"... because CCS is not as sexy as renewables"

June 5, 2014 | 00:00

"...because CCS is not as sexy as renewables"

Scientists, engineers, experts from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and politicians seem to agree: to limit the global increase in temperature to a maximum of 2°C without the introduction of a comprehensive Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) system is almost impossible. However, listening recently to the experts from around the world at the third Milestone Mongstad conference in Bergen, Norway, one cannot avoid the impression that today the world is far away from the installation of an effective CCS weapon to fight CO2. The main obstacles seem to be the nonchalance of politicians in almost all parts of the world, which means a lack of public funding and as a result of this, companies are hesitant to invest in R&D. There is obviously another hurdle, which is the absence of public support and its resistance to examine and accept this new technology. Or as Jarad Daniels from the US Department of Energy put it: “...because CCS is not as sexy as renewables”.

Aerial view of carbon capture facility at Technology Centre Mongstad, Norway - Source Alstom
One major exception within this picture of nonchalance is Norway. In 2009, parliament took the decision to establish the Technology Centre Mongstad (TCM) in Mongstad, 55 kilometres north west of Bergen. The State signed a 75.12% share in TCM through Gassnova, a company founded to administrate the interests of the State in TCM, the transport and storage of CO2 from Mongstad and the research programme Climit. The State is joined by Statoil (20%) and by Shell and the South African company Sasol with 2.44% each.

Since 2012, adjacent to a refinery and a Central Heating and Power (CHP) power plant which supply TMC with CO2 gas, two separate facilities, Aker Solutions and Alstom, are running their research programmes at Mongstad. Whilst the French are focusing on a very compact built plant for the Chilled Ammonia Process and are “now prepared for the next step, a full scale CCS plant”, the Norwegians chose a less tight design for their amine plant. Both are very satisfied with their results. They deliver a capture rate of between 85 and 93%, negligible environmental and health risks, and very low emissions.

At the end of August Aker Solutions is leaving Mongstad. Programme manager Oscar Graff: “We have got what we were looking for, everything went according to plan”. That includes some hiccups such as an unexpected mist in the pipes. The Canadian company Shell Cansolv will move in. However, TCM has a third site available and is looking among the approximately 20 interested parties for an additional, preferably middle-sized, vendor. In autumn, Frank Ellingsen, CEO of TCM, is expecting a decision. The Norwegians are proud of their “largest CCS test centre in the world” and can count on the support of the government even in the future.

In September 2013, the then Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg stopped, shortly before he lost the general election, all work on the construction of a full scale CCS plant, its importance having been compared by him at the announcement of the project in 2007 to the landing on the moon. The only cost calculation for the total project including pipes and storage was conducted in 2010 by the Ministry of Petroleum and Energy. It resulted in a price tag of between NOK 20 and 25 billion (€2.45 and 3.06 billion), for the treatment of just one million tonnes of CO2 per year. 80% of the cost was supposed to be covered by the State’s purse. That was too much even for the wealthy Norwegians, especially after strong criticism from the Public auditor.

However, the new Norwegian Government with the Conservative Erna Solberg at the helm is still committed to defending Norway’s position as one of the leading CCS promoters in the world. The Government is working on a new strategy and has already announced its ambition that Norway should “invest on a broad front to develop cost-effective technology for CCS and seek to construct at least one full-scale CCS demonstration plant by 2020”. At the Bergen conference, Tone Skogen, Head of Climate, Industry and Technology at the Ministry of Petroleum and Energy, announced the government’s intention to participate in projects even outside of Norway.

Norway is already the only country in Europe which stores CO2. It uses some near-empty reservoirs on its continental shelf. Since 1996, Norway is operating the world’s first large-scale offshore CO2 separation, injection and storage site in the Sleipner gas field. Since then, every year one million tons of CO2 have been stored. In another field, Snøhvit in the Barents Sea, annually 0.7 million tons of CO2 are stored. At the same time, the Norwegian Petroleum Directorate has mapped the entire continental shelf in the search for suitable storage locations for CO2 on behalf of the government. And they were successful. According to this research, the Norwegian Sea has a theoretical storage potential of 5.5 gigatons of carbon dioxide, the Norwegian part of the North Sea around 4 gigatons and the Barents Sea of 7.2 gigatons.

International cooperation and exchange of information are essential for progress in the field of CCS. Up to now this was not occurring, at least not at a desirable scale. That is – hopefully – going to change. At the Milestone Mongstad 3 conference, the International CCS Test Centre Network was founded. In autumn last year, the USA and Norway agreed to provide resources for chairing the network during the first four years, as well as for a technical expert. Now, at the first network meeting in Mongstad, Southern Company/NCCC, E.ON, Saskpower, Enel and TCM joined as members. The network is expected to provide enhanced technical learning, increase insight and awareness of different technologies, provide a broader base of factual evidence which can increase general transparency of CCS, and thereby enhance public awareness and acceptance of the technology and increase the value of public and private CCS research and technology investments through increased sharing of best practices and results from parallel activities.

Parties interested in becoming members have to meet some criteria: they have to operate a capture facility connected to a coal or gas fired power plant or an industrial plant, must be willing to provide fee payments, willing to host visitors for a site tour, must be aiming to be as neutral as possible in technology decisions, willing to share non-confidential knowledge and jointly work together to solve shared problems and must be willing to sign off on appropriate procedures for knowledge sharing.

The founders hope that the network will contribute to more harmonised CCS research activities which will in the end lead to established benchmarks and performance indicators and promote technology certification and standardisation. Peter Radgen, who signed the agreement for the German E.ON, explained: “E.ON operates a CO2 capture pilot plant at its power plant in Wilhelmshaven, Germany, together with the US company Fluor. As the commercial deployment of CCS for the power sector in Europe will be significantly delayed due to low carbon prices, it is important to ensure that the already generated knowledge is not lost but further developed to ensure that a low carbon option for the utilisation of fossil fuels will be available in the mid- to long term.”

There are countries in the world which deliver an important contribution to solving the CO2 problem. Besides Norway, Great Britain, Canada, the USA and China were mentioned. But Europe as a whole did not find much sympathy with Jarad Daniels, Director at the Office of Clean Coal. “In Europe, for the next few years we do not expect major steps forward.” The US is “definitely looking at Asia, China included”, Daniels told EER. China is important, and he gave an example: It took the US almost 30 years to plan and finish the Kemper County project [note]. The construction took six years. “China did almost the same job in three years”. In the US itself, he points out, there are approximately 20 directives and initiatives to reduce greenhouse gases. However, Howard J. Herzog, Senior Research Engineer at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and almost a legend in the history of CCS, told the conference: “in the US, climate change legislation has languished and any legislative action on climate policy will have to wait until a new president takes office in 2017.” According to him, the “peak activity for CCS occurred in 2008 and over the past several years, we have fallen from the peak.” Furthermore, he predicts that “we will fall short of the dream of seeing 20 large-scale CCS projects deployed by 2020.” His advice for the future: “Keep CCS moving forward so, when the time does arrive, CCS will be ready to answer the call.” Because the world needs CCS.

Note

The Kemper County Project is under construction in Kemper County, Mississippi. It was supposed to start production in May 2014 but is now delayed to "sometime in 2014". It is a power plant which uses lignite which will be gasified. Kemper County is a pilot project to demonstrate the feasibility of CCS on coal fired power plants in order to reduce their CO2 emissions.

 

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