IEA (2022), Cross-Cutting Technologies & Infrastructure, IEA, Paris https://www.iea.org/reports/cross-cutting-technologies-infrastructure, License: CC BY 4.0
Several clean energy technologies and infrastructure components will be important to enabling decarbonisation across multiple sectors. These include:
- Components of the carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS) value chain, which reduce emissions in the electricity and industry sectors, as well as provide negative emissions to offset residual emissions
- Electrolysers that enable decarbonised hydrogen production for use across numerous applications
- District heating that can help decarbonise buildings, industry and agriculture
- Data centres and data transmission networks, which underpin the digital transformation of energy systems and beyond, also consume energy and need to rapidly decarbonise.
This section of Tracking Clean Energy Progress provides an assessment of progress for these cross-cutting components against 2030 milestones, as well as offers recommendations to continue advancing progress.
CO2 Transport and Storage
In the Net Zero Emissions by 2050 Scenario, CO2 transport and storage infrastructure underpins the widespread deployment of carbon capture, including carbon dioxide removal (CDR) via direct air capture with storage (DACS) and bioenergy with CCS (BECCS). There are currently around 8 000 km of CO2 pipeline – mainly in North America – and 7 dedicated geological CO2 storage operations with a combined capacity of 10 Mt/year. Based on projects currently in the early and advanced stages of development, dedicated CO2 storage capacity could reach around 110 Mt CO2/year by 2030, which is far less than the nearly 1 200 Mt CO2/year that is captured and stored by 2030 in the Net Zero Scenario. CO2 transport infrastructure will need to increase at least at the same rate as capture and storage capacity.
CO2 Capture and Utilisation
Carbon capture and utilisation refers to a range of applications through which CO2 is captured and used either directly (i.e. not chemically altered) or indirectly (i.e. transformed) into various products. Around 230 Mt of CO2 are currently used each year, mainly in direct use pathways in the fertiliser industry for urea manufacturing (~130 Mt) and for enhanced oil recovery (~80 Mt). New utilisation pathways in the production of CO2-based synthetic fuels, chemicals and building aggregates are gaining momentum. By 2030 the current project pipeline shows that around 5 Mt of CO2 could be captured for synthetic fuel production. While this level of deployment is not far from the 7.5 Mt of CO2 used in synthetic fuels production in 2030 in the Net Zero Scenario, half of announced projects are at early stage of development and will likely require further support to proceed towards operation.
Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage
Bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) involves any energy pathway where CO2 is captured from a biogenic source and permanently stored. Only around 2 Mt of biogenic CO2 are currently captured per year, mainly in bioethanol applications. Based on projects currently in the early and advanced stages of deployment, carbon removal via BECCS could reach ~40 Mt CO2/yr by 2030, which falls short of the circa 250 Mt/yr removed through BECCS by 2030 in the Net Zero Emissions by 2050 Scenario. The momentum behind BECCS has, however, grown substantially in recent years: plans for over 50 new facilities involving BECCS (totalling biogenic capture capacity of around 20 Mt CO2 per year) were announced between January 2021 and June 2022, across several BECCS applications, boosted by company- and country-level net zero commitments.
Direct Air Capture
There are currently 18 direct air capture plants operating worldwide, capturing almost 0.01 Mt CO2/year, and a 1 Mt CO2/year capture plant is in advanced development in the United States. In the Net Zero Emissions by 2050 Scenario, direct air capture is scaled up to capture almost 60 Mt CO2/year by 2030. This level of deployment is within reach, but will require several more large-scale demonstration plants to refine the technology and reduce capture costs.
Electrolysers are a critical technology for the production of low-emission hydrogen from renewable or nuclear electricity. Electrolysis capacity for dedicated hydrogen production has been growing at an accelerated pace for some years. The past year has been a record year of electrolysis deployment, with more than 200 MW of capacity entering operation, a threefold increase on 2020. Total installed capacity has reached 0.5 GW and is expected to grow to over 1 GW by the end of 2022. The realisation of all the projects in the pipeline could lead to an installed electrolyser capacity of 134-240 GW by 2030, twice the expectations from last year. Also, electrolyser manufacturing capacity has doubled since last year, reaching nearly 8 GW per year. However, electrolysis capacity is growing from a very low base and requires a significant acceleration to get on track with the Net Zero Emissions by 2050 Scenario, which requires expanding electrolysis capacity to above 700 GW by 2030.
In 2021 district heat production increased by around 3% compared with 2020 and met nearly 8% of the global final heating need in buildings and industry. District heating networks offer great potential for efficient, cost-effective and flexible large-scale integration of low-carbon energy sources into the heating energy mix.
However, the decarbonisation potential of district heating is largely untapped, as fossil fuels still dominate district network supplies globally (about 90% of total heat production), especially in the two largest markets of China and Russia.
Aligning with the Net Zero Emissions by 2050 Scenario requires significant efforts to rapidly improve the energy efficiency of existing networks, switch them to renewable heat sources (such as bioenergy, solar thermal, heat pumps and geothermal), integrate secondary heat sources (such as waste heat from industrial installations and data centres), and to develop high-efficiency infrastructure in areas with dense heat demand.
Data Centres and Data Transmission Networks
Demand for digital services is growing rapidly. Since 2010, the number of internet users worldwide has more than doubled, while global internet traffic has expanded 20-fold. Rapid improvements in energy efficiency have, however, helped moderate growth in energy demand from data centres and data transmission networks, which each account for 1-1.5% of global electricity use. Significant additional government and industry efforts on energy efficiency, RD&D, and decarbonising electricity supply and supply chains are necessary to curb energy demand and reduce emissions rapidly over the coming decade to align with the Net Zero by 2050 Scenario.