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“I evaluate regional CO2 storage targets”

Yuting Zhang is a PhD student in the subsurface research group at Imperial College London, UK, and an intern with the Sustainable Energy Division at the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE)

1 December 2022

Yuting at the United Nations Palais des Nation in Geneva, Switzerland

Tell us about your work

My work focuses on modelling global supply and demand for CO2 storage using logistic growth models. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), carbon capture and storage (CCS), which is a technological solution to prevent the exacerbation of global warming linked to the burning of fossil fuels, is projected to play a critical role in facilitating the transition towards net zero by 2050. Fossil fuels may continue to play a role in the global energy mix for many years, since they facilitate rapid economic growth and provide a reliable supply of energy for many countries. Thus, the envisioned scale of CCS is enormous, requiring injection rates between 5 and 10 Gt per year by the mid-century. Presently, there are 26 operational megaton-scale projects around the world with a combined capture capacity of 40 Mt per year. However, reaching Gt-scale is challenging given that this technology is capital intensive, and that the marketplace is not mature.

For my research, I evaluate regional CO2 storage targets that are published in national or international long-term climate change mitigation strategies. This tells us how quickly and at what scale we need to deploy CCS resources to achieve these targets, which gives us a better understanding of the consumption trajectory of subsurface natural resources needed to facilitate CCS. Furthermore, I recently identified that the reporting framework for CCS using capture capacity lacks consistency and may result in a 20% overestimation in the actual storage of CO2. This over estimate will lead to the inaccurate assessment of climate change mitigation attributed explicitly to CCS. In light of this, we recommended that a centralised organisation should compile rigorous statistics on industry-scale CCS, including capture rates, transport rates, storage rates, assurance measures, and information about performance or issues affecting these measures.

What are you currently working on?

I am currently completing an internship with the Sustainable Energy Division at the UNECE, Geneva, Switzerland. My internship focuses on facilitating discussion between key players in international finance, policy makers and expert groups, much of which took place during Sustainable Energy Week, a hybrid event at the UNECE in September. The aim is to understand the barriers to increasing public investment in key low- and zero-carbon technologies, such as biomass, hydrogen, nuclear, and renewable energy.

What’s a typical day for you?

My typical day includes researching the latest climate-related news and reports published by governments, intergovernmental organisations, and industrial players around the world. From this, I extract the data needed for my modelling and analyse the subsequent data. A large part of my day involves summarising the findings using different styles, including papers, briefs, and presentations, which really hones my communication skills.

What’s your favourite thing about your work?

I am passionate about the decarbonisation of the energy system, especially because it is perhaps the biggest challenge we are facing. I particularly enjoy that my PhD research and internship at the UNECE can impact this discussion. I am also able to work flexibly and travel for conferences, where I meet like-minded people who are also passionate about this topic, and can exchange experiences and views.

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