*This article was published in Spanish in El Financiero.
Mexico is a major producer of oil and gas, but it is moving steadily towards the goal of improving energy efficiency and increasing the use of renewable energy. The question is, can more be done?
2016 will surely be the hottest year on records since the early 19th century. The increase will be very close to the one set by the Paris Agreement to avoid a global temperature increase of 1.5 oC. Average temperatures in 2016 have risen to 1.2 oC above what they were before the industrial revolution, with warming reaching what officials at the World Meteorological Organization say are “very alarming” levels.
Provisional data was released in November at the UN climate talks in Marrakesh, Morocco where thousands of delegates made progress in implementing the rules for the operation of the global climate agreement signed in Paris in December 2015.
The dilemma facing the world today, in view of this data, becomes even more urgent: how can greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels be reduced given that their demand will continue to exist in the coming decades? One possible solution to this dilemma that allows the continued production of electricity with fossil fuels is the use of carbon capture and storage technologies.
Mexico, as a major producer of oil and gas and as a major promoter of reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, is at the center of this debate.
In Mexico, about 40% of the equivalent CO2 emissions come from crude oil and its derivatives. The country’s energy sector is highly dependent on hydrocarbons: crude oil accounted for 48.3% of domestic primary energy supply in 2014, while condensate and dry natural gas accounted for 1.4% and 33.9%, respectively. The remaining 16.4% came from clean energy sources.
Although Mexico is committed to achieving some of the most advanced levels of renewable energy penetration in the world, it is still estimated that a significant portion of its energy matrix will continue to depend on fossil fuels.
From a political economy perspective, it is expected that in both Mexico and the rest of the world, it will be very difficult to reduce oil production, at least in the volumes needed to meet international emission reduction targets. Therefore, it is necessary to develop technology that helps mitigate the emissions generated by the use of this energy, either by reducing or capturing them.
Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) provides an alternative to mitigate CO2 emissions from fossil fuel power plants. CCS traps CO2 from the combustion of hydrocarbons or coal, both by treating the fuel itself and by capturing it in the chimney of the plants before it is released into the environment. It is then transported to the oil fields to be used to create additional oil production. Further reductions in CO2 emissions could be achieved through the use of sustainably produced fuelwood obtained from fast-growing trees to generate electricity, and this is possible without displacing food production. This alternative is one of the few emission reduction technologies that can be used in a “carbon negative” way, i.e. by removing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere and simultaneously producing electricity.
Mexico could be a great innovator at the regional level, adding to the 15 CCS projects in operation and the seven additional projects under construction that currently exist worldwide. In order to encourage the promotion of CCS and to implement it in a safe and responsible manner, official support for research and development is necessary. Mexican government policies would also need to provide incentives for CCS, which is important because the technology could expedite the fulfillment of the goals and commitments of the Paris Agreement. For more information on carbon capture, check out our newest publication “What Role Can Carbon Capture Technology Play in Reducing Future CO2 Emissions?”