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CCS is real and it works

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Kurt Waltzer, Managing Director of Clean Air Task Force, Camilla Svendsen Skriung, Political Adviser for ZERO, and Ida Sofia Vaa, Web Journalist for ZERO, explain why CCS works and is here to stay in this blog post written for the ENGO network on CCS.

Carbon capture and storage (CCS) is still viewed by some as only a theoretical solution to creating cleaner energy and industry, but the technology is already here and has been used for years. This is not rocket science; the technology is quite straightforward. Any engineer will tell you that CCS is basic knowledge within the scientific community. So the issue is not the lack of technology or experience, but the lack of commitment from policy makers to push for CCS in all industries using fossil fuels. The ENGO network on CCS’s goal is to inform and influence decisions makers to make policies that support a more widespread use of CCS where it works best.

CCS has been around for decades. The one of the first CCS projects was established in Lubbock, Texas, in the early eighties. This was the first gas plant with CO2 capture, selling CO2 for beverages and for Enhanced Oil Recovery (EOR), and there have been several successful CCS projects around the world since then. In fact, oil companies have injected and geologically trapped over a billion tons of CO2 over the last four decades. And as CCS is beginning to be applied to electricity generation, commercial vendors are now offering performance gauntness for carbon capture on power plants.

Canada is one of the leading countries when it comes to CCS, and the North America based projects Great Plains Synfuels Plant (Dakota Gas) and Weyburn-Midale CO2 Project (Cenovus and Apache Energy), are some of the largest projects today. Synfuels began to capture carbon in 2000 to supply the Weyburn field with CO2 for EOR. Great Plains Synfuels plant uses a pre-combustion technique to capture 3 million tonnes of CO2 per year, and Weyburn-Midale stores up to 30 million tonnes of CO2.

Another large and successful project is the one in Shute Creek, Wyoming. The operation in Shute Creek started in 1996, and now captures 7 million tonnes of CO2 every year from natural gas. The CO2 is transported to several oil and gas refineries for EOR, especially to Salt Creek, which is the largest EOR project in the US.

Air Products in Port Arthur, Texas began carbon capture in 2011 is a project that mitigates the CO2 emissions from an industrial application, in this case hydrogen. It is one of several examples of industry, like cement and steel too, taking care of their greenhouse gases (GHG) the only way possible, namely using CCS technology. This project captures 1 million tonnes of CO2 per year, and the CO2 is used for EOR projects.

There are two CCS power projects under construction that are slated to begin in 2014. SaskPower is retrofitting CCS onto its existing Boundary Dam plant, a 120MW unit that will capture 1 million tonnes per year. Southern Company is building a new power plant that will capture over 2 million tonnes per year. Both projects are using EOR for storage.

Not all CO2 can be used for EOR, so most of it has to be stored offshore or underground without being used for anything. CO2 used for EOR has to be permanently stored at the end of operation as well. One of the largest storage projects outside North America is the Sleipner field outside the coast of Norway. Statoil has captured CO2 since 1996 and stores it 800 meters under the seabed. The storage site has been continuously monitored for safety reasons, but also for researchers to learn how the CO2 behaves under pressure under the sea. The Sleipner field has stored over 15 million tonnes of CO2 since the start up.

The experience and knowledge gathered from these and other projects around the world only confirms that CCS is working, and it is working well.

Another push back on CCS relates to cost. The technology is expensive to implement, and may add extra costs for the retailers who buy energy from fossil fuels. The cost depends on the type of emission, the capture technology used, the distance to the storage site, the qualities of the storage site, whether the emission source is built with capture from day one or capture is retrofitted to an existing emission source, and variable costs like prices on materials and availability of real estate. The greatest expense relates to its application to power and industrial sources that are at the beginning of the cost/experience curve. While the technology has been used on sources like natural gas processing for decades, it has only recently begin to be used on sources such like power plants.

The cost decreases when the technology becomes more widespread and so will the energy loss. Building common infrastructures for storage that can be used by many different emission sources reduces costs of storage. Improvements in technology increase efficiency and reduce costs.

CCS today is dependent on some level of government subsidy or other kinds of support to be economically feasible. However, as with all technologies, as new projects are being built the costs will decrease. In order to move these technologies off of subsidies, it is important to set emission standards or CO2 prices at a level that will drive deployment. By using national, regional and global policy measures, we can create a virtuous circle, where emission/CO2 price levels help drive deployment, which drives costs down, which in turn catalyzes broader market and regulatory and drivers - to the point where CCS is widely deployed on a global scale.

Questioning the CCS technology is no longer an excuse to not implement CCS on industry and where fossil fuels are being used.


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