to achieve the clean energy vision that the world is striving to achieve. With the expansion of Renewable Energy comes the need to develop technologies to store and supply energy. Synthetic fuels have the attribute of storing high power density energy for a very long period. India has made acommitment to go Carbon Neutral by 2070. In view of this commitment, India has taken various steps to promote renewable and alternative energy sources, one of which is theadoption of Carbon Capture, Utilisation, and Storage (CCUS) Technologies.
India’s interest and inclination toward the exploration of opportunities in the arena of CCUS are evident from theMoUs being signed by government bodies for Research & Development in this field. Through Carbon Capture, e-fuel can be produced. India is at a nascent stage of developing a Carbon-Capture ecosystem. Once developed, this mechanism could possibly birth an e-fuel revolution in India. In this blog, the author aims to discuss the potential of CCUS technology in India along with the possibility of treading upon a future of electrofuels. Further, the author analysis the feasibility of introducing such a mechanism in the Indian Landscape vis-a-vis the investment, infrastructure, regulatory and policy requirements of the same.
What are E-Fuels/Synthetic Fuels?
When Hydrogen fuel was first introduced in the United States, the most significant criticism it faced waspertaining to its production and storage. Though touted as a clean fuel, the production of hydrogen at that time was effectuated directly or indirectly by fossil fuels. This method acted as an antithesis to the whole clean energy paradigm. Adding to its plight was the difficulty faced in storing hydrogen gas. However, over time, a cleaner way of obtaining hydrogen has been achieved. Hydrogen can be produced through electrolysis conducted by using renewable energy mediums. On the storage front, since hydrogen, upon reaction with other elements, can produce synthetic fuels, storage and transportation become easier. These synthetic fuels are called E-fuels or Electrofuels because they act as an energy content storage of electricity derived from renewable energy or decarbonised energy. These include e-methane, e-kerosene, and e-methanol. These components set them apart from biofuels, which are predominantly made from biomass.
Following the refinery process, e-Fuel can be utilised as e-Gasoline, e-Diesel, e-Heating oil, e-Kerosene, and e-Gas,and can entirely replace conventional fuels. Additionally, because they may be used in place of traditional fuels, e-Fuels can be mixed with them in any quantity. Tank farms, tank trucks, pipelines, and filling stations are examples of existing infrastructure for logistics, distribution, and refueling of e-fuels. Because e-Fuels are produced using power from renewable sources and just a small amount of CO2 is released when they are utilised, they are considered climate neutral. E-fuels can also power cars, planes, and ships because they are compatible with today’s internal combustion engines. This enables them to keep operating but in a way that is more environmentally beneficial. The same holds true for all fuel-based heating systems, whether liquid or gaseous.
An Unexplored Potential
While the world is transitioning to EVs, a large number of vehicles may lose relevance and run out of usage. To achieve this transition, infrastructure modifications are required. E-fuel, on the other hand, does not require such modifications. The same vehicles that are currently in use today can run on e-fuels without making any amends. Furthermore, no change is needed at the supply chain level as well. The usage of electric batteries is more challenging in the heavy transportation sector and may only be practical for limited distances without recharging. Therefore, while looking ahead to 2050, alternative fuels will make up a significantly larger portion of the energy supply, and the scalability of renewable energy in the transportation sector will be one of many factors to consider. However, today, very few companies, including Porsche, are exploring the space of e-fuels.
The Carbon Capture Technology
In January 2021, Elon Musk, through his Twitter Account,announced $100 Million for the best Carbon Capture Technology. What exactly is this, and Why is it important? Carbon Capture is a process that involves capturing and storing CO2 before it is released into the atmosphere. Carbon captured from emissions from industries, such as steel, coal, and cement, or from burning fossil fuels is transported via ship or pipeline to a suitable site (usually in underground geological formations) for long-term storage or is used for oil/gas recovery or converted into different components. E-fuel is produced by reacting Hydrogen Gas from Electrolysis and captured carbon in the form of CO2. Though the process of electrolysis is rather common and widely used, the method of Carbon Capture is relatively new. International Energy Agency (IEA) has recognised Carbon Capture Storage asone of the four pillars of global energy transformation.
The Indian Landscape
In pursuant to India’s commitment to reduce emission intensity targets by 2030 and facilitate the transition from fossil fuel to greener alternatives, the adoption of E-fuels is paramount. E-fuels would not only accelerate India’s plans for de-carbonisation but would also reduce emissions from combustion engines. Over the coming years, these fuels hold the potential to become the game-changers in India’s energy landscape.
Despite India’s efforts in developing and promoting Renewable Energy capacities, forecasts suggest that India willstill be reliant on fossil fuels in the foreseeable future. India needs a sustained source of energy to cater to its energy demands and accelerate its economic growth. Though India’s per capita CO2 emission is very less,it ranks third in CO2 emissions in the world. In order to reduce emission intensity and achieve carbon neutrality, Carbon Capture, Utilisation, and Storage (CCUS) Technology could be beneficial to India. CCUS could lead to curtailment in atmospheric emissions and promote mechanisms for the utilisation of captured CO2, one of which is the production of e-fuels.
A committee named “Upstream for Carbon Capture, Utilization, and Storage (UFCC)” has been established by the Indian Ministry of Oil and Natural Gas (MoPNG) under the leadership of Additional Secretary (Exploration)-MoPNG in order to provide opportunities for industry collaboration and knowledge sharing as well as to create a comprehensive and workable plan for the development and implementation of (CCS/CCUS) techniques in upstream exploration and production (E&P) in India. The committee created the “2030 Roadmap for Carbon Capture, Utilisation, and Storage” in accordance with its mandate, which will provide all oil and gas companies with the direction and guidelines they require to develop and scale up CCS/CCUS technology.
The state-run Indian Oil Corporation haspledged to achieve Net Zero carbon emissions by 2046, and CCUS is part of the mission. It is planning to set up India’s first Industrial Scale Carbon-capture project and has entered into an MoU with ONGC for the same. The CO2 captured at the IOCL refinery will be treated, compressed, and taken to the ONGC field through pipelines. At ONGC, it will be used for Enhanced Oil Recovery (EOR).
Implementing the CCUS Mechanism in India
One of the most crucial stages in the CCUS process is the transportation stage which links the source to the storage. Approximately76% of the CCUS technologies utilise pipelines for transportation. At the moment, 25000 Km Oil & Gas pipelines are in operation in India. Therefore, India could also consider using Pipelines as a mode of transportation. However, the pipelines must be holistically developed to take into view the specific requirements of CCUS. One major difficulty is building CO2 transportation pipelines. The United States of America already has5000 Miles of CO2 pipelines specifically for enhanced oil recovery. China, on the other hand, does not have a CO2-EOR pipeline. The question is, can the already existing pipelines carry CO2 as well? CO2 pipelines are very different from Oil & Gas pipelines. The important point to keep in mind is that CO2 is not being transported as a ‘Gas’ but as a ‘Liquid’. The captured CO2 is compressed to a dense ‘supercritical’ state where it behaves like a liquid. It is to be transported at 700 PSI higher than natural gas, which means that the walls of the pipeline have to be thicker. Therefore, the pipelines used for transporting oil & gas may not be appropriate for transporting CO2 and thus cannot be repurposed. India would need to develop a CO2 pipeline to ensure safety.
The successful commencement of CCUS would largely depend on access to storage sites. It is imperative for India to map its CO2 storage capacity. A comprehensive atlas needs to be constructed with links and identification of the source and storage site. The government geological surveys, centres, and institutes should commence storage assessments and prepare data on India’s CO2 storage capacity. The United Kingdom and the Netherlands have adopted theHubs and Clusters approach. They are CCS hubs for dedicated geological storage at the North Sea. The Draft 2030 Roadmap for Carbon Capture, Utilisation, and Storage presents a ‘systematic source-to-sink assessment through the identification of CO2 emission points across different industrial sectors’. The assessment identifies emission sources from different sectors (Oil, Gas, Cement, steel, etc.) on the basis of their CO2 emissions.
Cost & Investment
The “Energy Technology Perspectives 2020, Special Report on Carbon Capture, Utilisation and Storage” of IEA has enumerated ‘high capital investment’ as one of the biggest challenges faced in the scaling up of CCUS. The cost of capturing CO2 globally is high. However, in India, coupled with the lack of transportation infrastructure, it will increase further. To attract investments, specific policies need to be created. The Draft 2030 CCUS Roadmap gives some noteworthy suggestions, which include: establishing a national fund with contributions from public and private sector players to support CCUS/CCS projects with the assurance of capital grants and incentives upon achievement of specific goals; Offer subsidised Viability Gap Funding (VGF) for commercial ventures; Grant capital to early CCUS/CCS projects, for example, as demonstration or pilot programmes. The draft roadmap has defined its deployment plans into three stages: short term (0-3 years), medium term (3-10 years) and long term (10-15 years).
The United States has implemented a tax incentive policy to give tax credits based on the amount of CO2 injected for sequestration and CO2 EOR, respectively. The tax credit value is statutorily represented in dollars per metric tonne of carbon dioxide ($/MT CO2). However, since unabated gas plants naturally emit significantly less CO2 per megawatt-hour (MWh) than unabated coal plants, a per-metric-ton-based CO2 collection incentive for gas plants is less effective than one for coal plants. India can also adopt similar tax incentive laws and policies to enable accelerated deployment of CCUS. While doing so, the government should keep in mind that policy recommendations and proposed incentives should differ for coal and gas plants.
Additionally, investment in Research & Development (R&D) is extremely necessary to reduce the overall costs involved in CCUS. The European Union, through the EU Innovation fund, hasinvested over a billion euros in the innovation and development of CCS/CCUS technology. With consistent efforts and investment, India can grab the opportunity to become the global centre of CCUS innovation, given that the CCUS revolution is still in its infancy around the world. For the Indian private sector to position itself as the global entrepreneurial centre, incentives and R&D subsidies would be important enablers. Establishing incubation and research centres in partnership with Universities would play an important role in attracting foreign capital.
Policy & Regulation
As CCUS technologies are expanding, legal and regulatory frameworks are necessary to guarantee the responsible management of CO2 storage facilities, the preservation of the environment and public health, and the security of CCUS operations. The rights and obligations of CCUS stakeholders, including the appropriate authorities, operators, and the general public, must also be made clear in regulatory frameworks. This will help project developers and their investors make informed decisions.
The Indian lawmakers must ensure that the framework incorporates in clear terms the rules on ownership, stewardship, and liability in instances of permanent storage of CO2. Additionally, the regulations must consider proper site selection, secure operations, and the reduction and management of risks during all phases of site development, operation, and closure. They should also establish a legal framework for CO2 storage, assign property rights, and control resource competition. Norway, European Union, and the United States have comprehensive regulations on storage resource assessment. The CCS Directive of the European Union, in particular, lays down therequisite characteristics of storage facilities in great detail. The same could be a possible reference point for Indian lawmakers. The NorwegianRegulations relating to the exploitation of subsea reservoirs on the continental shelf for storage of CO₂ and relating to the transportation of CO₂ on the continental shelf makes the licensee “liable for pollution damage regardless of guilt”. The operational liability laid down in the Norwegian Legislation aligns with the Indian doctrine of Absolute liability and could further be incorporated in Indian Legislation on the Regulation of CCUS.
The overarching regulatory issues, such as those concerned with the transportation and use of CO2, will fall under the ambit of already existing laws for the regulation of industries, waste management laws, property rights, etc. However, at the same time, it is paramount that the government reviews existing frameworks to remove any deterrents to CCUS deployment. The creation of domestic CCUS regulatory frameworks may be influenced by international laws and policies and by the obligations that jurisdictions have to other nations. International environmental rules, such as those intended to safeguard the marine environment, for instance, may have an impact on the geological storage of CO2 in the subsoil. International pledges on combating climate change are also substantially important.
E-fuels stand as a strong alternative to conventional fuels. However, a lack of technical and commercial maturity has led to the technology being underexplored. The composition of an e-fuel is completely carbon neutral and renewable. The most efficient and cost-effective manner of producing e-fuel is through carbon capture. While hydrogen can be produced through electrolysis, carbon can be captured from industrial emissions. This not only prevents harmful carbon compounds from escaping into the atmosphere but converts that carbon into green fuel. CCUS/CCS is no longer a gate-kept technology, with only a few handing it over. Today, The Nordic, Gulf, and countries from South East Asia are reaping the benefits of this technology. CCUS projects are now being implemented in cement, hydrogen, methanol, Iron & steel, natural gas processing, and power industries, among others. With its wide range of implementation, it could largely minimise and control harmful carbon emissions.
Therefore, India should take pro-active measures to promote the implementation of CCUS in the private and public sectors. Considering how cost-intensive the entire process is, lawmakers should start by formulating policies to roll out incentives for investments. The government can moderate costs through constant investment in R&D. Additionally, lawmakers should come up with regulations to distribute liability among stakeholders.
Further, the government should assess the durability and viability of the existing infrastructure and should check if the oil & gas pipelines have the requisite thickness to carry liquidised CO2. The support and involvement of stakeholders is necessary for any CCUS/CCS effort to be successful. One of the stakeholders that matters the most is the general public. Any endeavour of this kind requires the community’s acceptance and encouragement.
The local community and the general public need to be made aware of the value and importance of long-term carbon capture and sequestration through collective effort. To win the support of the community, participation and communication should be consistent throughout the project’s lifecycle. Governments, NGOs, and the Scientific community should step forward and spread awareness of how CCUS helps in achieving climate goals.
About the Author
Ms. Harshita Tyagi is a 3rd Year BLS LLB student from SVKM’s Pravin Gandhi College of Law, Mumbai. She is an Associate Editor at IJPIEL.
Managing Editor: Naman Anand
Editors-in-Chief: Hamna Viriyam and Muskaan Singh
Associate Editor: Harshita Tyagi
Preferred Method of Citation
Harshita Tyagi, “E-fuels and Carbon Capture: Possibilities and Opportunities in the Indian Landscape” (IJPIEL, 1 January 2023)