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Revival for Carbon Capture?

The most recent report from the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and December’s international conference on climate change held in Katowice, Poland, show that the world is not coming close to reaching the targets set in the landmark Paris Agreement of 2015. Many governments are now calling for aggressive and immediate measures to avoid what they fear could be the catastrophic consequences of climate change. This sense of urgency could breathe new life into carbon capture and storage, a technology hailed by the oil and gas industry that has gained little traction in the past decade.

Carbon capture and storage involves capturing carbon dioxide from large sources such as power plants or other industry, transporting it to a storage site, and burying it to keep it from entering the atmosphere. Storage, or sequestration, of the CO2 would most likely be in deep geological formations, or possibly in the ocean. The US National Energy Technology Laboratory has reported that North America alone could store 900 years’ worth of carbon dioxide underground. It is a potentially cost-effective way to decarbonize industries such as petrochemicals, cement, steel, and power generation. The idea is that this would help mitigate CO2 emissions from hydrocarbons and would complement other alternative energy solutions as momentum builds for a ­carbon-constrained world.

The technology has had broad oil and gas industry support for over a decade. The Oil and Gas Climate Initiative—whose members include 13 major oil com­panies including BP, Shell, ExxonMobil, Saudi Aramco, and Equinor—has long touted the method and recently held a workshop on the potential of carbon capture in the Middle East. Participants discussed how governments in the region and industry can create clean and sustainable industries by capturing carbon dioxide from oil and gas production and use.

Even though the idea is not new, carbon capture is often seen as unworkable because of the cost and concerns about the effects of storage. But the UN recently cited the technology as one of numerous ideas to combat climate change. “It’s about changing the way people look at CCS from thinking that it is kind of inevitable but impossible and turning into kind of necessary and doable,” Fiona Wild, the head of climate change and sustainability at BHP Billiton, said at an industry conference in November. “We need to get policy regimes in place that support development over the longer term because we need scale.”

Other attendees at that conference were executives from the International Energy Agency, BP, Shell, Total, Equinor, and the British Energy Ministry. All were in agreement that the time is right to revitalize interest in the technology. Meanwhile, projects are slowing moving forward. The Climate Initiative recently entered into a strategic partnership with several major oil companies to promote the Clean Gas Project, the UK’s first commercial full-chain carbon capture and storage project. And, in late November, ADNOC announced that it would expand carbon capture and storage from either a major gas processing facility or the Shah gas plant.

Revival for Carbon Capture?

John Donnelly, JPT Editor

01 January 2019

Volume: 71 | Issue: 1

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