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Climate change and energy

Decarbonizing production of energy is a quick win 

Clean technologies, including carbon management platforms, enable the global energy industry to play a crucial role in the transition to net zero.

March 14, 2024

Provided byADNOC

Debate around the pace and nature of decarbonization continues to dominate the global news agenda, from the European Scientific Advisory Board on Climate Change warning that the EU must double annual emissions cuts, to forecasts that it could cost more than $1 trillion to decarbonize the global shipping industry. Despite differing opinions on the right path to net zero, all agree that every sector needs to reduce emissions to avoid the worst effects of climate change.

Oil and gas production accounts for 15% of the world’s emissions, according to the International Energy Agency. Some of the largest global companies have embarked on bold plans to cut to zero by 2050 the carbon and methane associated with their production. One player with an ambition to get there five years ahead of the rest is the UAE’s ADNOC, having announced in January 2024 it will lift spending on decarbonization projects to $23 billion from $15 billion.  

In an exclusive interview, Musabbeh Al Kaabi, ADNOC’s Executive Director for Low Carbon Solutions and International Growth, says he is hopeful the industry can make a meaningful contribution while supplying the secure and affordable energy needed to meet growing global demand.

Q: Mr. Al Kaabi, how do you plan to spend the extra $8 billion ADNOC has allocated to decarbonization?

Mr. Mussabeh Al Kaabi: Much of our investment focus is on the technologies and systems that will deliver tangible action in eliminating the emissions from our energy production. At 7 kilograms of CO2 per barrel of oil equivalent, the energy we provide is among the least carbon-intensive in our industry, yet we continue to explore every opportunity for further reductions. For example, we are using clean grid power—from renewable and nuclear sources—to meet the needs of our onshore operations. Meanwhile, we are investing almost $4 billion to electrify our offshore production in order to cut our carbon footprint from those operations by up to 50%.

We also see great potential in carbon capture utilization and sequestration (CCUS), especially where emissions are hard to abate. Last year, we doubled our capacity target to 10 million tonnes per annum by 2030. We currently have close to 4 million tonnes in capacity in development or operation and are working with key players in our industry to create a world-leading carbon management platform.

Additionally, we’re developing nature-based solutions to support our target for net zero by 2045. One of our initiatives is to plant 10 million mangroves, which serve as powerful carbon sinks, along our coastline by 2030. We used drone technology to plant 2.5 million mangrove seeds in 2023.

Q: What about renewables?

Mr. Mussabeh Al Kaabi: It's in everyone’s interests that we invest in the growth of renewables and low-carbon fuels like hydrogen. Through our shareholding in Masdar and Masdar Green Hydrogen, we are tripling our renewable capacity by supporting a growth target of 100 gigawatts by 2030.

Q: We have been talking about hydrogen and carbon capture and storage (CCS) as the energies and solutions of tomorrow for decades. Why haven’t they broken through yet?

Mr. Mussabeh Al Kaabi: Hydrogen and CCS offer great promise, but, like any other transformative technology, they require R&D attention, investment, and scale-up opportunities.

Hydrogen is an abundant and portable fuel that could help reduce emissions from many sectors, including transport and power. Meanwhile, CCS could abate emissions from heavy, energy-intensive industries like steel and cement.

These technologies are proven, and we expect more improvements to allow wider consumer use. We will continue to develop and invest in them, while continuing to responsibly provide our traditional portfolio of low-carbon energy products that the world needs.

Q: Is there any evidence the costs can come down?

Mr. Mussabeh Al Kaabi: Yes, absolutely. The dramatic fall in the price of solar over recent years—an 89% reduction from 2010 to 2022 according to the International Renewable Energy Agency—just goes to show that clean technologies can become viable, mainstream sources of energy if the right policy and investment mechanisms are in place.

Q: Do you favor a particular decarbonization technology?

Mr. Mussabeh Al Kaabi: We don’t have the luxury of picking winners and losers. The scale of the challenge is too great. World economies consume the equivalent of around 250 million barrels of oil, gas, and coal every single day. We are going to need to invest in every viable clean energy and decarbonization technology. If CCS can do it, let’s do it. If renewables can do it, let’s invest in it.

That said, I am especially optimistic about the role artificial intelligence will play in our decarbonization drive. We’ve been implementing AI and machine learning tools across our value chain for many years; they’ve helped us eliminate around a million tonnes of CO2 emissions over the past two years. As AI technology grows at an exponential rate, we will continue to invest in the latest innovations to ensure we provide maximum energy with minimum emissions.

Q: Can traditional energy companies be part of the solution?

Mr. Mussabeh Al Kaabi: They can and they must be part of the solution. Energy companies have the technical capabilities, the project management experience and, crucially, the financial strength to advance solutions. For example, we’re investing in one of the largest integrated carbon capture projects in the Middle East and North Africa, at our gas processing facility in Habshan. Once complete, it will add 1.5 million tonnes of CCUS capacity. We’ve also just announced an investment into Storegga, the lead developer of the UK’s Acorn CCS project in Scotland, marking our first overseas investment of its kind.

Q: What’s your approach to decarbonization investment?

Mr. Mussabeh Al Kaabi: Our approach is to partner with successful developers of economic technologies and to incubate promising climate solutions so ADNOC and other players can use them to accelerate the path to net zero. There are numerous examples.

Last year, we launched the ADNOC Decarbonization Technology Challenge, a global competition that attracted 650 climate tech startups vying for a million-dollar piloting opportunity with us. The winner was Revterra, a Houston-based startup that will pilot its kinetic battery technology with us over the coming months.  

We’re also working to deploy another cutting-edge battery technology that involves taking used electric vehicle batteries and upcycling them into a battery energy storage system, which we’ll use to help decarbonize our remote production activity by up to 25%.

In the northern regions of the UAE, we’re working closely with another startup company to pilot carbon dioxide mineralization technology. It is a project we are all excited about because it presents opportunities for CO2 removal at a significant scale.

Additionally, we are working with leading industry service providers to explore new ways of producing graphene and low-carbon hydrogen.

Q: Finally, how confident are you that transformation will happen?

Mr. Mussabeh Al Kaabi: I am confident.It can be done. Transformation is happening. It won’t happen overnight, and it needs to be just and equitable for the poorest among us, but I am optimistic.We must focus on taking tangible action and not underestimate the power of human innovation. History has shown that, when we come together, we can innovate and act. I am positive that, over time, we will continue to see progress towards our common goal.

This content was produced by ADNOC. It was not written by MIT Technology Review’s editorial staff.

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