ADNOC has thrown down the gauntlet with a challenge to all energy innovators around the world to submit ideas for decarbonisation technology by December this year, when ADNOC will host COP28 in Dubai. Winners will receive up to $1mn towards further research in partnership with ADNOC. Decarbonisation will be the keyword for this year’s annual UN climate action summit as a major hydrocarbon producer takes the reins.

By Gary Lakes

Carbon capture, carbon sequestration, carbon utilisation, carbon elimination, and foremost, carbon reduction in general will be major topics for the next Conference of the Parties (COP) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), along with methane emissions mitigation.

In recent years the COP sessions have addressed how to scale back the use of hydrocarbons. But  the next gathering – COP 28 – is expected to be steered by its host – the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC) – towards concentrating efforts on reducing carbon and methane emissions while taking stock of what has been achieved so far.

Over the last two years, carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS) has become a hot topic among the world’s oil and gas companies, and producing countries. The UAE and neighbouring Saudi Arabia and Qatar have already taken big steps towards drawing up plans and putting them to work. Other major oil and gas producing countries, from Canada to the UK to Australia, are beginning to implement these projects and take greater notice of escaping harmful greenhouse gases (GHG).

Despite the keen interest among energy producers, further innovation is needed to fully harness the potential of carbon capture technology, to expand its scale, reduce costs and increase efficiency.

Global Stocktake

ADNOC CEO Sultan Al Jaber, who is the president-designate for COP28 and who also happens to be head of the UAE’s renewable energy company Masdar, has been signalling that carbon and methane removal is an important goal for the oil and gas industry, and the success of his presidency of the conference will depend on how much commitment he can garner from the industry to take serious action with a view towards the 2015 Paris Accords.

Jaber has called for a “Global Stocktake” to be made by the participants at COP28. He wants to examine the actions and non-actions that have been taken since Paris, evaluate them, and then set a course of actions over the next seven years to 2030.

“The first Global Stocktake (GST), will provide a comprehensive assessment of progress since adopting the Paris Agreement. This will help align efforts on climate action, including measures that need to be put in place to bridge the gaps in progress. The COP28 UAE Presidency will work to ensure that the world responds to the Global Stocktake with a clear plan of action,” a statement on the COP28 website says.

During a speech earlier this year in Houston at CERAWeek, Jaber said the oil and gas sector “needs to up its game,” because those sectors have a “vital role to play in decarbonising customers and net zero,” emphasising the importance of carbon capture. He said that companies must equip their facilities with carbon capture and storage capabilities and take it to scale in all industries. In Houston, he specifically targeted electricity, cement, steel and aluminium as due for a clean-up.

Citing data from the International Energy Agency (IEA), Jaber said in 2022, a global investment of $1.4 trillion was made towards the energy transition. “We need over three times that amount,” he said.

In early May, while speaking at the inaugural gathering of the UAE Climate Tech Forum, Jaber told delegates from tech companies, the industrial and financial sectors, and government officials: “If we are serious about curbing industrial emissions, we need to get serious about carbon capture technologies.” Jaber also called for the hydrocarbon industry to phase out methane emissions by 2030, to triple renewable energy capacity to 11,000 GW by 2030 and then double that again by 2040.

The UAE is already leading in renewables with its sustainable, carbon zero Masdar City, and it is working with tech start-up’s such as 44.01, which has begun a project in Fujairah that extracts carbon from the air and injects it deep underground into peridotite rock formations where the carbon is mineralised. 44.01 is named after the molecular weight of CO2 and was the winner of the 2022 Earthshot Prize. ADNOC is working as a partner with 44.01 in the project.


Promoting innovation

To encourage more innovation, ADNOC launched during the Climate Tech Forum “The Decarbonization Technology Challenge” and offered a prize of $1mn plus the chance to pilot their technology with ADNOC. In a statement, ADNOC said the competition is designed to find “innovations that will reshape the global energy landscape.”

Applicants must submit their applications by August 11. Ten finalists will be invited to pitch their innovations to a panel of judges in December this year, and winners will receive $1mn and a partnership opportunity with ADNOC, plus access to state-of-the-art research facilities. “Scale-up companies specialising in carbon capture utilisation and storage (CCUS), new energies, oil and gas emissions reduction, digital applications and advanced materials for decarbonisation, and nature-based solutions are encouraged to apply,” the ADNOC statement said.

Besides ADNOC, the ‘Challenge’ is sponsored by BP, Hub 71, Amazon Web Services (AWS) and the Net Zero Technology Center, all of which will provide additional funding, panel judges and business support for the winners.

“ADNOC has earmarked $15bn for landmark decarbonisation projects by 2030, including carbon capture, electrification, new CO2 absorption technology and enhanced investments in hydrogen and renewables,” Musabbeh Al Kaabi, executive director, Low Carbon Solutions and International Growth Directorate at ADNOC said in the statement. “We look forward to nurturing companies with the most promising innovations that can help transform, decarbonise, and future proof the global energy sector.”

Speaking to AFP in a separate statement, Kaabi said carbon capture is going to play an important role in the energy transition and that major oil and gas producers like ADNOC should not be dismissed by critics who see CCUS as a diversion from the real issue of stopping carbon from entering the atmosphere. 

“For the industry and for countries as well to achieve net-zero by 2050, I don’t see us achieving this without embracing carbon capture,” Kaabi said in the report. “I would love to see more wind and solar, but to be practical and transparent, it is not going to solve the problem,” he said, adding that big energy companies have the wherewithal to move climate technology into the picture in a big way. “The world has two options: we could leave it to the small players or have the big players accelerate this decarbonisation,” Kaabi said.

Citing the IEA, the report said there are only 35 CCUS facilities in operation globally and even those planned to 2030 would capture but a fraction of the carbon that needs to be eliminated.

What ADNOC is saying is not just talk. It is indeed putting its money into removing carbon. For example – to name but a few – in previous weeks and months, ADNOC has partnered with the US carbon utilisation company LanzaTech for the purpose of exploring biotechnology solutions that would allow the oil and gas industry to reduce its carbon footprint while at the same time produce sustainable fuels and chemicals. ADNOC has also recently announced that it has spudded its first well on the world’s first fully sequestered CO2 injection well as part of a $15bn plan to decarbonise operations. The project is due to become operational during the second half of 2023. Also, ADNOC and Italy’s Eni signed a MoU to collaborate on carbon capture, hydrogen and renewable energy. The agreement covers future joint projects for sustainability, decarbonisation and energy transition.

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