The emergence of decarbonisation hubs as a leading method of reducing carbon emissions on a larger scale was highlighted by several speakers during Houston’s Future of Global Energy conference.

Debate was fuelled by a presentation on 30 June by Julio Friedmann, from Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy, on the city’s potential as a low-carbon energy hub and on the benefits of a collaborative decarbonisation strategy.

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“This idea of net-zero industrial hubs is a relatively new idea that can be used to develop and focus infrastructure in a way which is cost effective, and in a way which empowers communities, in a way that delivers a clean energy future,” Friedmann said.

In a panel after the presentation, Jennifer Wilcox, principal deputy assistant secretary for fossil energy at the US Department of Energy, said the hub method of decarbonisation allows companies commercialising carbon capture and storage (CSS) processes to capitalise on existing infrastructure – with lower risks.

“The CO2 sources are different,” Wilcox said. “You have a variety of sources, which means you have a variety of approaches, you’re not putting your eggs all in one basket.”

Several major oil and gas companies are helping to drive the hub trend, with Equinor announcing plans for a CCS and hydrogen hub in the Appalachian region and Baker Hughes signing a memorandum of understanding to establish a CCS hub in Norway over the last week.

ExxonMobil announced in April plans to build a massive CCS hub near the Houston Ship Channel, targeting to sequester 100 million tonnes per annum of CO2 by 2040.

Growing support for decarbonisation

Friedmann said the sheer scale of emissions coming out of the Houston area makes the region uniquely positioned to lead in the decarbonisation hub approach, but federal incentives are needed to allow large projects to take shape.

He cites expanding 45Q, a tax credit for the utilisation of CCS, and investments into decarbonisation infrastructure as critical for the hub approach to be effective.

Guy Powell, vice president of planning and business development at ExxonMobil Low Carbon Solutions, said during the panel discussion that he believes there is growing change in public sentiment and growing willingness of policymakers to enact policy that supports large-scale decarbonisation efforts in oil and gas.

“We’re pretty encouraged with what we’re seeing at the federal level with the potential to expand 45Q into something we think that will be needed in order to make this a reality,” Powell said.

'Industry must act quickly'

In a brief update on ExxonMobil’s planned hub, Powell said the supermajor has made progress in developing the design of its facilities and has contacted most of the 15 companies that have the largest manufacturing bases in the area, which ExxonMobil plans to work with in the decarbonisation hub.

In his final remarks, Friedmann said engaging with local, frontline communities is essential to ensure projects are in the best interest of the communities most directly affected, whether their needs range from hydrogen fuel or clean water.

Wilcox echoed Friedmann's thoughts and added that the industry must act quickly if it wants to prove that it can use fossil fuels responsibly and reach net-zero goals.

“We are out of time, in terms of the climate. It used to be that if we simply avoided carbon emissions in the first place that that could get us there, but we have failed to do that at the scale that we need to,” Wilcox said.