Carbon Capture and Storage Offers Potential for Climate Mitigation

June 10, 2020

One of the most discussed options for climate mitigation revolves around carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies. Significant capital has been invested into various CCS options, with a number of notable advances potentially offering credible solutions for carbon mitigation. The Reserve recently held an NACW 2020 Virtual Series webinar exploring the latest technological developments in the CCS arena, the applications that seem to have the best potential for commercialization, challenges that still need to be resolved and the latest on the economics of CCS, among other issues.

Below are some insights that we gained from panelists: JP Brisson, Partner, Latham & Watkins; Steve Bohlen, Program Manager, Energy and Homeland Security, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory; Maris Densmore, Manager of Carbon Capture Solutions, California Resources Corporation; Julio Friedmann, Senior Research Scholar, Center for Global Energy Policy, Columbia University; and Beth (Hardy) Valiaho, VP, Strategy & Stakeholder Relations, International CCS Knowledge Centre.

Carbon capture and storage (CCS) is the technological process of capturing carbon dioxide, often from large point sources such as power plants and refineries, compressing it as a liquid, and injecting it in deep underground geologic formations for permanent sequestration.

Climate scientists highlight CCS as a key tool to achieving deep decarbonization and net zero goals, and its success in reducing criteria pollutants

“If you really want to get to deep decarbonization, if you want to get to net zero, CCS is required. There are many, many studies that support this, including from the International Energy Agency and the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change. If you don’t have CCS, 50% of the models fail. They simply can’t solve what needs to be solved. And all of the two degree scenarios have a lot of CCS. If you have a 1.5 degree model, they not only have a lot of CCS, but they also have a lot of CO2 removal using things like bioenergy with CCS, or direct air capture with CCS,” said Julio Friedmann.

“Data on how CCS, especially post combustion CCS, impacts criteria pollutants exists and we know it from projects like Boundary Dam and Petra Nova in the US. It is generally the case that you see something like a 90 or 95% drop in criteria pollutants following post combustion retrofits. And in some cases, certain kinds of pollutants get even more profound drops, well beyond 99% reduction,” said Julio Friedmann.

“We actually get 100% of the SO2 off of the Boundary Dam facility, which is like acid rain. You have to get that out before you can even access CO2. 50% of the nitrous oxide is also removed from a separate process. And then you’re getting large amounts of particulate matter 2 and 2.5 and particulate matter 10. So this is something that, for instance, Asia is really looking at, because they’re looking to clean up the air before they even get to the fact that they’re cleaning up their CO2 in a lot of their coal plants. So sometimes we get asked about CCS application, just to clean up those things,” said Beth Valiaho.

CCS is not limited to coal

“A lot of people think about CCS as a specific kind of power technology, like it’s good for coal. That is simply not the case. If you look at a place like California, which is already extremely clean, the biggest levers you can pull are all CCS levers: natural gas capture in the power sector, light duty vehicle fuel reduction through the LCFS using CCS, and CCS on industry. So think about this like a Swiss Army knife, it can be applied in many sectors and to many positive ends,” said Julio Friedmann.

“Under the International Energy Agency Sustainable Development Scenario, 10 billion tons of CO2 needs to be captured from iron and steel, five billion tons from cement, and 14 billion tons from the chemicals industry. So there’s a lot of work to be done. And let’s not forget there’s also the option to get negative emissions and we see that coming out of the IPCC scenarios with bioenergy CCS,” said Beth Valiaho.

Facilities around the world are already doing CCS and costs are dropping

“This is proven and demonstrated. The Boundary Dam coal power plant has carbon capture on it. It’s the world’s first operating commercial scale CCS facility and has been operating since 2014. If you can clean up coal, you can clean up anything. With the Boundary Dam facility, it’s a post combustion capture. Coal is the dirtiest emission out there. You have to separate all the different particles, then you finally can access the CO2. Once we access the CO2, we compress it into a supercritical liquid, and put it under the ground. We’ve proven it. We’ve understood it. We’ve de-risked it. We can capture two million tons per year capacity at $45 US. In terms of capture, the Boundary Dam Plant has the ability to capture 90% of the emissions off the coal plant, making it much cleaner than any switch to natural gas combined cycle facility right now,” said Beth Valiaho.

“The technology is established. We’ve been capturing CO2 from industrial facilities since 1938. We’ve been doing deep injection and disposal of CO2 since 1972. We’ve run CCS projects just for climate benefits since 1996. Almost all of that has actually been done at industrial facilities, and so it’s important to realize that, again, this has a broad application base,” said Julio Friedmann. “One of the biggest CCS projects in the world and in the country is at an ethanol plant at Archer Daniels Midland in Decatur, Illinois. That project injects about a million tons of CO2 a year. And, in fact, cuts the carbon footprint of that fuel by 50%, so there’s a big carbon reduction associated with this. There are hundreds of ethanol plants around the country where the capture cost is very low, on the order of $20 or $30 a ton, and in those contexts, that’s low hanging fruit.”

“There are these low hanging fruit options, which are below $50 a ton. And we can get a certain amount of that today, say, using the 45Q tax credit. For other things like cement or natural gas power, the cost is incrementally higher. Since 2009, we now have 20 projects around the world. We have 12 companies offering technology that they can use to do the decarbonising. We have learning by doing. We have performance guarantees. We have technology advancements. And all of these have led to cost reductions,” said Julio Friedmann.

Location, location, location

“We’ve got a lot of options for storing carbon. The most common one is in saline formation. These are deep geologic formations that contain water with high concentrations of dissolved solids. These are very deep waters (minimum of 800 meters deep) and not something that humans are ever going to need or going to access. These locations are ubiquitous. They’re everywhere, but a lot of work is required when you actually want to potentially look at permanent sequestration. Another location is oil and gas fields. And this can be done through enhanced oil recovery, which is where a lot of the CCS to date has happened, where you inject CO2 into the reservoir to maintain pressure as you’re taking out oil and natural gas, you’re putting CO2 in to support that extraction, and also to permanently sequester the CO2. We know that they can actually hold the CO2 because, in some cases for millions of years, they’ve been holding methane and oil and other hydrocarbons. So these are a good place to do it, but they’re not quite as widespread. Some of the slightly less common options are in coal seams—you can inject CO2 into coal seams and the coal geochemically binds to the CO2 and so you get geochemical sequestration,” said Maris Densmore.

“(Regarding appropriate geologic formations) One place to look is where the world’s oil fields are, where Mother Nature has held hydrocarbons for hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of years. We know those are pretty good containers to hold supercritical, or liquid, CO2. It turns out that in California, Mother Nature has been particularly kind. California exemplifies some of the best places around the planet to store CO2. And that is in relatively young sedimentary basins. In the central US and in California, there are very large sedimentary basins. They’re quite young—they are several million to a few, tens of millions years old. They have high porosity, a lot of pore space and they have good permeability, so you can inject the fluids relatively easily. Some of the best geology in the world is in California where some formations have 35 – 40% pore space. Globally, you look for oil and gas fields and sedimentary basins where there are interbedded sandstone—those are the rocks that typically have high porosity and permeability, and then, shales, compressed mud stones and so forth that actually seal the reservoirs and prevent migration of the fluids from escaping from the reservoir that they are intended to be injected into. North America has some of the best geology. Those are the needed features: young sedimentary basins, interbedded sandstones and shales of some thickness, and, of course, the world’s oil and gas fields,” said Steve Bohlen.

Addressing potential concerns for CCS

“We need to have education and time for the public to understand the depth and robustness of this technology, and the fact that it’s been proven throughout the world. And that, I think, will go a long way to gaining some public acceptance, as they understand this is a technology not terribly different from wind and solar, and other new technologies that are critical for our climate future,” said Steve Bohlen.

“As governments and regulatory bodies start to get serious about this, they establish protocols for what is becoming a more familiar term, which is reservoir surveillance. Monitoring is a very important part so that one actually knows that what you think is going to happen in the subsurface is actually happening. The good news is, if there is a well-chosen site, one that is well characterized and well understood through seismic surveys and other geophysical surveys, one can have pretty high confidence that the CO2 compressed as a liquid is going to stay there. It has a lot of the physical characteristics of oil. And we know that geology can contain fluids for millions of years, so it’s not a great surprise that we have fairly high confidence. And the 20 or so CCS projects around the world have confirmed this,” said Steve Bohlen.


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