Is Carbon Capture the Clean Tech Solution to Industrial CO2 Emissions?

Shell Scotford Upgrader

by | Nov 11, 2015

Shell Scotford UpgraderSome 22 carbon capture and storage (CCS) projects are operating or under construction worldwide — double the number at the beginning of the decade — according to the Global CCS Institute’s annual report, Global Status of CCS: 2015.

“The CCS industry is poised to move through its most active construction period to date, extending across a diverse range of sectors such as iron and steel, natural gas and power,” says Victor Der, executive advisor and acting general manager – the Americas, Global CCS Institute. “Up to 28 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions will be captured by existing operational carbon capture and storage projects this year.”

CCS — a suite of different technologies — has huge potential. It can drastically reduce emissions from the fossil-fuel based energy sector and it’s expected to play a key role in US states’ plans to implement the Clean Power Plan, which requires existing coal-burning power plants to cut carbon emissions by 32 percent by 2030, compared to 2005 levels. Additionally, the Global CCS Institute says CCS is the only option available to significantly reduce direct CO2 emissions from many industrial processes.

‘Thousands’ More CCS Projects Needed

Still, CCS deployment isn’t anywhere close to where it should be if governments and businesses are serious about avoiding severe climate change impacts. The Global CCS Institute says “thousands” of CCS projects must become operational by the middle of the century to meet international climate targets.

Many governments don’t want to invest in the technology and without strict emissions regulations in place, many companies don’t see the business case for investing in CCS. To encourage more widespread adoption, government policy must support CCS, making the technology more affordable, and more research is needed to bring the costs of deployment down, according to Juho Lipponen, head of the CCS Unit at International Energy Agency.

Adds Der: “While great progress has been made in the past decade, predictable and enduring policy arrangements that support a positive business case for CCS investment are needed to strengthen the foundations for widespread deployment of CCS. In addition, implementation of effective and cost-efficient CCS law and regulation, incentives for early storage site identification and characterization to support project development, and increased research and development resources to reduce costs and increase the efficiency of capture and storage technologies are needed.”

All Eyes on Quest

CCS experts points to Shell’s Quest CCS project in Alberta, Canada, as a landmark project for CCS’ use to control emissions in the industrial sector.

Quest will capture one-third of the emissions from Shell’s Scotford Upgrader (pictured), which turns oil sands bitumen into synthetic crude that can be refined into fuel and other products. The CO2 is then transported through a 65-kilometre pipeline and injected more than two kms underground below multiple layers of impermeable rock formations.

As part of its funding arrangements, Shell is publicly sharing information on Quest’s design and processes to further global adoption of CCS.

Lipponen, who attended the Quest inauguration, says Shell’s project is significant because it’s about controlling emissions at a refinery — not coal-fired power — and it will provide data for other industries considering CCS.

“It’s important to show that this technology has quite a few applications outside of coal-fired power,” Lipponen says. “It’s also important because it’s one million tons a year and it’s being stored underground so it will improve understanding of how CCS behaves underground. I hope it sparks interest in looking more widely at CCS in the refining sector as well as other sectors like cement and steel, where it’s very important.”

Global Climate Policy Lacking

In addition to Quest, Patrick Falwell, a senior solutions fellow at the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES), points to the 2016 launch of the world’s first steel plant with large-scale CCS in Abu Dhabi as one to watch. The project, a joint venture between clean energy company Masdar and the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC), will sequester 800,000 metric tons of CO2 annually.

Falwell also says the expense and lack of a global climate policy are preventing more widespread adoption of CCS. “In most instances it might cost several hundreds of million or even more than a billion, and without a climate policy or another reason to justify that investment it’s hard to make the economics of CCS work,” Falwell says.

But if projects like Quest and the Abu Dhabi CCS project are successful in cost-effectively managing carbon emissions — and if the UN COP 21 climate talks in Paris do produce strong global climate policy — expect other companies and industries to follow suit.

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