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    Glimmers of hope for carbon capture and storage [GasTransitions]


There is a glimmer of hope that carbon capture utilisation and storage (CCUS) is beginning to acquire some momentum. “After years of slow progress and insufficient investment, interest in CCUS is starting to grow,” notes the International Energy Agency (IEA) in a special report, CCUS in Clean Energy Transitions, published on 24 September. [Gas Transitions Volume 1, Issue 9]

by: Karel Beckman

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Glimmers of hope for carbon capture and storage [GasTransitions]

According to the report, “plans for more than 30 commercial facilities have been announced in the last three years. And projects now nearing a final investment decision represent an estimated potential investment of around $27 billion – more than double the investment planned in 2017. This portfolio of projects is increasingly diverse – including power generation, cement and hydrogen facilities, and industrial hubs – and would double the level of CO2 captured globally, from around 40 million tonnes today.” The reason for the “acceleration” are “stronger climate targets and investment incentives”.

Nevertheless, although “CCUS is up and running in some sectors”, it is still “lagging in the most critical ones”. CCUS has primarily been used in areas such as natural gas processing or fertiliser production, where the CO2 can be captured at relatively low cost. “But in other areas, including cement and steel, CCUS remains at an early stage of development. These are the sectors where CCUS technologies are critical for tackling emissions because of a lack of alternatives.”

It’s a familiar refrain we have heard about CCUS for a long time. The IEA has for years now stressed that CCUS is a “key pillar” of any net-zero emission strategy, but not enough is being done to make it happen.

A similar message was given by yet another CCUS report, put out by the U.S.-based Center for Global Energy Policy of Columbia University, “Net Zero and Geospheric Return: Actions Today for 203 and Beyond”.  “Carbon capture and storage (CCS) must play a central role” in climate action, according to this report, in particular in two ways: 

  • To manage emissions from existing, long-lived capital stock. This is especially true for rapid emissions reduction from three kinds of facilities: heavy industrial sector (i.e., cement, steel, and chemicals); production of near–zero-C hydrogen in abundance; and recently built power plants, in particular coal and gas facilities in Asia. 
  • To enable large-scale rapid carbon dioxide (CO2) removal through engineered systems. This will include approaches like direct-air capture with storage (DACS), bioenergy with CCS (BECCS), and carbon mineralization. 

The International Energy Agency (IEA), IPCC, and many other groups estimate CCS projects must mitigate 1.5 Gigatonnes per annum (Gtpa) by 2030 to stay on a 1.5 C increase climate trajectory—an increase by a factor of 35 from today, notes the report.

The Center for Global Energy Policy observes that “the 8,000 kilometers (5,000 mi) of existing CO2 pipelines in North America must be expanded by an additional 35,000 kilometers (21,000 mi) to maximize emissions reduction. Similarly, industrial hubs and clusters, now under development in Europe, China, and the Middle East, can accelerate the deployment of CCS at reduced cost. More storage sites must be assessed and approved, and options like CO2 shipping must be explored for costs, opportunities, and technology requirements.”

Both the IEA and the Center for Global Energy Policy appeal to governments to take the necessary measures to make CCUS fly.

German Energy Ministry re-opens debate on CCS

In a potentially significant move for the European gas sector, the German Ministry of Energy and the Economy has said it will launch a new round of debate on the use of carbon capture and storage (CCS). CCS in Germany has been moribund since a 2012 law allowed states to ban the use of underground caverns for storing CO2.

Now the government is starting a new attempt by initiating a “dialogue with relevant stakeholders” from NGOs, industry associations, businesses and researchers to find out more about acceptance issues of this potential carbon sink, writes Tagesspiegel Background. The dialogue is to start before the next general election in autumn 2021.

For the gas industry, the debate could be very important. Germany has huge ambitions in hydrogen, but so far it only allows the production of “green”, renewables-based hydrogen in the country. If CCS were to be allowed, it could provide a new lease on life for gas suppliers. Chancellor Angela Merkel herself said in May 2019 that CCS was back to be discussed and needed "a wide debate in society".

Implementing CCS in Germany is hampered by the fact that a first push to store CO2 underground, especially in northern Germany, led to citizen protests because of worries over drinking water contamination and leakages.

According to some independent observers, such as Ralf Dickel, Senior Visiting Research Fellow at the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies (OIES) the idea that Germany could meet its hydrogen targets with green hydrogen alone is a “pipe dream”.

Mitsubishi pioneers CCS for ships

Mitsubishi Shipbuilding has started work on developing a carbon capture system for ships. Together with Kawasaki and Nippon, Mitsubishi is conducting test operations and measurements for a small scale ship-based CO2 capture demonstration plant, the company said in a press release.

The project, called "Carbon Capture on the Ocean" (CC-Ocean), which is supported by the Japanese government, involves converting the design of an existing CO2 capture system for onshore power plants to a marine environment, and installing it on board an actual ship in service. The system, which is expected to become operational in 2022, will be installed on board a coal carrier for Tohoku Electric Power Co., operated by "K" Line.

Through operational and performance confirmation in an actual marine environment, Mitsubishi Shipbuilding will then determine the system specification requirements as a marine-based device and will also consider how to make the plant more compact.

The experiment is the first of its kind in the world. The knowledge gained will be used for future development of technologies and systems to capture CO2 from the exhaust gases of marine equipment and ships, said Mitsubishi. The company said the captured CO2 can even be recycled for use as a new source of CO2 for enhanced oil recovery (EOR) processes, or as raw material in synthetic fuel.

New research suggests that bigger and better electrolysers will be key to producing green hydrogen at a lower cost than fossil fuels, and Australia’s abundance of cheap solar means this cross-over point will come ‘sooner rather than later’.

Australian government channels funds to CCS and hydrogen

The Australian federal government will give the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) “guaranteed baseline funding” of AU$1.427 billion over the next 10 years, plus extra allocations in the annual budget. For 2020/21, that will amount to AU$191 million. (AU$=US$0.70) This is part of a AU$1.9 billion package which also includes money for the Clean Energy Finance Corporation.

Renewable energy advocates in Australia are upset, however, because the government is also pushing ARENA and CEFC away from traditional renewable energies (solar and wind) into CCS, blue (fossil fuel-based) hydrogen and storage. “ARENA and CEFC have played critical roles in advancing Australian renewable, storage and other critical enabling technologies since their creation in 2012.”

“Solar panels and wind farms are now clearly commercially viable and have graduated from the need for government subsidies and the market has stepped up to invest,” prime minister Scott Morrison said in a joint statement with energy minister Angus Taylor. “We will reduce the cost of new and emerging technologies, not raise the cost of existing technologies or layer in new costs to consumers and businesses through mandated targets or subsidies,” Taylor added.

The document released by the government says CCS projects will look at power generation, gas, manufacturing and cement. Potential CCS hubs include Moomba (SA) Surat/Bown Basins (Qld), offshore Latrobe Valley (Vic), offshore Darwin (NT), and the Pilbara/Carnarvon Basin (WA), along with Browse (WA).

Low Emissions Technology, a group funded by the coal industry, said it looked forward to gaining more government money to advance an integrated CCS project in Queensland, which it said would involve the “capture, transport and safe, permanent storage” of CO2 from a coal fired power station.

Another AU$70.2 million will be spent on establishing a “regional” hydrogen export hub, which could be cited in the Latrobe Valley (Vic), or Darwin (NT), north-west WA, Gladstone (Qld), Hunter Valley (NSW), Bell Bay (Tasmania) and the Spencer Gulf (South Australia).

The Australian Conservation Foundation said it was concerned that the government continues to throw money at fossil fuels. “The $1.4 billion for the Australian Renewable Energy Agency over the next decade represents a funding cut, based on the agency’s historical funding, while expanding its work to invest in dirty technologies,” said ACF’s climate program manager Gavan McFadzean. “Carbon capture and storage has already received AU$1.3 billion in taxpayer support with almost no commercial successes. It is not reliable or cost effective and should not be used as an excuse to prolong the use of coal, oil and gas at a time of already severe climate change.”