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Creating a carbon store

Written by  Elaine Maslin Sunday, 01 October 2017 00:00

Norway has an ambitious plan to take carbon capture and storage offshore to a level which could potentially see the country becoming a store for other’s emissions. Elaine Maslin reports.

Technology Centre Mongstad. Photos from Gassnova.

Forty years since Norway first exported gas to international markets (September 1977, via Norpipe), the country has an ambitious goal. While continuing to export natural gas, it wants to create a “value chain” to capture and emit CO2, potentially even importing the substance from others to store it in vast offshore aquifers. This way, Norway exports its fossil fuel, while taking other’s emissions out of the atmosphere.

Globally, there are 17 CCS-projects in operation, which capture and store a total 30 million tonne of CO2 each year.

In May 2017, there were seven large-scale projects operational, with a combined capacity of 31 MTPA: a further five, with 9 MTPA capacity in total, were under construction, while more than 100 small-scale plants were operating, according to Norway’s state-owned CCS firm Gassnova. The latest project launched was Petra Nova in North America, a retrofit, post-combustion, 1.4 MPTA CO2 storage project at a coal fired power plant in Texas, with the CO2 used for a nearby enhanced oil recovery (EOR) scheme.

Most of the projects are onshore. There are only two projects in Europe, both offshore and both in Norway: Statoil’s Sleipner and Snøhvit projects. Sleipner was also the world’s first CO2 storage project. Since 1996, about 15 million tonne of CO2 captured from natural gas from Statoil’s Sleipner West field has been stored (and monitored with 4D seismic) in a sandstone reservoir, 1000m below the seabed. Since 2008, CO2 removed from the Snøhvit and Albatros fields at the Hammerfest LNG plant has been compressed then transported back to the reservoir and stored in aquifer zones.

Technology Centre Mongstad. 

Scaling up

Now, Norway wants to go further. As part of climate change goals, and in a bid to position itself at the forefront of this technology, the Norwegian government is targeting a full-scale CCS value chain in Norway by 2022.

“We have been doing offshore capture more than 20 years,” says Gassnova CEO Trude Sundset. “We have the experience. We know it works, we know it’s safe, we have done a lot of monitoring, assessment and research to confirm that this is a good way of getting rid of CO2 from the atmosphere. That’s the starting point. We want to use that experience and share it with the rest of the world.”

It is argued that, even with other climate change mitigation measures, CCS will still be needed to meet Paris Agreement targets. To do this, “we have to have large scale deployment globally,” Sundset says.

Unlike other projects, which target carbon capture from power plants, Gassnova has awarded contracts for large-scale detailed CO2 capture studies to ammonia, cement, and waste-to-energy plants (activities which otherwise cannot easily switch to renewables as CO2 is a by-product) on Norway’s east coast. If built, they would include the first examples of full-scale capture from cement and waste-to-energy plants, Gassnova says. 

CO2 captured from these plants would be transported by ship to a terminal, from where it would be piped to a subsea template east of Troll field, in the Norwegian North Sea, about 50km off Norway. There, the CO2 would be injected into an aquifer in which only one exploration well has been drilled.

Statoil has a contract for concept and front-end engineering of the offshore storage and an investment decision is due to be made in 2019.

Gassnova says that under the initial plans, just 1% of the capacity of the selected storage site would be used, which means it could be open to storing other Norwegian and European CO2 sources. Should there be enough interest, Norway would look to use other reservoirs to continue storing CO2, but the key is to have the infrastructure in place, Sundset says.

False starts

Europe has so far tried, but failed to move CCS projects forward. Some 20 projects have been under consideration, several of which have had funding, but none of which have come to fruition. The ROAD project in Rotterdam has recently been put on hold. In 2015, the UK withdrew committed funds from a CCS competition for a full-scale project, just before finalizing the front-end engineering phase for two projects.

Gassnova says the challenge with CCS has not been related to technologies and technical matters. CO2 transport via subsea pipeline, for example, is proven with Snøhvit, Sundset says. As long as there’s not water with the CO2, the issues are not great, she says – although repurposing pipelines previously used for natural gas export to shore, could offer challenges. The country also already has experience shipping CO2 – captured from the fertilizer industry and then shipped for use in food production.

The issue is a lack of proper market regulation and a set of market players to take on the risk responsibility defined in a viable business model. Because it’s project is a publicly funded demonstration project, it’s more attractive for investors, because it carries less risk, Gassnova says.

Furthermore, by unbundling the various elements of capturing, transporting and storing CO2, with the Norwegian state taking on the responsibly of developing a CO2 storage site, Gassnova thinks emitters are more able focus on capturing CO2 from their plants.

The biggest issue is having a price on CO2 emissions. “It costs very little to make [emit] CO2 today,” says Sundset. “I think the price of making CO2 has to come up and the cost of this [capture] technology has to come down and you need countries to engage with this. If we prove this can work, we believe others will follow.”

Ground work

Norway has also been gearing up for such a move for some time. Since 2002, Norway has not allowed new gas power plants to be developed unless fitted with CCS, and the taxation of offshore CO2 emissions (around US$66/€55/ton) is at a level that has made CCS commercial, Gassnova says.

The government has also provided funding for several research centers relating to CCS technology, including the Technology Centre in Mongstad (TCM). Commercially available CCS technology is based on amine absorption, Sundset says. While this is established technology, each application has to be adapted to the particular emission regime. The Norwegian government is also keen to push second, third and fourth generation technologies, as well as to develop alternatives through TCM.

Oil majors are getting interested in this technology. Shell and more recently Total have signed up as partners at TCM. “We are seeing increasing interest from the oil and gas industry,” Sundset says. Where in the past they’ve not had regulatory pressure around CO2 emissions – and therefore not seen as part of the business plan – it’s starting to be seen as something that cannot be ignored.

Being able to strip CO2 from natural gas and storing it at source could help gas producers get CO2 levels in the gas down to that needed for transportation.

Creating a supply chain for CO2 could also open its use up for EOR – a method well established onshore. One of the challenges with CO2 EOR is that there’s not been enough CO2, at least in Norway, or the infrastructure, to make this possible, Sundset says. Statoil is also considering creating hydrogen from natural gas, which would also involve CO2 capture. There’s also been a scheme to capture storage and then sell it to greenhouse vegetable producers.

Total, which has a three-year agreement with TCM, has worked on CCS in the past, with an industrial pilot project in Lacq, France, from 2010-13, through which 51,000 tonnes of CO2 was stored.

For Total, the focus is on reducing the cost of this technology, says Jeremy Cutler, Stavanger Research Centre Manager, Total E&P Norge. “We need to do that to make the industry more competitive and to build the business case for CCS, building the case for continuing with cleaner hydrogen and gas,” he says.

David Nevicato, CCS Research Programme Manager, Total, says: “More and more focus is on low carbon.” Total is investing in solar and wind, for example. “For oil and gas production, if we want to maintain it in the energy mix, we have to capture and store CO2.” This means reducing the cost of CCS technology. Having a higher price on CO2 emissions would also help. “We need to bring carbon pricing in to make this change,” adds Cutler.

“The focus has been on power production, fossil versus renewables. It’s right to put money into renewables. But we have to look at emissions from industry, which are 25% of emissions globally. Maybe we have not been good enough at communicating this,” he says.

Nevicato says that challenges remain around proving storage long term, and also CO2 transport in pipelines, particularly where existing pipelines might be re-used, but where the metallurgy isn’t designed for CO2 service, to avoid corrosion.

In the future, separating CO2 from gas subsea could also help monetize gas fields with high CO2 content and otherwise uneconomic to develop, says Cutler. But this technology is still some way off. First comes proving the value chain.

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