Carbon capture and storage hits the buffers

CATO and AFTP events reveal dwindling public support and geological gotchas to CCS.

It’s not just the oil and gas industry that is having a hard time these days. The carbon capture and storage business (if it is a business) is suffering from a swath of obstacles, political, economic and technical. The idea is simple enough, capture the CO2 emitted by electricity generation or cement manufacture and ‘sequester’ it underground in deep reservoirs.

At last year’s Cato symposium in Amsterdam, Brad Page of the Global CCS Institute observed that, ‘Fossil fuels will be important for a long time. Huge reserves (134 GW) of coal capacity were added in 2013, double any other fuel.’ Most of this was in undeveloped countries ‘where it will be developed whatever we think.’ So CCS is essential if the world is to stay within the 2° temperature limit. Renewables are not enough. But worldwide, projects are being shelved. Political objections arise because despite the green credentials, local populations see the activity as pretty much as objectionable as fracking. Economics are problematical as the carbon trading market has collapsed and (at least in the EU) the economy at large is not conducive to such experiments. IEA president Fatih Birol has been quoted saying, ‘I don’t know of any other technology that is so important for the planet and yet for which we have so little appetite.’

But what of the technology itself? We caught up with a couple of French experiments at a meeting of the AFTP this month where the results of the Lacq test project were presented. This has demonstrated the feasibility of CCS in a depleted gas reservoir. The biggest problem was with the nimbies and a rigorous environmental monitoring program is now underway to demonstrate the long term integrity of the reservoir.

Other numerical evaluations of CCS projects in saline reservoirs showed that it is very hard to find a target that matches all of the desired parameters. In general, sequestrable volumes shrink as long term migration risk to aquifers and caprock integrity concerns are considered.

Things are looking better for CCS in the US where the Energy Department reports that its Illinois Basin-Decatur project has sequestered one million tonnes of CO2 since 2011 in a saline aquifer. The CO2 is captured from an ethanol-production facility and is injected into a sandstone formation at 7,000 ft. Reservoir pressure remains ‘well below’ regulatory limits.

For more, especially on the social license to operate aspects, read the excellent 2014 CATO report—‘Linking the chain,’ a free download from the Cato website.

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