Carbon capture and storage comeback must focus on industrial emissions, say experts

Smoke stacks belching CO2 into the atmosphere. (Photo: Wikipedia)

Publish date: January 27, 2016

Since the Paris climate agreement and its ambitious resolve to keep global warming to 2C to 1.5C over preindustrial temperatures, a number of influential publications have been declaring if not the death, then at least the terminal illness of Carbon Capture and Storage.

Since the Paris climate agreement and its ambitious resolve to keep global warming to 2C to 1.5C over pre-industrial temperatures, a number of influential publications have been declaring if not the death, then at least the terminal illness of Carbon Capture and Storage.

The technology to trap carbon emissions at their source and sequester them underground has been hailed by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) as a critical element to sliding in under that 2C point of no return.

But its advocates have been getting a bit of a cold shoulder since Paris, as matters of politics, expense, jobs, and perceived encouragement of old, dirty energy sources collided.

The Financial Times on January 17 ran an article headlined “Carbon Capture Running out of Steam.” Quoting Greenpeace, the FT reported that CCS technology “continues to move forward at only a snail’s pace,” and declared that the “22 [CCS] projects operating or under construction worldwide [have a] capacity that is tiny compared to what is needed” to curb emissions to levels agreed to in Paris.

The Climate News Network followed on January 21 with it’s article Carbon Capture Plans Need Urgent Aid. The article offered a less dire assessment of CCS’s vital signs than the FT, and said its condition could improve by throwing billions of dollars at its various paths of development, and moving forward with whatever sticks to the wall.

But this is something government and private investors aren’t keen to hear – despite the price tag for investing in CCS in the long run being smaller than not investing in it at all.

Yet, if Paris revealed anything about how essential CCS is to the mix of technologies that must spring up to mitigate climate change, it was the schism between using CCS in power production and using it to mop up the CO2 emissions produced by industry and manufacturing.

The latter of these two, according to Bellona and other environmentalists, is getting a short shrift – both in the press and in the prevailing post-Paris environmental zeitgeist.

Where the story went wrong

Dr. Graeme Sweeney, chairman of the EU Zero Emissions Platform for Carbon Capture and Storage (ZEP), who spoke with Bellona during the Paris climate talks in December, frankly admitted, “we told the wrong story” about CCS being primarily useful for abating coal emissions.

“Other alternatives exist for clean power, like renewables – we [in the CCS community] put too much emphasis on energy,” Sweeney said. “So, we have to start over and talk about industrial applications.”

Sirin Engen, a CCS advisor with Bellona said in an interview Tuesday that the divide between younger environmentalists in Paris, who favor a renewables only solution, and those like Sweeney, who have been in the business of promoting CCS since 1998, comes down to coal and oil.

“There’s a perception that CCS is somehow a way to green-wash coal use or contribute to oil recovery,” Engen said. “But its strongest potential at the moment is for industry.”

Jonas Helseth, Director of Bellona Europa, agreed, saying in Paris that, “The EU hasn’t been able to reconcile the need for CCS in industry.”

“You can have industry and decarbonize it as well – it works in steel, cement, chemical and gas refining, take your pick,” he said, adding that European arguments about CCS had become “ideological.”

So where can the rifts on how to move CCS forward be mended?

CCS meets trash

Enter an experimental CCS project at Oslo, Norway’s Klemestrud waste-to-energy incinerator, which also generates heat to warm buildings in the city.

Keith Whiriskey, project manager for climate technologies with Bellona Europa, hoped the Oslo experiment would introduce fresh arguments for CCS into the post-Paris doldrums the technology is experiencing.

“It’s just not possible for the world to reach what was agreed to in Paris without CCS,” he said Tuesday. He added that using CCS in an industrial setting – and one that produces a carbon negative effect – should help change the dialogue.

Over the next five months, Oslo aims to capture and store carbon emissions from Klemestrud’s industrial scale waste recovery facility, burning the 356 kilograms of garbage produced by each of Oslo’s 600,000 residents annually.

But the test at the Klemetsrud incinerator is a step beyond most efforts to capture and bury greenhouse gases – efforts traditionally seen at coal-fired power plants.

Some 60 percent of those 213.5 million kilograms of refuse at Klemetsrud is made up of biological rubbish from wood to foodstuffs – or biomass. That means that capturing emissions would be a step to extract carbon from a natural cycle in what are called “negative emissions,” said Bellona’s Engen.

The Klemestrud incinerator pumps out 20 percent of Oslo’s emissions, so this negative emissions approach is critical when the city administration has set a goal to slash its CO2 output by 50 percent by 2020 and 95 percent by 2035, said Engen.

And if it works, a full-scale carbon capture plant could be built by 2020, Engen said. The price of the test has not been revealed by officials.

Burning garbage for the environment

The effects reach well beyond Oslo, said Engen.

“Garbage is a major environmental problem in the world, where most places continue to put garbage in open landfills emitting methane,” She said. “If we can learn from Klemetsrud and capture CO2 we can get rid of an enormous environmental problem worldwide.”

Figures cited by Engen indicate the world population each day dumps 3.5 million tons of garbage into landfills.

“We see potential in this market across the world,” said Valborg Lundegaard, head of Aker Solutions’ engineering, which is running the Klemestrud test.

Oil wells for storage

The carbon captured at the Klemstrud plant could be deposited in old oil wells owned by the Norwegian government in the North Sea – something that raises hackles from other environmental quarters.

Carbon dioxide could, they fear, be injected into oil and gas fields to help boost pressure and raise production – thus negating at the gas pump CO2 captured in industry.

But Bellona Europa’s Whiriskey was resolute in finding adequate storage for CO2 however possible at this point.

“In these early days we need to put [CO2] down as many holes as possible,” he said. That the gas may be used for enhanced oil recovery “the same as saying no emitting industry can be used in producing solar cells,” said Whiriskey.

And where it comes to storage, it’s the Norwegian oil industry that has the pipelines, wells, and geological knowledge of where to put the captured CO2, said Engen.

Getting off the pipeline

Noah Deich, Executive Director of The Center for Carbon Removal in San Francisco told Bellona while in Paris some proposals or regulations would eventually have to be forwarded to oil companies participating in CO2 sequestration.

He proposed they be encouraged — perhaps by incentives – to not use a certain percentage of CO2 they acquire from captured CO2 in enhanced oil recovery.

Beyond that, he said the US in particular has industrial level resources to be tapped toward carbon sequestration projects.

The fishing industry, for instance, produce algae, which can also be used to capture carbon. Farmers can be tapped for CO2 absorbing biomass. Welders, metal workers and engineers can design pipelines to America’s unused oil wells as a job creator.

“And there are many of these types of wells,” Deich said. “The US won’t be going for enhanced oil recovery anyway because it’s too busy with fracking, and [President Barack] Obama’s new regulations of mandatory decarbonization plans for new coal plants means we won’t see coal plants for a while.”

The workforce dispossessed by fossil fuels can build and design carbon storage for the world’s second largest emitter, he said. For this to work, though, business has to be brought on board.

Oslo leads the way for Norway

Though the success of the Klemestrud project is in the hands of the Norwegian government, said Engen, the local effort has led to renewed national attention for CCS, which was hard to revive after failures like Mongstad, which Norway’s Statoil shelved for good in October 2015.

But the new spark at Klemestrud, said Engen, has ignited a fire between the toes of Gassnova, Norway’s state CCS enterprise, which has begun a number of new feasibility studies for full scale CCS plants nationwide.

“What’s encouraging about Klemestrud is that a small, quickly executed effort in Oslo is dictating that the entire state must act,” said Engen. “I think in the near term, that will be more the case all over.”.

Some signs of that have even been seen in North America, ‘said Whiriskey. Both Mississippi’s Kemper plant and Texas’s NowGen carbon capture facility are slated to come online this year. And Canada’s Boundary Dam plant is more than a year into industrial carbon capture and storage.

Though all three projects are related to power, they have nonetheless found resonance particularly within the oil and gas refining industry, where Obama has introduced restrictions on methane and other greenhouse gas releases.

Tore Torp, a former adviser on CO2 Storage for Norway’s state oil company Statoil, has for years been livid over the pigeonholing of CCS strictly to power production at the expense of industry.

He told Bellona he was concerned the local perception of the Klemestrud plant would still associate CCS with power production, as the incineration unit helps heat Oslo’s homes.

By far the most successful collaboration between carbon capture and industry, he said, was the agreement of Heidelberg Cement and 16 other cement manufacturers to decarbonize their production by 2030. The effort, agreed to in Paris, will lead to a 10 percent world wide reduction in CO2 emissions.

But he said if Klemetsrud had to lead the way for Norway, so be it.

“For 25 small Norwegian towns [industrial CCS] is a matter of life or death in 10, 20 or 30 years,” he said. “It’s inevitable if CCS technology adaptation is not started soon.”

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