Complex Made Simple

Spotlight’s on Aramco’s emissions’ footprint after Musk’s $100 million carbon capture offer

Global warming is expected to create climate chaos and trigger extreme weather events. Elon Musk plans to change all that as Aramco alters emissions reporting policy

Elon Musk offered $100 million to a successful project resulting in viable carbon capture technologies Carbon capture is not new. There are currently 21 related large-scale commercial projects around the globe Aramco said it will begin disclosing direct emissions from its full global operations this year

Global warming is expected to create climate refugees, diminish water and food supplies, trigger extreme weather events, and cause sea levels to rise. 

Elon Musk intends to do something about it and offered $100 million to a successful project resulting in viable carbon capture technologies. 

Musk, the CEO of Tesla & SpaceX made the pledge in a tweet

The concrete details of the “prize” for the “best” offering are due to be announced soon.

“(I) Am donating $100 mn towards a prize for best carbon capture technology,” Musk said.

Carbon capture, utilization, and storage or sequestration (CCUS), which is often shortened to “carbon capture,” is a process of capturing carbon emissions, to either store or reuse, in order to prevent the emissions produced by manufacturing, vehicles, and food production, among other industries. from being released into the atmosphere.

Capturing pollutants could involve burying carbon in saline aquifers or air scrubbing, but for technologies in this area to be developed, potential profit in the eyes of the investor needs to be a factor. 

As such, carbon capture technology could focus on carbon capture and utilization (CCU), in which carbon dioxide is used, in some way, to develop products or services.

The creation of effective carbon capture technologies could help countries meet their obligations in the Paris Agreement, an international treaty on fighting climate change. 

Newly elected US president Joe Biden signed an executive order returning the US to the accord after former US President Trump withdrew the country from the agreement in 2017.

Read: Saudi Arabia’s THE LINE is a city with “zero cars, zero streets and zero carbon emissions”

Read: Oil, electric vehicles and the environment: Driving climate change plans

Emissions and carbon capture efforts

Since the Industrial Revolution, human activity has increased atmospheric carbon dioxide by 47% and is “the most important long-lived ‘forcing’ of climate change,” according to NASA, reported CNBC.

Carbon capture is not new. There are currently 21 CCUS large-scale commercial projects around the globe, according to the International Energy Agency, a Paris-based intergovernmental energy organization. The first one was set up in 1972.

But so far, carbon capture has been a disappointment.

“The story of CCUS has largely been one of unmet expectations: its potential to mitigate climate change has been recognized for decades, but deployment has been slow and so has had only a limited impact on global CO2 emissions,” the International Energy Agency says.

But, that could be changing. “There are clear signs that CCUS may be gaining traction,” the IEA says.

Saudi Aramco’s misstated carbon footprint 

Before it launched the world’s biggest public listing, Saudi Arabian Oil Co. (ARAMCO) promised potential investors a small piece of a trillion-dollar company with access to unrivaled oil reserves. Not just in sheer volume but in climate friendliness, too, said Bloomberg.

Aramco executives emphasized in the run-up to an IPO in 2019 that drilling Saudi oil generates fewer planet-warming emissions than other producers. “Not because our crude is cleaner than other crudes globally. It’s because of our standards,” Chief Executive Officer Amin Nasser said at a roadshow. 

But the Saudi oil giant excludes emissions generated from many of its refineries and petrochemical plants in its overall carbon disclosures, according to a review of public filings by Bloomberg Green. 

Including all such facilities might nearly double Aramco’s self-reported carbon footprint, adding as much as 55 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent to its annual tally, or about the emissions produced by Portugal.

In response to questions, Aramco said it will begin disclosing direct emissions from its full global operations this year.  

Aramco is set to double its refining network’s capacity to handle as much as 10 million barrels a day by 2030 and much of those emissions wouldn’t have been disclosed under the company’s past reporting practices, according to Bloomberg.

Adjusting calculations for Aramco’s foreign facilities and its share of joint ventures shows a range for 2019 emissions between 75 million tons and 113 million tons. That gap reflects the difficulty in accurately estimating the carbon output of any particular refinery.  

The high-end estimate puts Aramco’s direct emissions on par with Exxon Mobil Corp., even though the U.S. company extracted a third as much oil and refined roughly the same amount in 2019. Aramco’s operations remain cleaner per barrel of oil produced and refined, just not to the degree suggested by the company’s disclosures, according to Bloomberg Green.

Last year, Aramco bought a 70% stake in the petrochemicals company Saudi Basic Industries Corp. SABIC’s Scope 1 and 2 emissions stood at 55 million tons in 2019, which should add a further 39 million tons to the oil giant’s carbon tally for 2020.

Becoming a publicly-traded company publicly has opened Aramco to greater scrutiny. Even though 98% of the company is still owned by the Saudi government, Aramco is under pressure to catch up with international standards.