Saudi Aramco is expected to achieve its target to capture 6mt/yr of CO₂ starting 2027 and further scale up deployment of CCUS as it boosts gas production, taking advantage of low capture costs, abundance of storage sites and clustering of emitting facilities.

Aramco is building a CCUS hub in Jubail in the eastern province that will store as much as 6mt/yr of CO₂ from its own operations, with another 3mt/yr coming from surrounding industries.

By 2035, Aramco wants to capture 11mt/yr of CO₂ from its own plants and other industries. Aramco ultimately wants to capture 44mt/yr of CO₂.

“This is a big game-changer on many fronts,” Aramco CEO Amin Nasser said in November 2022. “It is also part of a broader, integrated strategy at Aramco to achieve our greenhouse gas [GHG] reduction targets by 2035, and our net-zero ambition by 2050.”

CCUS is one of five levers Aramco is using to abate 52mt of CO₂e emissions by 2035.

In 2023, the company’s scope one emissions dropped 2.4% y-o-y, to 54.4mt of CO₂e, due to lower hydrocarbon production, while scope two emissions rose 13%, to 18.2mt of CO₂e, because of the inclusion of emissions from the Jazan refinery.

Saudi Arabia set out plans to hit net-zero emissions by 2060 and reduce, avoid and remove 278mt of CO₂e annually by 2030, using 2019 as the base year, in its updated Nationally Determined Contributions submitted to the UNFCCC in October 2021.

The Kingdom wants to transform Jubail and the industrial hub of Yanbu into global CCUS hubs, capitalising on the clustering of petrochemical, steel and other industries and the scale of opportunity for capturing emissions, according to the NDC.

Saudi Arabia’s change of heart on boosting Aramco’s maximum sustainable crude production capacity to 13m b/d by 2027 will have only a short-term impact on CCUS plans because the company can capture more than 9mt/yr from current oil and gas operations, and more volumes will come from other industries, according to Yvonne Lam, head of carbon & CCUS research and clean tech at Rystad Energy.

“This [CCUS] capacity is built in such a way that if, in the future Aramco is asked to increase its oil and gas production capacities, it could proceed with capturing a higher volume,” said Lam.

Natural gas boost

Aramco is boosting its gas production by more than 60% by 2030, from 10.136bcf/d in 2021. Aramco’s plans to capture more CO₂ from its rising gas production will incur lower costs than the capture of emissions from its oil production.

“Since the cost of capture is sensitive to the CO₂ concentration and electricity prices, the cost of capture for a gas processing plant is among the cheapest for CCUS due to the high concentration in flue gas and easily available cheap energy sources,” said Lam.

“For oil production, it is challenging to channel all the emissions from upstream and capture it in one place. So this means a high cost for capturing CO₂ from oil production compared to gas processing.”

Aramco is developing the Jafurah unconventional gas field, which is expected to start operations in 2025 and gradually increase production to a steady 2bcf/d by 2030, with its reserves increased by 15tcf to 229tcf in 2024.

In 2023, Aramco also produced first unconventional gas from its South Ghawar area, with a raw processing capacity of 300mcf/d.

At the end of 2023, Saudi Arabia’s reserves in the fields operated by Aramco rose by 2.4%, to 252.6tcf, with non-associated gas reserves increasing 5%, to 164.8tcf. Saudi Arabia’s associated gas production is limited by the country’s adherence to OPEC+ quota restrictions.

Phase 1 of the Jubail hub is expected to store CO₂ from Aramco’s gas plants at Wasit, Fadhili and Khursaniyah and the 11mt/yr by 2030 will probably be supplemented by 5mt/yr from facilities outside these gas plants, according to Lucy King, a senior research analyst at consultancy Wood Mackenzie.

“Natural gas processing plants, such as at Wasit, Fadhili and Khursaniyah, are typically lower cost due to the high concentration of CO₂… so this will aid the first phase of development at Jubail,” said King.

Uthmaniyah blueprint

Aramco has an 800,000t/yr CCUS plant in Uthmaniyah, which started operations in 2015 by capturing CO₂ from the Uthmaniyah and Hawiyah NGL facilities and transporting it via an 85km pipeline to the Uthmaniyah field for enhanced oil recovery (EOR).

About 40% of the injected CO₂ was expected to be stored permanently in the reservoir to supplement water flooding as an EOR method, according to an Aramco press release published in July 2015. Other objectives included determining the amount of CO₂ that remains stored in the reservoir, estimates for incremental oil recovery beyond water flooding and addressing risks such as migration of CO₂ within the reservoir.

“The three gas plants at Wasit, Fadhili and Khursaniyah have respective capture capacities of 2mt/yr, which is almost double what is currently captured at Uthmaniyah,” said King.

“However, the learnings and experience from Uthmaniyah will form a foundation to allow Aramco to scale up.”

Besides the Uthamniyah plant, SABIC captures 500,000t/yr of CO₂ from its ethylene glycol plant in Jubail for use in methanol and urea production.

“Co-locating fertiliser plants with natural gas processing plants could offer economic benefits where the separated and captured CO₂ of geological origin can

be used in combination with ammonia produced on site to manufacture urea,” said Colin Ward, principal fellow, oil & gas, and Naser Odeh, principal fellow, climate & sustainability, at Saudi thinktank KAPSARC.

“The opportunities for capture are somewhat better for gas, but oil reservoirs can store large quantities of CO₂ while also generating revenue through enhanced oil production that offsets the costs,” they said.

Another advantage in Saudi Arabia is the overall low cost of capturing CO₂ in the Middle East, with the average cost in the region 10% lower than in the US, according to Wood Mackenzie’s estimates.

“While the cost of capturing CO₂ will be lower overall in comparison to the likes of Europe and the US (lower gas and power prices, and lower cost of raw materials), it will greatly vary depending on the industry source of the CO₂,” said King.

Saudi Arabia also benefits from the abundance of saline aquifers, which are likely to be used to store CO₂ in Jubail and “typically offer greater storage potential on a volume basis relative to both producing and depleted oil/gas reservoirs,” added King.

The Gulf region has “significant potential” for storage in depleted gas reservoirs and saline aquifers, with “the greatest opportunity” found in Saudi Arabia’s Empty Quarter and beneath Kuwait, according to a January 2022 report by Swedish engineering company AFRY and consultancy GaffneyCline prepared for CEO-led organisation the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative. The region’s estimated storage capacity is 170gt of CO₂.

Economies of scale

Other advantages include the low cost of oil and gas production, experience with large-scale industrial complexes, economies of scale and the clustering of emitting facilities in a way that makes them easier to collect in hubs, according to the KAPSARC experts.

But there are disadvantages, which include the absence of carbon pricing to incentivise industries to decarbonise, the economics of storing CO₂ for purposes other than EOR, and uncertainty over demand for blue hydrogen. All these factors may not be conducive to these capital-intensive projects.

“The demand for low-carbon oil and gas from the market, the demand for blue hydrogen, the willingness from consumers to pay for low-carbon products as well as the pace of the green shift globally will also play a role,” said Lam.