Does carbon capture & storage have a future in the UK?

As noted in Blowout Week 142 a UK Parliamentary Advisory Group (PAG) recently published a report in which it claimed that carbon capture and storage was “critical” if the UK is to meet its CO2 emissions targets. The PAG is correct in so far as something needs to be done, but whether CCS is it is open to question. Accordingly, this post addresses the subject of whether CCS offers potential for emissions reductions on the necessary scale in the UK and concludes, as others have concluded before, that it doesn’t.

We begin with a summary of the status of CCS. We’ll get to the Parliamentary Advisory Group report later.

The CCS process:

There are a number of different CCS technologies in use, but the one that applies to electric power generation is the amine process, a chemical absorption process that separates CO2 from the flue gases emitted by natural gas and coal-fired plants. There’s a description of the process in the MIT Encyclopedia of Energy , and here are some excerpts from it:

Chemical absorption refers to a process where a gas, in our case CO2, is absorbed in a liquid solvent by formation of a chemically bonded compound. When used in a power plant to capture CO2, the flue gas is bubbled through the solvent in a packed absorber column, where the solvent preferentially removes the CO2 from the flue gas. Afterward, the solvent passes through a regenerator unit where the absorbed CO2 is stripped from the solvent by counterflowing steam at 100-120°C. Water vapor is condensed, leaving a highly concentrated (over 99%) CO2 stream, which may be compressed for commercial utilization or storage. The lean solvent is cooled to 40-65°C, and recycled into the absorption column. The most commonly used absorbent for CO2 absorption is monoethanolamine (MEA). The fundamental reaction for this process is:

C2H4OHNH2 + H2O + CO2 ↔ C2H4OHNH3 + HCO3-

During the absorption process, the reaction proceeds from left to right; during regeneration, the reaction proceeds from right to left. The cooling and heating of the solvent, pumping and compression require power input from the power plant thermal cycle, derating the thermal efficiency (heat rate) of the power plant. A schematic of a chemical absorption process for power plant flue gas is depicted in Figure 2.

Adding a CCS circuit to a new plant or retrofitting an existing plant involves substantial costs for construction of the circuit, pipelines and injection facilities, and because a significant fraction of the plant’s electricity is consumed by the CCS plant it also involves energy losses. MIT estimates a loss of 16% for a natural gas (CCGT) plant and 28% for a coal plant, which has the impact of reducing the effective capacity of a 1,000MW CCGT plant to 840MW and a 1,000MW coal plant to 720MW.

CCS plants in operation:

According to the Global CCS Institute there were fourteen “large-scale” CCS plants operating in the world at the end of 2015. This number is, however, misleading because only one of them – Boundary Dam, Saskatchewan – generates electric power. The other thirteen either process natural gas (in one case lignite) from which excess CO2 has to be removed to produce a saleable LNG product, or manufacture fertilizers or hydrogen from a natural gas input stream from which which CO2 can be segregated and sold. Twelve of the fourteen plants sell CO2 for enhanced oil recovery (EOR) or use it in-house for the same purpose. Only two (Sleipner and Snøhvit in Norway) have “dedicated” underground storage. Most of the plants have also received generous government support. The Air Products Steam Methane Reformer EOR Project in Texas received US$284 million of its US$431 million total project cost from the US Industrial Carbon Capture and Sequestration program, the Quest project in Alberta received CAN$865 million of its CAN$1.35 billion total project cost in funding from the Alberta and Canadian governments and the CAN$1.47 billion Boundary Dam project, which is government-owned, was 100% financed by the Saskatchewan and Canadian governments.

The Boundary Dam project:

The Boundary Dam 139MW CCS plant. As can be seen, it’s rather large

Boundary Dam is CCS’s flagship project, and indeed the only one that generates electric power. It uses the amine process to extract CO2 from the flue gases emitted by a 139MW coal-fired plant and sells it for EOR. The plant has been in operation since October 2014, and there are conflicting reports as to how well it has performed. According to a February 2016 report from the government-owned operator Sask Power :

The plant now has over 130 days of commercial operating experience logged, and has exceeded the expectations of those responsible for bringing the project to life. “The project is generating vast amounts of data never before available to scientists and engineers around the world, and the numbers are very impressive,” said Mike Monea, SaskPower President of Carbon Capture and Storage Initiatives. “People used to say there’s no proof that CCS works, a claim that is no longer valid,” Monea added. “Unit #3 is now producing affordable coal power for more than 100,000 homes and businesses for at least the next three decades, and it’s doing so 10 times more cleanly than other coal units and four times cleaner than a comparable natural gas unit,” said Monea. Approximately 135,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO 2 ) have been captured since the plant officially launched on Oct. 2, 2014. The plant has the capacity to capture up to one million tonnes of CO 2 in 2015 and is on target to meet that goal.

But according to a November 2015 analysis from Saskatchewan Community Wind :

The power station makes money and hence need not be considered further. However the Carbon Capture unit is a whole different ballgame. The reality is that it is a $900-million (+ change) project which, every year for the next 30 years, generates an ‘operating’ loss of $4-million. Include the cost of borrowing and the final loss could be north of $2-billion. This is all summarised in the following table:

The analysis goes on to note “design & construction deficiencies”, that the plant is “operating well below capacity” and that the public has been misled:

… on the day the project was commissioned, and in numerous instances thereafter, SaskPower, Premier Wall and the Saskatchewan Government have implied that the project is fully operational and even performing better than expected. Subsequent facts have revealed these claims to be inaccurate and the parties concerned would have known this at the time.

More detail on Saskwind’s analysis is available here .

As to who is right, the truth is probably somewhere between the two. But if it cost CAN$917 million to retrofit a 139MW coal unit with CCS we are looking at CAN$6,600 ($US5,000) per installed kilowatt, which is uneconomic by any standard – unless of course the project can service the debt by selling the CO2 for EOR. But using the extracted CO2 to recover more oil, which then gets burned to produce more CO2, somewhat defeats the purpose of the exercise.

The Century project:

There is one plant that makes it without subsidies – Occidental Petroleum’s Century plant in Texas, which with a capacity of up to 8.4 million tonnes of CO2/year is presently the largest operating CCS plant in the world. Under a contractual agreement with Sandridge Energy, Occidental takes Sandridge natural gas feedstock containing 40% methane and 60% CO2 and segregates the two, whereupon Sandridge sells the methane and Occidental uses the CO2 for EOR, which according to MIT allows it to develop approximately 500 million barrels of reserves from currently owned assets at an attractive cost. 500 million barrels of oil is worth about $20 billion at current prices and the plant reportedly cost $1.1 billion, suggesting that the EOR cost is indeed attractive. However, this kind of symbiotic contractual arrangement is possible only in and around producing oil/gas fields. And of course Sandridge’s methane still produces CO2 when it gets burned.

CCS projects that never went ahead:

Offsetting the fourteen operating CCS plants are the CCS plants that have been cancelled, shelved or postponed. Ekopolitan – a sustainable energy website – provides a list of 25 proposed CCS plants that had been cancelled, shelved or postponed through June 2012 (there are more now but I don’t have an exact count) along with the reasons for their demise, which include:

  • Lack of funding/inadequate subsidies
  • Poor project economics
  • Regulatory uncertainty
  • Liability issues (who pays if the CO2 leaks)
  • Resource problems (not enough CO2 feedstock, storage reservoir too small.)
  • Public opposition

While all of these obstacles are potential show-stoppers, arguably the biggest is public opposition to onshore CO2 storage, which has already resulted in a number of CCS plant cancellations. An example is the Barendrecht project in the Netherlands, which was cancelled in 2011. Here’s an excerpt from a Nature article on Barendrecht:

The idea of injecting 400,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide under a shopping mall was always going to be a tough sell. And so it proved when the Dutch minister of economic affairs, Maria van der Hoeven, came to the small town of Barendrecht in December to explain why the government supported the proposal, made by the petroleum company Shell. At a public meeting in a packed theatre, attendees hurled jeers and threats at van der Hoeven and her colleagues, who were trying to convince the residents that the injection project was safe and environmentally beneficial. The conflict has escalated since then. Last month, the Dutch parliament voted to continue with the project, prompting Barendrecht’s deputy mayor, Simon Zuurbier, to threaten legal action against Shell. “It is foolish to experiment in a residential area,” he says. John Brosens, who chairs the citizens’ ‘No to CO2’ society, says: “We are against any underground storage of CO2 — wherever.”

It seems that public opposition to CCS has a lot in common with public opposition to fracking. And convincing the public that CCS is safe is arguably more difficult because all storage reservoirs are different and no one can say for sure that this particular one will never leak. (CO2 injection was in fact suspended in June 2011 at the In Salah project in Algeria because of “concerns about possible vertical leakage into the caprock”. An ongoing monitoring problem is still investigating the question of what to do about it.)

And then there’s the UK government’s November 2015 decision to cancel its £1 billion “CCS competition”. According to the House of Commons Energy and Climate Change Committee the government’s reason for cancelling the competition was based on a spending review that:

… (identified) the areas of spending that will achieve the best economic returns while delivering on the commitments to invest £100 billion in infrastructure by the end of the Parliament. This necessarily involved difficult decisions, including to no longer make available £1 billion capital funding to support the CCS Competition.

In short, the government didn’t think CCS was economically viable. (It has never been all that keen on CCS anyway. In 2007 BP abandoned plans to install CCS at Peterhead, citing delays in government support. In 2011 a proposed CCS plant at Longannet was scrapped because the government was unable to make a deal with the power companies. In September 2015 Drax abandoned its stake in a CCS project next to its Yorkshire coal plant because of the government’s decision to reduce subsidies.)

Future prospects for CCS:

CCS looks very much like a dead issue. It’s still not commercially proven in power plant applications, and even if it were there would still be problems with the economics. Operating experience and technological advances will probably lead to cost reductions, but these will have to be large indeed before CCS becomes economic.

Another problem is scale. The CO2 “saved” by the fourteen operating CCS plants working at full capacity (which they aren’t) amounts to 28.4 million tonnes/year, representing less than 0.1% of annual global CO2 emissions. According to the Global CCS Institute another 25 “large scale” projects in the construction or planning stage are scheduled for completion between 2016 and 2025, but even if they all get built they will still have a combined capacity of only 71 million tonnes of CO2/year, which would reduce annual global CO2 emissions by only 0.2% with all the plants working at full capacity. The position regarding electricity generation, which is CCS’s prime target, is even worse. Thirteen of the 25 new CCS installations will be attached to power plants, and adding these to Boundary Dam gives a total capacity of 22.2 million tonnes CO2/year, again representing less than 0.1% of global CO2 emissions.

Clearly orders-of-magnitude increases in CCS capacity will be necessary if CCS is to have any meaningful impact on global CO2 emissions. Equally clearly, such increases are not on the cards at this time.

The Parliamentary Advisory Group (PAG) report:

The PAG report is another example of what we have come to expect from UK government committees – heavy on prose and light on engineering. The report in fact contains only one significant number – an estimated CCS strike price of £85/MWh. It does, however, contain a numbered list of no fewer than 359 comments and recommendations.

Overall the report mirrors the green complexion of its authors (Chairman Lord Ron Oxburgh, Stuart Haszeldine, Bryony Worthington and others) and it concludes that what is needed to get CCS back on its feet is more government intervention. To this end it recommends setting up two new state-owned companies – “PowerCo” to arrange for delivery of the power stations and “T&SCo” to arrange for delivery of the transport and storage infrastructure – plus a “Heat Transformation Group” to assess “the least cost route to the decarbonisation of heat”. It adds some carrot-and-stick incentives to stimulate growth, such as industrial capture contracts (carrot) and a CCS obligation system that puts ”an obligation on fossil fuel suppliers … to sequester a growing percentage of the CO2”(stick). The intriguing question, however, is why the report was written at all, because all it did was rehash existing data. The answer is to be found in the first paragraph of Oxburgh’s introductory letter:

This report addresses the policy disconnect that arises between the previous Government’s cancellation of the carbon capture and storage (CCS) competition on grounds of cost and the advice it received from a number of independent policy bodies that CCS was an essential technology for least cost decarbonisation of the UK economy to meet international agreements (most recently Paris 2015).

Clearly the purpose of the PAG report was to get the new Government to recognize the errors of the previous Government and put CCS back on its list of competitive technologies. The results of the PAG study were therefore predetermined, although Oxburgh does his best to claim they weren’t:

I began this study, as I know a number of my colleagues did, quite prepared to advise you to write-off CCS as a part of UK energy policy. As you will see, our report recommends the opposite of this. I have been surprised myself at the absolutely central role which CCS has to play across the UK economy if we are to deliver the emissions reductions to which we are committed at the lowest possible cost to the UK consumer and taxpayer.

And while the PAG study was going on a parallel study was being conducted by the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), the results of which were communicated in a Letter to Amber Rudd dated 6 July 2016, about a month before the PAG report was issued. Oxburgh was pleased “to observe that there is a high degree of agreement with the recommendations of our report” (as if there had been no communication between the groups). The CCC report, however , does contain more than one number, so we will take a quick look at what it has to say.

And we find that it’s largely based on a report from the Energy Technologies Institute, which was “published mid-2015 with expectation that DECC commercialisation project(s) would proceed”. The conclusions of this report were summarized in a letter to the Chair of the CCC , and here they are:

Taking these bullet points one by one:

Successfully deploying CCS would save billions of pounds: ETI estimates 1-2 billion/year to 2020 increasing to 4-5 billion/year in 2040. The details of the what-if scenarios these estimates are based on are not given.

To deliver these savings requires around 10GW of capacity by 2030 – needs capital investment around £21-31 billion: The source of these estimates is again not given, but the numbers translate into £2,100 – 3,100 per installed kilowatt. It’s also unclear whether these estimates are for an entire new plant or just for the CCS installation, but either way they are significantly lower than the $US 5,000/kW cost of the Boundary Dam CCS system.

Strike prices below £100/MWh are achievable in the 2020s. Once again based on what-if scenarios with the source unspecified. The cost estimates are based on this ETI graphic showing decreasing levelized costs with time from gas-fired CCS plants:

10GW (captures and stores) around 50 million tonnes of CO2 per annum by 2030: This represents only about 10% of current UK emissions. The same savings could be realized by replacing ~12GW of coal with ~8GW of nuclear. It seems that CCS is not as critical to meeting the UK’s emissions goals as its proponents make it out to be.

Delay increases reliance on nuclear and offshore wind – increasing system risks and cost: It’s hard to see where ETI gets this from, particularly when CCS has no track record in power plant applications. (At present there is 386GW of installed nuclear capacity in the world, 12GW of offshore wind capacity but only 0.14GW of power plant CCS.)

Two other conclusions from the PAG report are worth noting.

The report sees hydrogen, an option that we considered and dismissed as uneconomic in this post, as a potentially major player:

Another option is to repurpose the recently renovated natural gas distribution network and use it to supply hydrogen to domestic heating and cooking appliances and industrial users. Decarbonised hydrogen can be produced by electrolysis of water and could open the way to a future fossil fuel free economy but for the immediate future would be produced from hydrocarbons with CCS.

Why does the report emphasize hydrogen? Because it recognizes that there is no technology that allows electricity to be stored economically for re-use over long periods:

In the comparison between national pervasive electrification … and the replacement of natural gas by hydrogen, there is one very important difference. Given the size of the UK winter peak, electrification means a significant increase in generating capacity will be needed but fully used for at a maximum a third of the time because there is no means of inter-seasonal electricity storage. (my emphasis)

We make progress.


The PAG report is a political document designed to induce the UK government to reverse its position on CCS – probably a forlorn hope – and written by a committee that was unlikely to conclude that CCS was dead in the water (all of its ten members have good green credentials and six of them are or have been involved with efforts to develop CCS, most notably Stuart Haszeldine, the world’s first Professor of Carbon Capture and Storage). It tells us nothing about CCS that wasn’t already known, and what was already known is not encouraging.

This entry was posted in Energy, Political commentary and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

36 Responses to Does carbon capture & storage have a future in the UK?

  1. Euan Mearns says:

    Roger, I thought this was a great summary of the state CCS is in. A couple of comments. One of the most bonkers schemes on the go is the Statoil Sleipner CO2 sequestration since they have dozens of oil fields near by where CO2-EOR could boost recovery factors. It is simply moronic dogma for them to demonstrate that they can sequester CO2 without EOR.

    And I’m interested to know if your 16 / 28% energy penalty is for the carbon capture alone? Or does it include pipelines, compression and re-injection?

    And finally I’m astonished that folks are still advocating H2 as a storage vector for RE. We simply cannot afford to waste 70% of the most expensive electricity ever invented in this way. What is really needed is dirt cheap RE where one could afford to waste some in the round trip conversion to convert total supply to dispatchable.

    • Euan: I believe it’s for the carbon capture alone. Pipelines, compression, injection etc. will be different for each project.

      • yt75 says:

        This is the key aspect, the drop in overall efficiency end to end, which must be around 30 or 40% overall, making CCS something like hysterical green washing : For instance for each two mountains blown up in the Appalachian, just blow up a third one in order to be able to stick a geen logo on the energy produced …
        (not to mention the 30 or 40% increase in the extraction process pollution)

  2. Ken Gregory says:

    You wrote in the “Future prospects for CCS:” section, “Thirteen of the 25 new CCS installations will be attached to power plants, and adding these to Boundary Dam gives a total capacity of 22.2 tonnes CO2/year, again representing less than 0.1% of global CO2 emissions.”
    You probably meant “22.2 million tonnes CO2/year”.

  3. Leo Smith says:

    Carbon capture belongs with all the renewable junk in the box marked ‘how to take an already expensive technology, and make it even more expensive by trying to solve non existent problems

    As distinct from, storage, which is ‘how to take an already expensive technology, and make it even more expensive by trying to solve serious systemic problems.’

  4. ralfellis says:

    Nobody has explained how they can guarantee that there will never be a well-blowout, and a Co2 asphyxiation disaster of epic proportions. The Like Nyos Co2 outgassing killed 2,000 people in a matter of minutes. A CCS storage well blow-out in the North Sea (similar to the Gulf of Mexico oil blow-out), combined with a light easterly breeze, could kill most of the people on the east coast of England. Has anyone in government bothered to look into the implications of this?

    The Lake Nyos CO2 disaster.
    When CO2 can indeed be a ‘pollutant’.


  5. Alex says:

    One interesting plan is the follow on from the Leeds CityGate trials.

    In this instance, they (Northern Gas Networks) are using steam methane reforming to produce hydrogen, which they would like to ship over their pipelines to people’s homes.

    Apparently, CCS produces a relatively pure CO2 stream, ready for CCS, although some of the schemes still factor in a Amine capture stage.

    However, the biggest problem is that the energy value of the hydrogen produced is only about 70% of the energy value of the gas produced.

    That figure could be boosted to 120% with the use of a molten salt reactor, and that creates a pretty efficient hydrogen producer. But if we have a molten salt reactor, why would we bother with producing hydrogen?

    • I wonder how Leeds is with its pipeline capacity, assuming it is currently undergoing the iron mains replacement program.

      It does not seem a clever place to do this. You would need to have a stonking great big hydrogen producer. We already have 2 of these left in the UK in Scunthorpe and Port Talbot albeit the hydrogen rich COG would need to be upgraded and compensation would be required for the works as the replacement NG would be more expensive.

      Economically speaking even under that scenario, I have yet to see any study claiming financial viability.

    • The main problem is why would you spend a lot of money to reform a perfectly good fuel that by fossil fuel standards, has a relatively low carbon footprint?

      Hydrogen only makes sense if you have a electrolysis system or a waste gas such as COG.

  6. edmh says:

    Carbon Capture and Storage CCS is an expensive way to throw away miniscule amounts of useful plant food.

    It seems that all the good and the great in positions of power having a “Green Complexion” have universally and / or deliberately forgotten all their elementary biology, if they ever knew any.

    And so even considering CCS is complete folly.

    CO2 is not pollutant.

    Whereas SO2 NO2 and particulates are pollutants arising from using fossil fuels for electricity generation.

    CO2 is clean.

    CO2 is essential plant food

    See Partick Moore:

    The more of CO2 in the atmosphere the better for the health of the world. Already the planet is substantially greener and plant life is more productive (about +15%) because of the increase of CO2 levels over the past 50 years.

    The US EIA publish comparative costs for electricity generation technologies. Adding CCS to generation, if it were feasible, universally doubles both capital and running costs: just to throw away tiny amounts of a useful by-product.

    And what’s even crazier is that the minute amounts that might be captured will have no detectable effect on global temperature. CO2 is less and less effective as a greenhouse gas with increasing concentration, its minor warming effect diminishes logarithmically. At the current 400 ppmv concentration 87% of its potential warming effect has already been expended.


  7. ristvan says:

    The ~$5000/kw for CCS looks about right. More data:
    The Kemper Mississippi lignite gasification, CCGT, CCS project is coming in near $9500/kw (original estimate $4500/kw). CCGT is at most $1500/kw. So $8000 for gasification and CCS. The Edwardsport Indiana ‘dirty’ local coal gasification (GE) plus CCGT was budgeted at $4600, so ~$3100 for gasification. So ~ $5000 at Kemper for CCS. Note Edwardsport ran over budget and came in at $5600 because the GE gasification system simply did not work as designed on the high sulfur Indiana coal and had to be redone. First and so far only GE coal gasifier.
    The Boundary Dam parasitic load is 32% and the uptime through ye 2015 was a miserable 56%.
    The Decatur Illinois CCS demonstration failed because CO2 injection into the sandstone formation reacted with the formation’s water to precipitate carbonates that clogged the sandstone porosity around the injection well. No handy depleted oil or gas fields around in many places.
    So CCS is essentially a non-starter everywhere economically, and many places physically.

    • Rud: Thanks for those insights.

      The Kemper and Decatur plants are listed as “operating” by the Global CCS Institute. Reading the project descriptions you would never realize that there was anything wrong with them. The Edwardsport plant, however, appears on Ekopolitan’s list of cancelled, shelved or postponed projects.

      And if it cost $5,000/kW to install a CCS circuit at Boundary dam that only works for 58% of the time then the PAG’s estimate of £2,100 – 3,100/kW for future CCS plants is indeed optimistic.

    • ristvan says:

      Roger, Kemper finally came on line. A total disaster for Southern Companies. $3.5 billion overbudget and 2 years late. Almost one billion in fed subsidies to ‘prove’ CCS is commercial so EPA could require it under the Clean Air Act. Actually proved the opposite. Decatur was stopped almost two years ago; it was only ever to be a demonstrator giving Archer Daniels Midlands some green cred, with CO2 from their massive Decatur corn ethanol operations. Edwardsport is generating electricity; the option to add expensive CCS was canceled after the gasifier mess. Ratepayer rebellion against green politicians–‘we were an experimental guinea pig once. Not twice.’

      The amine capture process works well and very reliably extracting CO2 from natural gas. That is because it takes place in a chemically reducing environment. As Boundary Dam and now Kemper have found, it is quite problematic in the chemically oxidizing environment of flue gasses. 56% uptime would get supply contracts cancelled and management fired in my world.
      You provided an excellent post on CCS. There is more on Kemper and Edwardsport and the global plus US politics of CCS in essay Clean Coal in my ebook Blowing Smoke.

  8. roberthargraves says:

    Instead of removing the CO2 from the flue gas, a pulverized coal, oxygen-fired, IGCC power plant flue gas has no nitrogen; it’s mostly CO2. The IGCC (integrated gassification combined cycle) power plants seem to have few success stories. The Polk power plant in Tampa, FL, is often cited as an example.
    I don’t think any of them stored the CO2 they extracted.

  9. Tony says:

    I’m from Alberta where CCS has been played with at great cost for some time now, mostly to demonstrate to the world that we are good citizens and that you should buy our oil instead of buying oil from nasty people. It has been a costly exercise here with little to show for it. One estimate I saw was that Alberta with about 4.2 million people (.06% of world population) has invested 10% of all the money invested in CCS in the world.
    A couple of general comments on the Saskatchewan (our neighbor) lignite electricity plant. As noted, it was hugely expensive and it is generally thought here that not all costs have been accounted for. Be that as it may, it sells CO2 to Cenovous who injects it into the Weyburn oil fields. This particular reservoir has demonstrated success in increasing oil recovery using the CO2 flood. One should note that this field has been injecting CO2 for about 20 years and the source of the CO2 was originally a gasification plant in North Dakota through a 320 km pipeline. I don’t know the present numbers but if the Saskatchewan sourced CO2 is displacing the North Dakota CO2 it really isn’t achieving any net benefit but it makes Saskatchewan’s numbers look better while it burns its native lignite to produce electricity. The loss of energy output at the power plant definitely does not include the energy required to transport, liquify and inject the CO2. By the way, there are 4 generators at the Boundary Dam location but only the smallest has the CCS equipment.
    It is absolutely the case that unless there was a nearby reservoir that could usefully use the CO2 this project would not have happened. The estimate is about 220 million extra barrels of oil will be produced from the CO2 injection. Even at present prices that’s about 10-11 billion USD. It’s important to note that one of the reasons CO2 injection works here is that it is being injected while wells are simultaneously pumping oil (and water) from other parts of the field. The reservoir is somewhat under pressurized so it takes less pressure to inject the CO2. I don’t know the actual pressure they are using but it is likely a few hundred psi. There are some floods that would use several thousand psi for injection and, of course, more pressure means more equipment and more energy. Since it is an active field much of the capital is already in place ie the wells were already drilled and the gathering and processing systems are already in place.
    As a general comment, underground storage of CO2 faces huge challenges. Let me say that I am not a chemist but a friend of mine that is patiently tries to educate me from time to time. The molecular weight of Carbon (C) is 12. The molecular weight of Oxygen (O) is 16. That means that for every C burned for energy it is bound with 2 Os and the resulting CO2 molecule has a molecular weight of 44 and has the added difficulty of being a gas whereas, at least in the case of coal, the C was a solid. So, now you need not only to segregate the CO2 (costing 25-30% of the energy of the plant) you also need to liquify it (can be achieved at various temperature and pressure combinations but the triple point for example is 5.1 bar and -56.6 Celsius) but also to transport it and inject it into a reservoir. For that you need pipelines and pumps etc.
    Reservoirs need a little discussion and Euan would be way better than me to explain this but I’ll try. Again very simplistically, reservoirs are actually mostly rock. That surprises many people I talk to who seem to have the impression there are great big voids in the earth that are filled with hydrocarbons. Here a good oil reservoir could easily be 90-95% rock by volume and a gas reservoir might be as much as 98% rock. The pores are filled with liquid which is usually mostly water but, will have oil and/or gas also if the field winds up being produced. Then you need to have good permeability so that the fluid or gas can flow through the rock and up (or down) the well. If you don’t have good permeability then the fluid doesn’t flow well enough and you may need to frac to encourage the flow.
    There is not a lot of space to put CO2. It is even less than you might think after reading the above since as you remove the oil, for example, water will fill the empty space and, in any event, a large majority of the oil will not be produced. Many reservoirs are abandoned after 10-15% of the original oil is recovered and even an excellent field might only produce 25-30%. So, if you have a reservoir that is 95% rock and remove 20% of the oil you might have up to 1% of the original volume in which to inject CO2 and you better do it before all of the oil volume is replaced by water or you will need to push the water back. This is all very general and overview but for every cubic meter of reservoir you may be able to put something like 5-10 liters of liquified CO2. A tonne of CO2 once liquified is around 700 liters in volume. I haven’t ever seen a good calculation and I’m not going to attempt one but it seems very obvious to me that there simply is nowhere near enough reservoir in which to put CO2 to make any useful difference, regardless of how much money and energy spent.

    • ristvan says:

      Tertiary CO2 EOR works for Wayburn and similar oil fields because they contain heavy (lower API) crudes. The injected CO2 lowers the crude viscosity, enabling greater total recovery. It has been done also for decades in Texas’ Permian basin conventional fields, (West Texas Intermediate) with the CO2 coming from local natural gas separation. Is of no value with light (high API) crudes like Brent or Ghawar. Simple secondary water flood suffices.

  10. Peter Lang says:

    Good post. Thank you.

    One other point: engineering in rock is invariably far more complex than expected by those who have no experience with rock engineering. The history of Engineered Geothermal Systems (or Hot Fractured Rock) since the early 1970’s gives some insight into how the costs of such escalate. This paper by a German geologist, Helmut Tenzer, explains some of the issues that have made geothermal progress so slow (many would say a failure).


    • Greg Kaan says:

      Thankyou for that link, Peter.
      An update of the aborted South Australian hot rocks geothermal project by GeoDynamics would drive the point home about the risks with these projects.

      • Peter Lang says:

        Greg Kaan,

        Dead right about the GeoDynamics project at Innamincka in South Australia and many other projects less advanced. Lots more to discuss – but for another time

  11. Rob says:

    I assumed carbon storage would be offshore and not onshore in old oil wells has this been idea been dismissed know as too expensive

    • Tony says:

      The general approach, as far as I am aware, is to use old petroleum reservoirs for many reasons including that you know there is a reservoir (you need porosity and permeability – you can’t pump a fluid into solid rock) and much about its characteristics, including its size, and that there are already wells and casing into the reservoir. In my part of the world that means onshore (Alberta is landlocked and our western neighbor, British Columbia, while having lots of coastline has no offshore production hence no known reservoirs). In Europe I presume North Sea would be considered and in the US Gulf of Mexico but always a known reservoir. I have never heard it proposed that we go exploring for reservoirs in which to sequester CO2.

  12. climanrecon says:

    My view is that CCS is bonkers, for the simple reason that it increases fuel consumption. If I hold my nose I can just about say that renewables are useful because they reduce fuel consumption (as long as the solar panels are not put where the sun don’t shine, and the wind turbines don’t go where the wind don’t blow), but why spoil that gain by increasing fuel consumption at the proper power stations.

    For those bothered about CO2, let me introduce you to the concept of futility.

  13. John F. Hultquist says:

    “Another problem is scale.”

    Under this heading you get an A+.
    I think most of those arguing for wind, solar, and CCS have flunked their arithmetic class. Whether it is output, money, geography, or tonnes — doing simple calculations is beyond their talents. It is lake the cartoon with the line “And then a miracle occurs.”

  14. John Stephenson says:

    I think that if we are to maintain the planet’s temperature in the range that it had in the mid 20th century, then we must remove more carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere, than we put in. A reasonable target may be to restore the CO2 concentration to the 300 ppm range. We should do this as a priority, say in the next 30 to 50 years.

    It is possible that the means to do this is in plain sight. Dr. Christine Jones, an Australian soil ecologist believes that healthy soil will improve productivity and landscape health. “For several decades Dr Jones has helped inovative farmers and ranchers implement regenerative agricultural systems that provide remarkable benefits, biodiversity, carbon sequestration, nutrient cycling, water management, and productivity” (S.O.S. Save our soils.

    She states that plant roots exude sugars and other substances to feed fungi associated with the roots, and bacteria, which in turn free soil nutrient materials to the roots. The sugars etc. form a gummy substance around the rootlets, which is soil humus. This process is destroyed by application of fertilizers, pesticides etc., resulting in the loss of soil carbon and the breakdown of soil structure.

    Cover crops are used to ensure that there is no bare soil. They create soil humus, ( fixing carbon in the soil), conserve moisture and keep the soils cool. Most importantly she claims that impoverished soil can be regenerated into carbon rich soil in periods as short as 3 to 5 years. She states that if the technique was used on 2% of Australia’s agricultural land, then all of Australia’s current CO2 emissions would be absorbed in the soil.

    In the last year I have tried to practice her methods, I can say that when I pull a weed plant up to examine the root system, I can see that the roots are covered with a granular material that I presume is humus, and my soil has not drqied out to the extent that it has in previous years, even though we have had a long hot summer (Location 60 km. East of Toronto, Ontario.)

    John Stephenson

    • Peter Lang says:

      John Stephenson,

      I think that if we are to maintain the planet’s temperature in the range that it had in the mid 20th century,

      Why would we want to do that? No repetition of ideologically driven beliefs please. You need to show the empirical data evidence to show that warming is a significant threat and that it would do more harm than good on balance for the planet. That’s just the start of the issues with justification for the CAGW beliefs.

      And not appeals to authority – like “97% of climate scientists believe something”

  15. John Stephenson says:

    To Peter Lang “why would we want to do that?”

    1) the whole discussion above is about removing CO2 from the atmosphere – presumably because CO2 causes global warming.

    2) logically, a warming planet will melt the ice on Greenland and Antarctica, which will cause sea level to rise, flooding many coastal cities with associated huge economic loss. Also causing many millions of people to be displaced, creating an uncontrollable refugee problem.

    3) if enough ice is released into the North Atlantic, quickly enough, the ocean will be cooled, perhaps enough to result in cooling of the Northern hemisphere by 2 or 3 deg.C. This in turn could cause crop failure, resulting in starvation for millions of people. See Professor W. Calvin’s article in the Atlantic monthly for Jan. 1998, or James Hansen paper, March. 2016 in J. of Atmos. Chem. and Phys.

    4) the present CO2 concentration in the atmosphere is around 405 ppm. This means that there are 405 cubic centimeters of pure CO2 in each cubic meter of air. From this I calculate that there are approximately 10,000 trillion (10^16) molecules of CO2 in each cubic centimeter of air, Each molecule is capable of absorbing long wavelength infra-red radiation emitted by Earth’s surfaces towards space, and so warms the atmosphere. (You can not escape the physics, which are well established)

    John Stephenson

    • ristvan says:

      1. CO2 is a GHG. By itself, a doubling would cause ~1.15C of warming. But it isn’t by itself. There are water vapor and cloud feebacks. Using only IPCC estimates, observationally the additional feedbacks produce ~1.65C. The CMIP5 median was 3.2, the mean 3.4. At 1.65, there is no climate problem. And yhe models are provably wrong in other ways, such as predicting a non-existant tropical troposphere hotspot.
      2. If melting rates doubled, greenland would still take 18000 years to melt. Antarctica never would. During the last interglacial, the Eemian, Greenland was up to 8C warmer than now and it did not melt. It is true the the Eemian highstand was about 2 meters highe than present. This took 3000 years to reach, a rate of about 2.2mm/yr, which happens to be the diff GPS land motion corrected SLR rate for the ~40 long record tode gauges where such a correction is available. There is no issue for many centuries.
      3. Hansen’s paper is garbage speculation. See point 2. The Younger Dryas was caused by Lake Aggazis beaching the ice dam at the Saint Lawrence seaway. The massive meltwater pulse shut down the AMOC. No such phenomenon is credible today.
      4. A 2C rise is net beneficial. You wont get that with a sensitivity of 1.65. And, up to about 800 ppm plants green. More efficient photosynthesis, less evapotranspiration, so less water needed.
      You need to dig much deeper into the warmunist alarmism. Perhaps my ebook Blowing Smoke might help your education.

      • John Stephenson says:

        To: ristvan
        We are agreed that CO2 and water vapour are GHG’s. There are others of which the chief concern may be methane. We are in opposition from a debating point of view on your other points.
        1) I think you choose the low end of possible temperature increases.
        2) We do have potential problems with climate.The signs are all around us, ranging from loss of ice during summer in the Arctic, melting glaciers, unduly heavy sporadic rainfall, and the insects and birds which we no longer see.
        3) I did not mean to infer that all of the ice on Greenland and the land mass of Antarctica would melt, rather that there would be a considerable flow of ice into the North Atlantic from Greenland’s collapsing glaciers, and into the Southern Oceans due to the collapse of the Ross ice shelf, and other shelves which will enhance glacier flow in those areas. Together these ice inputs to the sea could raise sea level by 7 meters or more – with the possibility that the resultant cooling of the sea will shut down both the AMOC and the SMOC and lead to 2 or 3 deg. C. cooling of both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres . (I doubt I will live to see this!).
        Yes! it took a long time to raise sea levels in the Eemian but CO2 levels then were around 285 ppm. c.f. 405 ppm. now, and we may expect a quicker response.
        4) I did not like your disrespectful reference th Hansen’s March 2016 paper, As a conclusion to studies using atmospheric and ocean models; the late Eemian period using ice core and ocean core data, and other information, and current observations, it is a valuable, insightful,carefully argued indication of what the future may hold. In particular it is quite possible (probable?) that the AMOC will shut down in the not so distant future.
        5) Yes, the rate of photosynthesis may increase as the CO2 concentration increases, but there are deleterious effects too, including fall in yield as temperature rises, water shortages in some areas, not to mention high humidity and higher atmospheric temperatures which will be fatal to many people.
        6) I fear that the time available to enhance my education is growing short- I estimate that my half-life is around 2 years!

    • Peter Lang says:

      1) You need to show that GHG emissions are doing more harm than good on balance for the planet in future. The Damage/ Impact Functions used by various researchers, on which all the estimates of social cost of carbon, damages etc., are based are effectively meaningless. Even IPCC says so (IPCC AR5 WG3, Chapter 3). So, climate researchers, politicians, media dodge this key fact and head straight for supporting ideologically driven, political CO2 constraint targets based on a belief that 2 C is dangerous. That target does not have valid justification. I asked you to justify your belief that 2C or even 3 C increase in global average surface temperature would be dangerous, or even do more harm than good. You are unable to do so. Your beliefs and ‘logic’ don’t count.

      2) Sea level rise is a trivial net cost. Furthermore, for 75% of the past half billion years there’s been no ice at either pole, and life thrived! (IPCC AR$ WGI Chapter 6, Figure 6.1)

      3) The Earth will not get out of the ice age we are currently in (only the second time the planet has been this cold in the past half billion years) until North and South America separate, Africa and Eurasia separate and the free flow of water circulating Antarctica are blocked again. Don’t wait up!

      4) The physics are irrelevant. They are just one small part of the story. Increasing GHG emissions are also reducing the risk or delaying the start of the next abrupt cooling, which is due any time now.

      You clearly know very little about the subject, other than what you’ve read from the ideologues pushing the CAGW barrow.

      • John Stephenson says:

        I don’t think that I need to show that GHG’s will do more harm than good – the evidence is there to see if you care to look.

        I am not sure why you like the word ‘ideologically ‘. The fact is that I think that our planet is getting warmer, and that GHG’s are largely responsible for this, and I do not think my beliefs and logic count.

        Your statement that the cost associated with sea level rise is trivial depends entirely on the amount of rise. Hansen thinks that the rate of change of sea level is exponential, with a doubling time of about 10 years. If this is correct then there will be major economic costs and the refugee problem will make the current Syrian problem seem minuscule. If correct, these problems will arise before the end of this century. On this point, life may have survived for the last half billion years, but there was not much human life, nor was there an economy (as we know it today).

        With respect to your item 3), we could dig tunnels in the vicinity of the Panama and Suez canals! But they would have to be big!

        Your 4th. point – I disagree, the Physics are most certainly relevant. Hansen suggests that if the Earth continues to warm, ice flowing into both the Northern and Southern oceans will cause global temperatures to fall 2 or 3 deg.C., with consequent major crop failures and starvation for billions of people. Temperatures will rise quickly after the ice stops flowing into the ocean in 200 or 300 years time.

        I am not sure why you think that it is reasonable to impute my understanding of this subject – but time will doubtless tell who is correct. However, I don’t think I will be around to see that – but my grandchildren likely will.

        • Peter Lang says:

          John Stephenson,

          I don’t think that I need to show that GHG’s will do more harm than good – the evidence is there to see if you care to look.

          I’ve been looking at the evidence for 25 years, including as an energy policy analyst and advisor for government. I’d suggest you do not understand the issues, do not understand that the damage functions are not credible and that this is widely recognised, even by IPCC. If you could present the evidence, you would. But you’ve dodged it. Therefore, it seems you are simply accepting, without evidence, the scare mongers. They are

          The fact is that I think that our planet is getting warmer, and that GHG’s are largely responsible for this,

          That’s not the argument. The planet gets warmer and colder all the time. The argument is whether an increase in global average temperature of 2 C or 3 C is a threat; or if it will do more harm than good.

          If this is correct then there will be major economic costs and the refugee problem will make the current Syrian problem seem minuscule.

          Those are unsupported assertions. Show the evidence. There’s no point me providing links because it’s clearly a waste of time. You know nothing about the subject.

          Your beliefs about massive (but unquantified) sea level rise are extremist.

          Your responses to 3 and 4 do not warrant a response.

  16. David Whannel says:

    Can’t graphene solve all these issues? Although CO2 capture isn’t mentioned on the main founders research page it is covered elsewhere

    Current capture sounds a bit complex, doesn’t it just absorb into seawater to acidify, then could be balanced by adding an alkali, add some bubbles and market it as an energy re-hydrant?

Leave a Reply