Tag Archives: carbon storage

A Look at Carbon Capture and Storage

Global warming has become an accepted phenomenon in the scientific community.  The consensus is that anthropogenic activities are dominant factors in this rapid climate change.  An increase in violent storms and severe droughts are becoming a normal occurrence on a global scale.  The impacts of one species have never before induced global changes in climate.  Limiting global temperature rise to 2 °C above preindustrial temperatures has become an accepted broad political consensus worldwide (1, 3).  The combustion of fossil fuels has been identified as the major contributor to climate change (1, 5, and 7).  Climate change predictions set a deadline of 2020 to significantly reduce greenhouse gases in order to mitigate anthropogenic effects on global warming (3).  Urgent action is needed.

world CO2 by fuel typeworld CO2 emissions per capita

Carbon capture and storage (CCS) has the potential to play a significant role in limiting climate change.  Future global emissions from the combustion of fossil fuels can potentially be reduced by 20% with the implementation of CCS (4).   Currently 3 megatons of CO2 (MtCO2) per year by pilot plants is already being captured from the emissions caused by natural gas cleanup and power plants.  The CO2 is then being stored in geologic formations (3).  Unfortunately, at the present there is a serious lack of funding to provide for new construction of CCS.  This fact will push the learning from these first pilot projects well beyond the year 2020 (3).  Additionally, another drawback to CCS will be the inevitable incremental costs incurred.  For example in the U.K., additional costs per year per household may be increased as much as 10% as a result of CCS implementation (3).

There are three methods of CCS currently under investigation.  Pre combustion capture is a process that chemically strips off the carbon leaving only hydrogen to burn.  Oxyfuel combustion burns coal or gas in the presence of denitrified air to yield only CO2 and water.  Post combustion uses chemical solvents to capture the CO2 from the flue gases (1, 2, and 3).   Captured CO2 is then fluidized by pressurizing to 70 bars.  This liquefied CO2 is next transported to a storage site where it can be injected to depths greater than 800m (2, 3).  The selection of storage sites is critical and will require monitoring for leakage for many decades to come.  Additionally, methods to re-mediate deficient storage will need to be readily put into place (1, 2, and 3).  Many of the techniques already being practiced by the oil and gas industry will function quite well as modeling and monitoring tools for CO2 storage.  However, as learning progresses these techniques will need to be evaluated for strengths and weaknesses.  Some examples of these techniques are: horizontal drilling to provide for cost effective storage, modeling techniques to predict groundwater displacement, CO2 migration, CO2 distribution and immobilization, seismic monitoring to image location of underground CO2, and borehole monitoring to heed early warnings of seepage (2, 3).   Teng et. al (2005) have analyzed some theoretical outcomes to physical and economic outcomes of carbon storage with leaking.  Their research highlights the need for critically essential decisions in reservoir selection, project design, and plant operation to avoid project failure (6).

At the moment the largest barrier to deployment of more CCS pilot plants is not a technological barrier but a market barrier.  Current demonstration coal plants have required additional capital in the range of $1.5 billion to complete construction.  Demonstration plants also have the barrier of recovering the operational costs of producing decarbonized electricity (3).  Critical commercial help and subsidies are needed for large scale up of CCS.  Haszeldine (2009) points out that price supports currently used to support renewables are actually supporting a more expensive option per energy unit than it would if it supported the deployment of CCS.  Rapid deployment of CCS is needed to promote learning.  Additionally, the sharing of detailed commercial information instead of tightly controlled company secrets commonly associated with competitive development will be help to straighten the learning curve of a much needed technology (3).

My colleagues seem to have mixed views on the practice of CCS.   The reliability of CO2 available to inject for enhanced oil recovery is a serious dilemma.  How can we implement CCS on a grand scale without the Co2 delivery infrastructure in place?  It is my opinion that this is only a reality because we have not been able to convince investors or the public that CCS is a reliable and safe science for us to be practicing.   It is true.  Until a CO2 distribution network is constructed, a reliable source of CO2 will be a pressing concern.  The practice of CO2 injection for enhanced oil recovery (EOR) has been going on for decades.  EOR is being practiced in areas where we have already disturbed the natural development of the earth.  It seems to me that one of the biggest fears for my colleagues is what will be the consequences of this CO2 injection?  This is also a concern of mine.  It perplexes me that some are so willing to accept similar risks with hydraulic fracturing, but they are not willing to trust the science behind CCS.

Another fascinating topic raised by one of my colleagues was the idea of pore space ownership.  Just like many battles have been fought over the ownership of groundwater, I foresee the same thing happening with CO2 sequestration.  Who will really own the pore space underground?  On the borders of conflicting countries it’s not so simple.  If you use Texas as an example, the wise governing bodies of Texas legislature have given the landowners the right to the resources below them, unless they have sold them off.

1Environmental Non-Government Organisation (ENGO) perspectives on Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS)., 2012.  http://cdn.globalccsinstitute.com/sites/default/files/publications/55041/engo-perspectives-carbon-capture-storage.pdf

2Gibbins, J., and Chalmers, H., 2008, Carbon capture and storage: Energy Policy, v. 36, p. 4317–4322.

3Haszeldine, S.R., 2009, Carbon capture and storage: how green can black be?: Science, v. 325, p. 1647–1652.

4International Energy Agency, 2010, Energy Technology Perspectives: , p. 458.

5Metz, B., Davidson, O., Coninck, H. de, Loos, M., and Meyer Leo, 2005, IPCC special report on carbon capture and storage: Cambridge University Press,, p. 443.

6Teng, F., and Tondeur, D., 2007, Efficiency of carbon storage with leakage: physical and economical approaches: Energy, v. 32, p. 540–548.

7U.S. Energy Information Administration; International Energy Outlook, 2011.  Pg. 6


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by | 17 February 2013 · 6:28 pm

What is Masdar City?

I was able to volunteer at the Cleantech Forum 2010 in late February. There I became familiar with Masdar, the lead sponsor. Masdar is located in the heart of the global oil and gas industry, Abu Dhabi, but it’s all about renewable energy and sustainable technology. In short, their mission is to turn Abu Dhabi in to an international hub for renewable energy and support the development, commercialization and adoption of sustainable technologies. Their four integrated business units (Masdar Institute, Masdar Carbon, Masdar Power and Masdar City) are all cutting edge, but I’d like to focus on what they call the “physical embodiment of Masdar,” Masdar City.

The thought is to create a place for innovators and entrepreneurs to test energy science, city design, sustainable development and environmental architecture. The focus is not only on test and design, but also on making an alluring place to live and work. If your creating the city of the future and money is not an object(budgeted at $22 billion), why not reach for the sky? They have!

Masdar City will be powered by 100% renewables, it will be zero waste, zero carbon and it will have a sustainable water system. Transportation, materials, foods…all sustainable. They are going all out and the level of detail is amazing. From the orientation and width of the streets to the wind cones (shown in the Masdar Headquarters photo above) that naturally ventilate interior spaces to the retractable shades (shown below) covering City Plaza, nothing was overlooked.

Transportation is beneath the city, leaving the ground level open for pedestrians. The transportation system includes a light rail and a Personal Rapid Transport (PRT) system that a transports up to 4 adults to any PRT station at the touch of a button.

The Masdar Institute of Science and Technology(MIST), developed in cooperation with MIT will be at the heart of the R&D in Masdar City. It will eventually be home to 600 master’s and PhD students, with over 100 faculty members. MasDar City with also be the home of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) headquarters and host operations for companies like GE and BASF.

They are currently in Phase One of seven, which focuses on MIST. This means that first residents will be students testing new technologies, while being test subjects themselves. I would encourage you to learn more about Masdar City.

Source: http://www.masdarcity.ae/en/index.aspx

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Retrofitting Coal Power

I got lucky last fall. Together with a friend I toured what many consider America’s most important power plant to see the future of coal. But it turns out: There is nothing to see, really. Long pipes connect the colossal Mountaineer Power Plant on the Ohio River to a structure four stories tall made of metal beams and aluminum tubes. Three hundred feet further down the road a pump station sits listlessly under the winter sky, two pipes disappear in the ground. That’s it. Nothing is moving. But energy companies and politicians along with environmentalists the world over are watching closely what’s happening in New Haven, West Virginia.

Here the United States government and American Electric Power, America’s biggest provider of electricity, are developing a technology that attaches to a coal plant, filters carbon dioxide out of the power plant’s emissions and stores the gas directly underground. Their goal: Pioneering a process that reduces CO2 emissions, which significantly contribute to manmade global warming, and thus creating a future for the most abundant energy resource in the US. The pilot project is the first of it’s kind in the world. It got under way in September and the Department of Energy just announced that it would fund its expansion with $334 million dollars.

The importance of the project becomes clear when we consider the role coal plays in the US economy – and in climate change science. America generates nearly 50 percent of it’s electricity with coal and is home to the lion share of the world’s known coal reserves, some 27 percent. At the same time, the fuel is responsible for 80 percent of all CO2 emissions in the power sector and a big reason why the United States, a country with less than 5 percent of the world’s population, produces more than 20 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions.

Enter carbon capture and sequestration, as the technology at the 30-year-old Moutaineer plant is called. Or CCS for short. Essentially it consists of a chemical factory and two deep wells, AEP engineer Gary Spitznogle told me. “In the factory smoke that has been diverted from the plant’s chimney is mixed with a chilled ammonia-based chemical. Once the mixture is heated, the carbon dioxide separates itself and is pumped nearly two miles into the earth under a protective layer of sandstone,” explains Spitznogle. There the liquid CO2 displaces saltwater from fine pores in a layer of dolomite and stays put, theoretically of tens of thousands of years.

At the moment AEP is operating a small-scale validation of the technology together with the French company Alstom, which captures less than 2 percent of the CO2 emitted by the power plant. But with the financial assistance of the federal government, equivalent to half the cost of the projects next phase, AEP plans to scale-up the project until 2015. At that point the CCS project is supposed to capture 90 percent of the carbon dioxide from 235 megawatt of the plant’s 1,300 megawatt capacity. With the help of of CCS technology AEP, America’s biggest emitter of CO2, could eliminate all CO2 emissions by retrofitting their fleet of existing coal plants by 2025, says the company’s CEO Mike Morris.

But whether or not those long-term goals are achievable, remains to be seen. From the power generator’s perspective lowering the operating cost is the first priority. CCS is only cost-effective for AEP if the technology consumes 20 percent of the electricity generated in the plant or less – currently the test unit is using 35 percent. At this price coal power could easily cost as much as or more than nuclear or solar power. Project risk analyses also list geological shifts, earthquakes and contamination of water supplies as potential complications, according to the New York Times, all of which worry residents. Most importantly though, in order to move the CO2 emitted by all 600 US coal-plant to places where the gas could be stored underground, a giant national pipeline network would have to be constructed. Many regions of US have little to no storage capacity.

That’s why advocates of renewable energy think CCS the wrong investment. David Holtz, executive Director of Progress Michigan, an environmental group, told the New York Times CCS resembled a methadone cure for addiction. He argues the industry would do better to go cold turkey. “There is no evidence that burying carbon dioxide in the earth is a better strategy than aggressively pursuing alternatives that clearly are better for the environment and will in the long-run be less costly.”

Power generators like AEP disagree and are eager to see the New Haven CCS project supply evidence of coal’s cleaner future. The rest of the world will be watching too.


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Carbon Sequestration : A U.S – China Collaboration for a Promising World Fate?

China, the world’s largest greenhouse gas producer, may have found the answer to dramatically decreasing their CO2 emissions: geologic carbon sequestration. This form of carbon storage captures CO2 from coal-burning power plants and other CO2 point sources that would have otherwise been emitted into the atmosphere and stores it deep within various geologic formations. Successful carbon sequestration within China would allow the country to continue cheap production and use of coal while addressing the overwhelming concerns of CO2 emissions. However, for a long while it was believed that China didn’t have the geologic means to store the carbon, and thus was not seriously considered as a viable option for reducing emissions. Fortunately, a recent study by the US Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory has countered those beliefs, revealing that China has the capacity to store roughly 3,000 gigatons of CO2 in various onshore and offshore formations across the country, proving storage capabilities for at least a century [1]. Furthermore, the study showed that the potential reservoirs for carbon storage are all within a 100 mile range of 90% of the power plants and industrial facilities of China that are prominent CO2 emission sources. This fact will keep extensive CO2 transport infrastructure from being built, saving the total cost of the project substantially [1].

This research has put in place a first-ever clean energy collaboration between the U.S. and China, which has now expanded to an extensive effort “to create various institutions and programs addressing a wide array of cooperation on clean-energy technologies and capacity building” [2]. This expansive collaboration includes the establishment of the U.S.-China Clean Energy Research Center, in which $150 million US dollars, provided by various public and private sectors, will be available to facilitate further research as mentioned above [2]. With the U.S. being the world’s second largest greenhouse emitter, this collaboration could mean great advances in the global reduction of CO2 emissions and a more promising clean energy future. Both President Jintao of China and President Obama are in agreement of the severity of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions and are committed to taking the essential steps to mitigating the problem.

From this, I feel a sense of encouragement that this dire issue will be addressed in the diligent manner in which it deserves and I look forward to the next several years, as I fully agree with the statement of Steven Chu, U.S. Secretary of Energy, “What the U.S. and China do over the next decade will determine the fate of the world.” Let’s just hope that what is done is something good…

[1] http://energyenvironment.pnl.gov/news/pdf/us_china_pnnl_flier.pdf

[2] http://www.grist.org/article/2009-11-17-u.s.-and-china-announce-positive-cooperative-and-comprehensive-p/


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