Climate change debates put heat on carbon capture and storage projects

Sequestering CO2, also known as carbon capture and storage (CCS), in recent months has moved from drawing board concepts to real projects backed by universities, corporations and the federal government. Worldwide debate over climate change has sparked the intellectual and financial support of these projects.

By Ken Schnepf, Managing Editor

Sequestering CO2, also known as carbon capture and storage (CCS), in recent months has moved from drawing board concepts to real projects backed by universities, corporations and the federal government. Worldwide debate over climate change has sparked the intellectual and financial support of these projects.

“For us, as a company, the debate about whether man-made climate change is happening is over,” says Jeroen van der Veer, chief executive at Shell. “The debate now is about what we can do about it. Businesses like ours need to turn CO2 management into a business opportunity by leading the search for responsible ways to manage CO2 and use energy more efficiently. But that also requires concerted action by governments to create the long-term, market-based policies needed to make it worthwhile for companies to invest. With fossil fuel use and CO2 levels continuing to grow fast, there is no time to lose.”

Shell is involved in large-scale demonstration projects in CCS. One of these is ZeroGen, a low-CO2 coal-fired power project being considered in Australia. Another, in Norway, is the largest offshore project to date to store CO2 and use it to enhance oil recovery. If it were to go ahead, the Halten project, which Shell is working on with the Norwegian Government and Statoil, would solve a power shortage in central Norway and reduce CO2 emissions by as much as 2.5 million tonnes a year, the company says. Both projects are at the feasibility stage. Shell also is supplying waste CO2 from its Pernis refinery to greenhouses in the Netherlands, and exploring CO2 management opportunities in the Middle East with Mitsubishi Heavy Industries.

The first three large-scale carbon sequestration projects in the United States and the largest single set in the world to date received funding in October from the Department of Energy (DOE). The three projects – Plains Carbon Dioxide Reduction Partnership; Southeast Regional Carbon Sequestration Partnership; and Southwest Regional Partnership for Carbon Sequestration – will conduct large-volume tests for the storage of 1 million or more tons of CO2 in deep saline reservoirs. DOE plans to invest $197 million over 10 years, subject to annual appropriations from Congress, for the projects, whose estimated value including partnership cost share is $318 million.

These projects are the first of several sequestration demonstration projects planned through DOE’s Regional Carbon Sequestration Partnerships.

Canada’s New Government and the Province of Alberta will partner with EPCOR Utilities and the Canadian Clean Power Coalition (CCPC) in a $33 million research and development project that promises to make Canada a world leader in clean coal technology. In addition to further reducing emissions of air pollutants associated with coal-fired electricity generation, the technology is designed to take advantage of opportunities for CCS, which are expected to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to almost zero. The project will be located at EPCOR's Genesee Generating Station west of Edmonton.

“The application of this technology, on this scale, with this type of coal, has not been used anywhere else in the world,” says Dr. David Lewin, EPCOR’s senior vice-president, IGCC development and chair of the CCPC. “By converting coal into synthesis gas, and capturing and sequestering CO2, we can generate electricity that's cleaner than the best natural gas facility operating today.”

In the U.K., cutting-edge technology that ‘captures’ polluting carbon dioxide and stores it permanently inside rocks is under development at a new research center at the University of Nottingham. The Centre for Innovation in Carbon Capture and Storage (CICCS) — scheduled to open in October — plans to develop novel technologies to trap and store greenhouse gases permanently and safely, so they aren’t released into the atmosphere.

“The novel technologies developed at the Centre will enable the U.K. to meet its targets for the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions, and thus help the U.K. to play its part in global efforts to tackle climate change.”

One concept is to extract CO2 from burning coal into a reactor with silicate-based rocks. Compared to other proposed processes for carbon storage, such as burying carbon under the sea, once the CO2 is locked inside the rock by the CICCS process, it is permanently contained and can’t go back to its previous state. This ensures the permanent storage of the CO2 while producing a commercial product (bricks) in the process.

Even if climate change weren’t such a hot topic, these CCS projects have merit they all aim to find a positive use for industry’s byproducts.

E-mail Managing Editor Ken Schnepf at kschnepf@putman.net.

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