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The Role of Public Perception in Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) Projects: Perspectives for Brazil

Author: Karen L. Mascarenhas 

1. Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) context

Energy is one of the primary means that supports modern life, either to enable industrialization of goods, the provision of services or even to meet the daily needs of the citizens, such as transportation, housing, work, food and entertainment. Alongside the demand for energy efficiency, changes in the composition of the local and the global energy matrix are increasingly advancing towards cleaner and renewable energy sources, motivated mainly by the planet sustainability and climate change containment.

These concerns are supported by two broad international pacts settled in 2015: the Paris Agreement and the launch of the Sustainable Development Goals by the United Nations.

In Brazil, the transition of the energy matrix requires, initially, a gradual reduction in the use of fossil fuels with a high carbon dioxide (CO2) footprint, switching to the use of natural gas and, later, biogas, solar, wind and hydrogen as sustainable sources of energy production. While the energy demand is greater than the capacity to supply it through renewable sources, natural gas, as one of the fossil fuels with the lowest emission of greenhouse gases, is seen as an alternative to support this transition, offering the potential to provide cleaner and more affordable energy for a large number of people in the country.

The geological formation of the pre-salt basin on the coast of five Brazilian states enables the extraction of large quantities of oil and natural gas, the latter with a high concentration of CO2. The pre-salt has specific characteristics that allow the creation of saline cavities capable of storing large amounts of CO2, avoiding ventilation into the atmosphere. Technologies are being developed to separate methane (CH4), CO2 and other gases in caves using a gravimetric method and other innovative technologies, keeping the captured CO2 without the need to re-inject it, and preventing its release into the atmosphere. These technologies are called Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS), or Carbon Capture Usage and Storage (CCUS) when it also involves the use of carbon for other ends.

Similar technologies adopted in a renewable area, such as the capture of CO2 released by the fermentation process in the ethanol production, are creating conditions for the capture, use and storage of carbon bioenergy (BECCUS). This technology can evolve to a negative CO2 footprint process, since the emissions from the processing, distribution and, finally, combustion of ethanol are neutralized through their absorption by the sugarcane plantation. In other words, the cycle becomes sustainable as the plants in the photosynthesis process absorb the gases released by the ethanol production process, and any reminiscent CO2 can be stored in underground reservoirs or employed as raw material for the production of other high-added-value products.

2. Social challenges in CCS implementation

However, the implementation of projects based on CCS technologies cause changes in the territory, as they imply in the creation or use of underground reservoirs on land (onshore) or underwater in the ocean (offshore), impacting the environment, their living ecosystems and the local community. Besides, CCS, CCUS, and BECCUS are not yet known by other agents outside the specific academic and industry segments that study or manage these technologies. Previous experiences of implementing projects of this nature have demonstrated the relevance of considering the perception and acceptance of government, media, society, other academics and industries not directly related to such technologies. Their reactions can emerge from irrational bias, through strong opinions, even if they have no information about the risks or benefits involved.

Therefore, public perception can be one of the critical barriers to the deployment of CCS projects. Local communities’ opposition has shown to derail demonstration plants in some of the first projects that aimed to store CO2 onshore as the Barendrecht Project in the Netherlands, and Beeskow in Germany

3. Public perception of CCS technologies in Brazil

In Brazil, studies on public perception related to CCS are still scarce, as only three were identified. The most comprehensive concerns a CCS onshore field study at the Recôncavo Basin in the state of Bahia, an outstanding region of oil exploration.  The qualitative research was conducted with ten communities located in prospective areas for CCS implementation who did not have any knowledge of the concept. The main outcomes show that people that have a previous relationship with oil companies are best equipped to identify benefits or disadvantages, that trust in government and private companies can enhance their support of such projects, and that further investigation is imperative as Brazil is a vast country with great cultural diversity, making it hard to define a national perception of CCS as each region has its singular peculiarities and views.

Public perception studies within developing countries are challenging as the low level of fundamental education impacts on the citizens’ capacity to understand complex concepts like climate change. This tends to be the profile of inhabitants in Brazilian regions where CCS projects could be implemented.

Pioneering studies in public perception in Brazil are under development in the Research Centre for Gas Innovation (RCGI), headquartered at the Polytechnic School of the University of São Paulo, financed by the Research Funding Agency of the State of São Paulo (FAPESP), in partnership with the private company Shell.

The RCGI started its activities in January 2016 and currently has 46 projects focused on innovation, aiming at the sustainable use of natural gas, biogas, hydrogen and the reduction of CO2 emissions worldwide to contribute towards climate improvement and sustainability.

The initiative to research public perception emerged from the intention of complementing the technical and legal research carried out in the RCGI with the social and human dimensions, in a multidisciplinary approach. This process aims to understand the public perception of all agents, as government representatives, media, academia, industry, NGOs and society, building trustful relationships and supporting the analysis of potential CCS projects in the country.

Author: Karen L. Mascarenhas – Imperial College London, University of São Paulo, Research Centre for Gas Innovation (RCGI)

Net-Zero Emissions by 2050? Together We Can….

Author: Rumbi Nhunduru

Since 2014, the Sustainable Gas Institute at Imperial College London has been providing world leading thought leadership and interdisciplinary research on the role of natural gas, hydrogen and biogas/biomethane in future low carbon energy systems. This year, the speaker for the 2020 Annual Lecture on 10 December will be Professor Maroto-Valer who is leading the development of the UK Industrial Decarbonisation Research and Innovation Centre (IDRIC). Professor Maroto-Valer will be speaking about industrial decarbonisation and discussing the role of gas for a green economic recovery. And now, more than ever, as we are starting to emerge from the COVID-19 crisis, decarbonisation is critical for green economic recovery. But, can we really achieve net zero targets?

Since the turn of the First Industrial Revolution in the 18th century, continuously rising greenhouse gas emissions, primarily from the combustion of fossil fuels, have been a cause for concern and the main fuelling factor for climate change and global warming. Consequences of atmospheric greenhouse gas emissions, (more specifically, carbon dioxide-CO2) that have already started to be experienced globally include rise in sea levels, melting of ice caps and glaciers and increased occurrence of severe weather events, such as droughts, heatwaves and flooding. In the UK for example, the occurrence of extreme weather events has increased in recent years with the highest ever temperature of 38.7°C having been recorded last year (2019) [1]. More recently, through June to August 2020, the country experienced heat waves with temperatures in excess of 30°C. The UK has also experienced an increase in heavy rainfall and flooding.

The notion that we need to make urgent, drastic and fair measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and prevent global warming has gained traction and momentum in recent years. Pressure has been mounting on governments worldwide to take immediate action. At the Climate Ambition event on the side-lines of the UN Climate Change Conference COP 25 in Madrid (Spain), 73 UNFCCC parties, 14 regions, 398 cities, 768 businesses and 16 investors agreed to work together towards achieving net-zero CO2 emissions by 2050[2]. Whilst other major economies such as Japan and France have set targets to achieve net zero emissions by 2050, in June 2019, the UK became the first major economy to take the lead and pass legislation to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions by the year 2050 [3]. According to the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) 2020 World Energy Outlook report, to achieve the goal of carbon neutrality, emissions must peak in 2020 and drop by over 40% by the year 2030 [4]. The U.S is one of the the world’s largest greenhouse gas emitter thus its contribution will also be highly significant if we are to meet the net zero emissions target.  In June 2017, the then US president, Donald Trump, announced that the US would be withdrawing from the 2015 Paris Climate Change Agreement. In his electoral campaign, the newly elected president of the United States, Joe Biden, stated that it will be in his agenda to re-join the Paris Agreement in the early years of his presidency. With the UK set to host the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) in November 2021, all eyes will be focused on the US.[5]

Achieving net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 will require large scale investment and transition to the use of clean, renewable energy as well as adopting and implementing new technologies such as hydrogen and carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS).  Meeting the ambitious target of the ‘Race to Zero’ campaign requires collective, collaborative action from stakeholders across industry, government and academia. In the Research Centre for Carbon Solutions (RCCS) at Heriot-Watt University, we have also been playing our part in contributing to the masterplan to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. Our research takes a systems approach ensuring the integration of different technologies at systems level, particularly for sectors difficult to decarbonise. Our projects include all aspects of the CCUS chain from capture through to transport, utilisation and storage, as well as hydrogen and negative emissions technologies.

In March 2020, the UK government announced that a budget of £800m has been set aside for the deployment of CCS infrastructure. This CCS Infrastructure fund will put into action the large-scale plan to capture CO2 from major industries and transport it by pipeline to be stored in depleted oil and gas reservoirs under the seabed in the North Sea [6]. On the 17th of  November 2020, the UK’s prime minister, Boris Johnson, unveiled a ‘10-point plan’ backed by £12bn and aimed at supporting and accelerating the process of decarbonising the UK and initiating a ‘Green Industrial Revolution’. The plan includes an extra £200m of funding to develop at least two carbon capture clusters by the mid-2020s in addition to the £800m budget set aside in March 2020 for CCUS and hydrogen technology deployment. Another two clusters are also set to be developed by 2030.  This move will make the UK a global leader in terms of  CCUS and hydrogen technology [7]. With the UK set to decarbonise, potential CCUS deployment sites include Aberdeen, Liverpool, Port Talbot, Scunthorpe, Southampton, Nottingham, Grangemouth, Teesside and Humberside. The ‘Humber’ is the UK’s most carbon intensive industrial cluster with over 55,000 people employed in manufacturing and other energy intensive industrial sectors. Decarbonising the Humber would undoubtedly have a highly significant impact. This will be carried out in conjunction with key players in the energy sector and is set to result in the development of Europe’s largest joint hydrogen production and carbon capture project by 2026 [6].

As the UK edges closer towards CCUS deployment, it is important to harness all available talent in this transition and nurture the next generation of engineers and scientists to deliver the energy transition. In this regard, an Early Career Professionals Forum specifically for CCUS, complementary to the already established UK CCUS Council was recently established and launched by the UK Government’s Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS). The aim of this forum is to provide a platform for professionals in the early stages of their career who are working in the CCUS sector to provide their views on key strategic issues to do with CCUS deployment as well as to drive forward efforts to meet the net zero target by 2050. The 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) will be held in November 2021 under the theme #Together for Our Planet. On a personal level, as the Heriot-Watt RCCS representative in the CCUS Early Career Professionals Forum, I feel highly honoured to be able to play a small part in contributing to the masterplan through engagement with other members of the forum and other relevant stakeholders from government, industry and academia.

As the saying goes, “Great things are done by a series of small things brought together- Vincent Van Gogh”. Net Zero by 2050? Indeed, together we can!

by Rumbidzai Nhunduru

Research Centre for Carbon Solutions (RCCS), Heriot-Watt University



  1. A.Walker. Jun 2019. Met Office Confirms New UK Record Temperature of 38.7°C. The Guardian.,%2C%20Kent%2C%20in%20August%202003
  2. United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC). External Press Release. Climate Ambition Alliance: Nations Renew their Push to Upscale Action by 2020 and Achieve Net Zero CO2 Emissions by 2050.
  3. GOV.UK.
  4. International Energy Agency (IEA). World Energy Outlook Report 2020.

  1. Q. Schiermeier. The US has left the Paris climate deal — what’s next? Nov 2020. Nature Research Journals.
  2. D. Laister. Mar 2020. £800m Carbon Capture Pot Brings Humber’s Biggest Budget Wish Closer to Home. Business Live.
  3. M. Burgess. Nov 2020. UK PM backs CCS and hydrogen in 10-point plan. Gasworld.

Seven easy-peasy ways to make Brazilian ethanol industry more sustainable

Author: Dr Pedro Gerber Machado, Researcher

Clickbait! The truth is, it is not easy. The ethanol industry and several academics have created a storyline for Brazilian ethanol: it combats climate change by producing renewable energy, promotes rural development creating jobs and represents one of the biggest prides for the country when it comes to national industry. Are they right? Well, in parts. Their focus on the positive side of ethanol production is purposeful, naturally. Still, many aspects of the industry need improvements ASAP. Here, I discuss 7 points that would help ethanol become MORE sustainable. It is essential to highlight the word MORE, simply because sustainability is not a point of arrival, but the road itself. Nothing is sustainable, only on the road to becoming more sustainable, but this is subject for another post.


The potential for biogas production in Brazil is well known due to the country’s economy based on agriculture. What is not so well known is that considering municipal solid waste, agriculture and ethanol industry, biogas could substitute all of the natural gas consumed in the country in one year, plus another 25% to spare (considering 90% methane). Today, Brazil only produces 1.5% of its potential. Still, the increase in biogas volume in the last couple of years has reached 36% p.a., showing that it is getting momentum within the energy and electricity sectors in the country. The most significant potential for biogas production is in ethanol mills, using vinasse as feedstock, a residue from ethanol distillation. Not only the potential is enormous, but the costs of biogas production can reach levels cheaper than imported LNG, diesel, and even Brazilian natural gas1.

Biogas production increases the share of renewable energy in the country’s electricity matrix. It could also free-up the lignocellulosic residues (today mostly sugarcane bagasse used for electricity generation) for other more advanced products, which brings us to our next 2 points.

Second-generation ethanol

Second-generation ethanol is ethanol produced from lignocellulosic biomass. In the ethanol industry, bagasse and even sugarcane straw brought from the field are sources of lignocellulosic material. Up to now, only 32 million litres of second-generation ethanol is produced in Brazil, which evaporates (pun intended) in comparison to the 28 billion litres from sugarcane juice fermentation (first-generation)2. With a target of 2.5 billion litres of second-generation ethanol produced in 2030, the road is long, but necessary nonetheless. The use of residues for ethanol increases the production per hectare of land and consequently decreases direct and indirect land-use change. In combination with biogas, each mill could increase ethanol production from residues while maintaining its electricity generation. Besides, processing bagasse generates other opportunities than second-generation ethanol, especially from its lignin fraction, considered the only biologic substitute of fossil-based aromatic chemicals, for example.

Biobased chemicals

Biobased chemicals are often praised for reducing greenhouse gases (GHG) emissions and increasing the added value of biomass. In reality, producing chemicals to reduce GHG emissions in Brazil is like having cancer and an ingrown toenail and visit the doctor for the toenail. However, hundreds of technologies and products derived from biomass, residues or not, in the last two decades have proven to be not only technically feasible but also economically attractive, which should be seen by mill owners and investors as an opportunity. Many times, authors (including myself) compare second-generation and biobased chemicals with electricity as if it was one or the other. But when you look at the national chemical market, the volume would mean very few average-sized mills, and it would not pose threats to second-generation ethanol. For example, approximately 30 sugarcane mills of 2 million tonnes of sugarcane annually could supply all propylene consumed in the country in a year3.

Small-scale mills

With average and large-sized mills producing second-generation and biochemicals, small-scale plants should gain space in fermentation mills. Either for self-consumption or the ethanol market, ethanol could represent a new source of income for farmers and cooperatives, increasing the social pros of ethanol. The implementation of small-scale mills will not be possible only based on the market, due to lower economic viability of small-scale mills and specific policies would need to be created to reduce ethanol production concentration in the hands of few investors4.

Social responsibility

The ethanol industry in Brazil has used corporate social responsibility communication as a way to highlight efforts to portray itself as a clean source of energy. Analysing past communications, one will find the preference to discuss agro-environmental themes. When it comes to social themes, the interest is timider. Significant education and labour conditions programs have been dropped by the ethanol industry, leaving a gap in social change. The National Commitment for the Improvement of Labour Conditions in Sugarcane Production, launched in 2009 and abandoned in 2013 due to severe violations of labour practices in companies that had gained their social seal of conformity, was a trilateral agreement between the government, private sector, and labour unions to promote the adoption of better labour practices in the sugar and ethanol industries. The retraining program “Renovação” by UNICA (Sugarcane Industry Union), which aimed at retraining laid-off sugarcane cutters following harvest mechanisation, ran from 2010 until 20135. It retrained a disappointing 5 thousand people (of course the program was praised as a success), compared to the 128 thousand jobs lost in sugarcane cultivation in the last ten years. UNICA also stopped publishing its sustainability report in 2010, which does not help with transparency when it comes to the social issues that surround the sugarcane industry6.

For the ethanol industry to become more sustainable, the lives of the people directly and indirectly affected by sugarcane production need to be improved, and the industry has an essential role in this development. Education, the health of local communities, labour conditions and decent income have to be prioritised in long-term programs and planning by the industry.

Integrate food/forest/energy systems

It is time to start rethinking agriculture based on monoculture and harmonising forestry and agriculture practices is fundamental to improve wildlife protection and increase contributions to climate mitigation. It can be accomplished in many ways, either with spatial approaches or temporal approaches, like crop rotation. The problem is that the productivity of integrated systems is still contested compared to monocultures. This requires research assessments across multiple systems, and policies to incentivise landowners and farmers to engage in diverse land use management systems7.

ZERO deforestation in Brazil

Since 2008 when Searchinger most famously brought to light the problem of indirect land-use change (ILUC) caused by biofuels8, Brazil has spent millions of dollars in research to refute the idea. The truth is it makes sense, regardless of the actual level of deforestation indirectly caused by biofuels. In the last ten years, Brazil lost 12 million hectares of natural forests to pastures and pastures lost 1.1 million hectares for sugarcane9. You need incredibly complex models to determine the exact piece of land that ultimately ended-up with sugarcane. Still, for every 100 hectares of natural forests lost for pastures, nine were converted to sugarcane. To cut ILUC problem at its root (again, pun intended) Brazil should seize deforestation. On top of that, the country gains a more sustainable agriculture as a whole, and, of course, maintain the utterly important ecosystem services provided by our natural forests.

There you go, my seven ways to make Brazilian ethanol more sustainable. All of these require research, investments, policies, regulation and law enforcement and, on top of that economic attractiveness. I didn’t say it was easy, did I?


  1. Nota Técnica: N° 002/2010 – Panorama do Biogás no Brasil em 2019; Foz do Iguaçu, 2020;
  2. Barros, S.; Rubio, N. Biofuels Annual – Brazil; USDA; São Paulo, 2020;
  3. Machado, P.G.; Walter, A.; Cunha, M. Bio-based propylene production in a sugarcane biorefinery: A techno-economic evaluation for Brazilian conditions. Biofuels, Bioprod. Biorefining 2016, 10, 623–633, doi:10.1002/bbb.1674.
  4. Mayer, F.D.; Feris, L.A.; Marcilio, N.R.; Hoffmann, R. Why small-scale fuel ethanol production in Brazil does not take off? Sustain. Energy Rev. 2015, 43, 687–701, doi:10.1016/j.rser.2014.11.076.
  5. Benites-Lazaro, L.L.; Giatti, L.; Giarolla, A. Sustainability and governance of sugarcane ethanol companies in Brazil: Topic modeling analysis of CSR reporting. Clean. Prod. 2018, 197, 583–591, doi:10.1016/j.jclepro.2018.06.212.
  6. Relação Anual de Informações Sociais (RAIS). Access only with login at
  7. Richard, T.L.; El-Lakany, H. Agriculture and forestry integration. In Bioenergy & Sustainability: Bridging the gaps; SCOPE 72, 2015; Vol. 72, pp. 1329–1341 ISBN 978-2-9545557-0-6.
  8. Searchinger, T.; Heimlich, R.; Houghton, R.A.; Dong, F.; Elobeid, A.; Fabiosa, J.; Tokgoz, S.; Hayes, D.; Yu, T.-H. Use of U.S. Croplands for Biofuels Increases Greenhouse Gases Through Emissions from Land-Use Change. Science (80-. ). 2008, 319, 1238–1240, doi:10.1126/science.1151861.
  9. Estatisticas uso da terra. Available online:


By Dr Pedro Gerber Machado, Researcher

Pedro’s biography