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Greenhouse Gases

Exxon Mobil proposes huge carbon capture and storage hub

Houston project would store 100 million metric tons of CO2 annually and cost $100 billion

by Alex Scott
April 22, 2021 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 99, Issue 15


This is a graphic showing how ExxonMobil plans to sequester carbon dioxide.
Credit: ExxonMobil
ExxonMobil proposes building a pipeline in the Houston Ship Channel region to gather carbon dioxide from industrial facilities, including chemical plants and refineries. The CO2 would be pumped into a reservoir thousands of meters below the seabed, where ExxonMobil claims it will be sealed by impermeable rock.

Once resistant to carbon reduction initiatives, ExxonMobil has unveiled a plan to build one of the world’s largest projects for carbon capture and storage (CCS) along the Houston Ship Channel in Texas. Likened by some to be the equivalent of dialysis for a planet, CCS involves stripping CO2 from industrial plant emissions—or from the air—and storing it in a secure underground location to prevent the gas from contributing to global warming.

The proposed project would cost $100 billion and would capture and store 100 million metric tons of CO2 per year. The emissions saved would be equivalent to removing 1 in every 12 cars on US roads, the company says. ExxonMobil is proposing to build infrastructure to capture its own CO2 emissions, as well as those from power plants, oil refineries, and chemical plants in the Houston area. The CO2 would be piped into a storage reservoir thousands of meters under the water in the Gulf of Mexico.

For the project to be economically viable, it would need major public funding and the introduction of a price on carbon in the US. ExxonMobil says the project could be fully operational by 2040.

“ExxonMobil believes, and experts agree, that carbon capture and storage (CCS) will need to play a critical role if the United States and other countries are to meet the emissions-reduction goals outlined in the Paris Agreement,” Joe Blommaert, president of ExxonMobil Low Carbon Solutions, says in a statement.

Without CCS, the window on oil is closing.
Jon Gibbins, professor of CCS, University of Sheffield

Absent CCS, producers and users of fossil fuels could struggle to meet future regulations intended to help countries comply with the Paris accord. “Without CCS, the window on oil is closing,” says Jon Gibbins, professor of CCS at the University of Sheffield. “You can use fossil fuel, but then you have got to clean up after.”

Not everyone considers CCS—or ExxonMobil’s proposed project—a positive development. “CCS is a lengthy distraction from the debate about greenhouse gas pollution from fossil fuels and getting emissions down at source,” says Sam Van den plas, policy director for the nonprofit Carbon Market Watch. “Companies like ExxonMobil need to start transitioning to a fully renewable energy future.”

ExxonMobil has not stipulated which carbon capture technologies it might deploy in its proposed Houston CCS hub.

The firm has been working with FuelCell Energy on carbonate fuel cells for CO2 capture. It also has a venture with Global Thermostat, a start-up that uses waste heat from industrial processes to move CO2-rich air over solvents that selectively absorb CO2. And it is working with Mosaic Materials, which uses a porous material based on a metal-organic framework to adsorb atmospheric CO2.



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